The Kindness Initiative
Spreading positivity and addressing mental health struggles
Lila Hutchins grew up in Silver Spring, MD and has attended Sidwell Friends School since the third grade. Over the past few years, Lila has watched the negative impacts of declining mental health on her peers at school. The country’s youth mental health crisis has worsened during Lila’s high school career, especially after COVID. In 2021, 42% of high school students in the US reported feeling persistently sad and 22% as having considered suicide. In a school atmosphere known to be competitive, Lila struggled with the rising levels of stress and anxiety among the students. In addition to this cultural issue, during Lila’s sophomore year the Sidwell community suffered the sudden loss of a student. The loss of a peer was devastating to the student body, and Lila was profoundly impacted by how the Sidwell community supported each other through their own grief and struggles. Through actions big and small, students created an outpouring of kindness that allowed the community to process the loss. When Lila began her senior year, she learned the results of a mental health survey the school had taken of the student body and was shocked to see how many of her peers were struggling. Attending a Quaker school, Lila was taught about the importance of community, a central tenet of Quakerism, and taught to “let her life speak” by upholding her values through action. The grief and pain of her peers inspired Lila to take action in her community. Understanding the importance of community support during times of difficulty, Lila set out to spread positivity on her campus. When she first joined the high school, moments of kindness shown to her, especially by upperclassmen, were incredibly meaningful. And so, Lila began The Kindness Initiative to strengthen her school community and provide support for her struggling peers through acts of kindness.
“I knew that even small acts of kindness could have a large impact on my friends and peers in my community.” – Lila Hutchins
Implementation of Project
In order to implement this project Lila coordinated a series of several “positivity projects.” Her goal was to have these projects spread out across the semester to keep renewing the sense of community as they got further into the school year. She largely worked through the clubs she heads, the Random Acts of Fun and Kindness Club, in order to organize these projects.
The first project built upon existing traditions for the first day of school. Every year, the seniors go to ‘senior sunrise’ the morning before the first day of school. This year, Lila and her action team coordinated the seniors to pass out candy and welcome all of the underclassmen as they walked into the school. It created such a positive atmosphere and included decorations the seniors had put up the night before and music playing across the courtyard. It not only served to start the non-seniors’ year off feeling welcomed, but also helped to unify the senior class as they fulfilled their role as leaders and role models of the school.
The next, and most complex project was the sticky note project. The goal of this project was to write a kind note to every single student in the high school. Lila’s plan was to get community members to write positive messages on sticky notes that she could then put on everyone’s locker. For this project, she wanted as many different facets of the community as possible to participate. She began by running a booth during homecoming weekend with her club where they encouraged people to write a positive message. This was the perfect place to reach as many community members as possible because parents, teachers, families, and students alike all attended homecoming weekend.
Lila also raised funds through a “Guess how many kisses are in the jar” contest at the booth. The week following homecoming she led a club meeting where a group of students hand-wrote hundreds more unique post-its. She met with the school administration in order to gain permission to put up the notes, then with a small group of students she went around the school afterschool and put a sticky note on each locker as well as on the offices of administrators and doors of the teacher’s departments. In total they wrote and put up over 500 sticky notes on all three stories of the high school. The following morning the student body was surprised to come in and see colorful squares adorning all of the previously plain walls. Lila also set up a bulletin board that encouraged all members of the community to write their own positive sticky notes and display them.
The next part of the project was designed to start up conversation among the student body about how each person can contribute to a more inclusive and kind community. To accomplish this, Lila wrote a query to be projected in front of the entire school during the weekly Meeting for Worship in which the student body sits in silence to contemplate the query. Lila coordinated with the Quaker Life Committee to write and submit this query that encouraged reflection on the impacts of acts of kindness.
The final part of the project was designed to demonstrate the gratitude of the students to the faculty. Lila led multiple club meetings in which students volunteered to write hand-written notes of gratitude to each security guard and kitchen staff in the school. During the meetings, participants discussed the importance of reflection on the kindnesses extended to you by others and the necessity of expressing your gratitude.
These positivity projects served to include the entire community in displays of kindness. The goal was for each person to not only feel appreciated, but also to express their own appreciation to other members of the community, thereby creating a self-sustaining cycle of positivity.
“It was really important to me to get different aspects of the community involved as much as possible. It really was a huge group effort. The goal of this project was for every single member of my community to feel seen and appreciated.” – Lila Hutchins
Results of Project
In the end, the Kindness Initiative involved the entire Sidwell community: students, parents, teachers, security guards, and more were all included. The project wouldn’t have been possible without the volunteer contributions from over 150 students and several administrators and families. The positivity projects were a success in making students and faculty alike feel seen. The year started off with a bang as every student was welcomed in. Then the once beige halls were transformed with over 500 brightly colored sticky notes. Finally, the school reflected on the role of kindness in the community and showed their gratitude for the faculty through 15 beautiful hand-written thank you cards. Students and teachers alike reached out to Lila to describe the impact the projects had on them, saying how it had brightened their day or brought them a smile when they needed it. Lila was even surprised to find that one teacher had chosen to start picking up any fallen sticky notes and created a collage of them on a bulletin board to preserve them. The sticky note project became so integral to the Sidwell community, that the admissions tour guides began highlighting them as a representation of the camaraderie and initiative of Sidwell students. The Random Acts of Fun and Kindness club has expanded to include 60 members and will continue the positivity projects in the spring and in years to come.
“Thank you for the nice notes you put everywhere and for including the teachers. It brightens our day.” – Madame Eller, Teacher at Sidwell Friends
Lila is currently a senior and will be graduating from Sidwell Friends in the spring. Although she does not yet know what college she will attend, she knows that wherever she goes she will continue to have an intentional positive impact on her community. Lila will continue to implement positivity projects throughout the spring as she finishes out her high school career. Lila has been training underclassmen friends to take over her club and the Kindness Initiative and continue organizing these projects each year after she graduates. She knows that they will continue to innovate and come up with new projects to respond to the needs of the students.
“I know that I can trust my friends to continue this project at Sidwell after I graduate. Meanwhile, I know that the leadership skills and lessons I have learned throughout the implementation of this project will only make me a better active community member in the years to come.” – Lila Hutchins