By Allison Ashley

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” – Aesop

When my 20-year old-cousin Michelle was 13, she wrote a story in seventh grade English class that she read to me when I was nine years old. The name of the story was “Smiling Shirley.”

The front cover had a picture of a girl wearing a pink dress, a flower in her hair, and a smile as wide as her ears. It was bigger than any other smile I had seen before. I idolized my older cousin and her extremely artistic crayon drawings.

Her story was about a girl name Shirley who cured world hunger and achieved world peace just by flashing her smile every day for her whole life, until she eventually died because she got old and the muscles in her face that allowed her to smile stopped working.

As cliché as this story was, in some way I have always strived to be Shirley, the girl who has the power to change the world with her smile.

I first got the idea when I was touring colleges on the east coast. I was visiting Amherst College in Massachusetts when a visitor from New York asked our short, perky tour guide, Becky, “What kind of clubs do you have at Amherst College?”

At first she mentioned the usual: ski club, honor society, intramurals, but then she said RAK. This was the club she was a part of at school. It stood for Random Acts of Kindness, a student-run organization devoted purely to promote happiness and increase smiles around campus, resulting in an overall positive student body.

Becky told us that last year during finals week, RAK went to the library where hundreds of students were studying and gave them all free coffee and chocolate. This increased the students post studying attitudes and got them more excited for RAK’s surprises though out the week.

Something about this Random Acts of Kindness club stuck with me for years. I am not sure if it is the surprise aspect of it, or that I could potentially have the power to make every single student at school happy. It is probably both, along with the idea of free stuff, which everyone loves.

A group of friends and I have been inspired to start a Random Act of Kindness club here. Our goal is simple: to make the community happy through small, random acts of kindness throughout the year. The idea is that every random act is a surprise for everyone.

We will achieve this goal through holding small fundraisers, such as bake sales or selling coffee and hot chocolate on cold mornings. One hundred percent of the money we raise will go directly back as a surprise for students.

But more importantly, my goal for creating this club is to show our community that being kind to others is the key to being happy yourself and having a positive impact on the world.

During the club fair, an anonymous student asked the leaders of RAK, “Why does there need to be an organized club, if everyone should be kind to others all the time?” This question stumped me. But then I gave this student the most honest answer I could come up with. Our world isn’t perfect; in fact it is far from it. No one can ignore the fact that people lie, get bullied for how they look or act, and steal things from others. If nothing bad in our world existed, there would be no need for the club. Alone, I can’t teach people to be kind to each other, but by starting small and educating my school on the positive outcomes of being kind, hopefully the “pay it forward” effect will ripple through the community.

A simple act of saying hello to someone with a smile and being friendly can make that person’s day. Everyone has the power to be Shirley.