If you’re ever in need of a smile, you might want to head to Anaheim, California. While the 50-square mile city is home to Disneyland and the Los Angeles Angels baseball team, it’s also known by the motto: The City of Kindness.
The idea all started with crayons and some paper. Natasha Jaievsky, who tragically died in a car accident in 2002 at age 6, loved drawing colorful pictures of rainbows. Along each rainbow’s curve, she also wrote messages of kindness.
Her father, Edward Jaievsky, found her drawings while searching for ways to preserve her memory. So he hung up her kindness-filled art around the city.
It wasn’t long before the local community noticed the message’s power. City Councilman Tom Tait saw Natasha’s pictures and was inspired to run for mayor, using kindness as a platform that could potentially transform the city. He won.
In 2011, one of his first in-office campaigns was the Hi Neighbor initiative, a community-based program that encourages residents to get to know the people living on their street. “People are just happier when they live in a neighborhood and they care for their neighbors, and they know their neighbors care for them,” Tait said.
While Tait knows that there are important municipal and civic reasons to be kind — in fact, New York University sociologists found that tight-knit neighborhoods often fare better in response to emergency and disaster preparedness — he’s also grateful for other kindness campaigns that were sparked by Hi Neighbor.
Among the most successful: The Year of Kindness campaign, launched in 2013 after Tait met with the superintendent of the city’s elementary school district. “We decided to ask the kids to create a million acts of kindness. A million! They did it, and it was fantastic,” Tait said in an interview with City of Kindness.
Small gestures, like giving a sad friend a hug or holding a door open counted, as well as larger acts, like planting hundreds of trees or visiting senior living centers. After tallying these, each school had contributed 40,000 to 50,000 gestures each. “I think it changed the DNA of the schools,” Tait said. Two years later, a million acts were completed. To celebrate their success, the Dalai Lama traveled from India to visit for his 80th birthday.
The city and school district noted that suspensions were cut in half, incidents of bullying were down and crime rates also lowered. “It’s not just a feel-good thing,” Tait told The Orange County Register. “There are serious civic reasons behind this.”
As California faced its worst wildfires this past year, Anaheim sees kindness as the first step to resiliency. Kindness is used to build a stronger community, and in turn, a community that’s better equipped to handle challenges, like earthquakes, fires and crime.
And although Tait is no longer Anaheim’s mayor, his legacy continues. His vision sparked the City of Kindness, a coalition of organizations working together to spread kindness while giving individuals and communities the resources they need to spread kindness and affect change.
The sentiments in Anaheim have spread across the country. At the 2016 United States Conference of Mayors, leaders used Anaheim as a model and urged the country to complete a billion acts of kindness.
Tait’s example has also proved useful to others looking to strengthen their communities.
“Working alongside Mayor Tait has shown me that people in powerful positions, CEOs of companies and mayors of cities of any size, people with high-level responsibilities and stresses, can be very down to earth, grounded, thoughtful, and kind individuals,” Loretta Day, Council Services Coordinator with the City of Anaheim told City of Kindness.
While public servants like Tait believe in the ripple effect of kindness, broadening one’s personal perspective can also have a far-reaching impact.
“Kindness is contagious,” Tait told Spectrum News 1.“If you change culture where everyone is a little kinder, literally everything gets better.”