Long River’s Be Kind Mural

Kindness: a virtue that is small yet meaningful. But Anna Nichols and the Long River Kindness Krew were not staying small scale in enforcing their new kindness initiative.

All year, the Kindness Krew has been spreading the message of kindness with the program Ben’s Bells. Ben’s Bells is a program that works tirelessly to make the world a little kinder. Their logo, the vibrant green six-petaled flower, has become pervasive in Region 16. Once a simple display in the window outside Woodland’s media center and a common occurrence on bulletin boards throughout Long River, the mural now hangs permanently on the walls of Long River. The iconic slogan “be kind” reminds those who pass through the halls to be considerate and friendly towards others.

The mural, now a fluorescent mirrored masterpiece on the wall of Long River’s main hallway, was not always so polished; nevertheless, it was always beautiful, even when it was just a passing thought in Anna Nichol’s head. Nichols, an eighth-grader at Long River and soon to be an incoming Freshman at Woodland, thought to begin a kindness initiative when she was entering the middle school.

“When I was in fifth going into sixth grade, I saw this program in my mother’s work. I was really inspired by it,” Nichols said. “I connected to it in that the organization was at Sandy Hook after the shooting where I have a family member. They’re okay now, but it just affected our whole family, and Ben’s Bells really helped put us at ease by being in the community.” She saw what peace Ben’s Bells had given her and her family, and wanted to bring that into her school.

Her personal connection making her even more determined, Nichols sent a letter to Mrs. Lanphear, the late principal of Long River, but it must have gotten lost in the abyss of paperwork that surely swamped the administrator’s desk. The letter, addressed by Bethany Didato, a school counselor at Long River, was forgotten for over a year. Didato reached out to Nichols, and together, they began to take action.

“Nothing happened [with the letter] for about a year, and then when I was in seventh grade Mrs. Didato dug up the letter and showed it to the Kindness Krew,” Nichols said. “That was when she started talking about getting us involved in field trips, and then eventually we began the mural.”

This spring, the Kindness Krew is now a fully established, functional, and accomplished program at Long River. With principal Derek Muharem’s blessing, they began to draw up the first plans for their new mural.

The Krew soon realized that this mural was a huge undertaking. Even with their partnership with Peer Buddies, the ten or so members of the Kindness Krew would need a lot of help and promptly seized the opportunity to make this a school-wide project. On April 23, students and staff fashioned tiles out of ceramic and painted glaze onto these same tiles on April 30. The mural was drawn onto the wall on May 18th, and the ceramic and mirrored tiles were placed on the wall. Come May 25th, the mural is grouted and after at least two long months of hard work, completed. It is ready for the unveiling, which was originally scheduled for around May 15, but because of a certain infamous tornado, the ceremony was rescheduled for May 25.

The unveiling of the mural was a short but joyous occasion. All ten of the Kindness Krew members, the Peer Buddies, and all the staff members that helped construct the mural gathered in front of the newly completed mural. At the beginning of the unveiling ceremony, the mural was shielded from the viewers by a dark sheet. After Muharem, Didato, and Nichols said a few words regarding their endeavors in making the mural a reality, the sheet was removed from the hooks attaching it to the white bricks of the wall outside the cafeteria and the mural was revealed in all its green, gratifying glory. Looks of beaming pride were on everyone’s faces as they stood in awe of the positivity they had helped to bring about. The entire ceremony lasted less than twenty minutes, but the feeling of empowerment that the students felt seeing what was once a figment of their imagination come to life would stay with them forever.

Although the mural may be completed, the Kindness Krew’s work is far from finished.

“Long River is registered as a Kind Campus with Ben’s Bells; we’ve been doing all kinds of kindness-related things all year,” said Didato. “I plan to keep continuing this as long as I have a new crop of students [that want to participate].”

The Kindness Krew also implemented kindness coins from Ben’s Bells, a colorful little ceramic shaped like the six-petaled flower (the logo of Ben’s Bells), no bigger than a half dollar. The coin is meant to be passed around: do something nice for someone– give them a compliment, for example– and pass on the coin, symbolically passing on the kindness. Soon these coins may be exchanged like currency, enforcing the message of the mural to always “be kind”.

The coins, the mural, and every project the Krew may take on in the future embody the dreams of both Ben’s Bells and the Long River Kindness Krew of a better, kinder world.

“In the world, we live in today, it’s important to show the statement ‘be kind’,” expressed Nichols. “Just try to open your mind to be kind. Sometimes it’s hard, but everyone can do it, they can find it in themselves to smile at someone or do little acts of kindness. It doesn’t have to change a person’s life but it can impact someone’s day, so just try.”

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