Building community and a better future with kindness
Lindsey Barr is on a mission to change the world, one act of kindness at a time. The Ottawa mother of two has founded World-Changing Kids (WCK) to bring people together for projects that make a positive difference. She has also written a book, Plant a Garden of Kindness, A Child’s Guide to Filling a Year with Weekly Acts of Kindness. Geared to ages two to 10, it includes 75 acts of kindness. Kids choose their favourite 52 and do one each week through the year.
In the end, Lindsey hopes, they will have created a friendlier neighbourhood, built a sense of connection, developed empathy, and earned a sense of satisfaction and con dence. All by choosing to act with kindness.
“It’s a whole circle of good karma,” she says. And it won’t surprise anyone who knows her that Lindsey Barr is behind it.
“She truly walks the walk, showing genuine love and kindness to friends and strangers alike,” says Cheshmak Farhoumand-Sims. “She’s always seeking to nd ways to make a difference and mobilizing others to join her, whether it’s organizing visits to retirement homes, initiating card making for First Nations communities, planning events to welcome refugees, arranging get-togethers in the park for neighbourhood kids, or lending a helping hand to a friend or neighbour.”
Those get-togethers in the park? They can be really something.
On a weekend in late September, Lindsey brought together hundreds of people, including kids, adults and community groups, in the name of peace. As part of the Ottawa Peace Festival, and in collaboration with its co-founder Dr. Peter Stockdale, World-Changing Kids hosted Kids Love Peace at Heatherington and Fairlea parks. Music and dancing, arts and crafts, yoga and hands-on activities were part of this community-building fun. The free pizza was a hit too. And Lindsey was in the thick of things, hugging kids, chatting with young and old, smiling all the while.
You may in fact have seen Lindsey’s smiling face at any number of events, such as the Better Beginnings, Better Futures community celebration, the We UN1TE for Attawapiskat fundraiser or the 3 on 3 in the 613 charity basketball tournament for Ausome Ottawa and Hera Mission. World-Changing Kids has been part of these local initiatives and many others.
Last spring one of the WCK kindness projects involved making 500 kindness cards, with messages of hope and love. The goal was to create one for each child at elementary school in Cross Lake, Manitoba, a First Nations community that had declared a state of emergency following a rash of suicides. “It all came together in about three weeks,” Lindsey says, “and in the end we had 750 cards made. It was beautiful.”
Then when Attawapiskat, a First Nation in Northern Ontario, declared a state of emergency to prevent more deaths among its youth, World- Changing Kids launched another kindness project. Kids gathered at Tag Along Toys to make Blowing Kisses to Attawapiskat paintings. They were then sent to the remote community to let residents there know they are loved. Tag Along Toys owner Patti Taggart was touched by the effort. In a Facebook post she wrote, “My heart is exploding from all the kindness, love and joy that was put into these beautiful canvas paintings.”
WCK’s initiatives have that kind of an impact.
Here in Ottawa when the Syrian refugee families arrived, World- Changing Kids stepped up to greet them with kindness. Kitchen items were rounded up and stuffies were gathered (adding to the collection that two fantastic sisters in the community—Clara and Maya—had started). In addition, Lindsey ran a craft table for the kids at community welcome receptions.
Whether it’s Syria or the state of Canada’s First Nations, she doesn’t believe in shielding kids from world issues. “I think we can talk to children more than we do about current events—at a level they can handle. We can give kids the facts about real-life situations and present them with things they can do to help.” That way they are empowered, she explains. They learn they can make a difference in the world and feel happy by reaching out and being kind. “Kids then start looking for ways to help people.”
Lindsey grew up walking this talk. “When I was a kid we’d go to the cottage,” she recalls. “I’d go along the shoreline and knock on all the doors and collect kids to play.” Later, when her family lived across from an Alta Vista park and she was home on maternity leave from a government job, Lindsey again went knocking on doors. Pretty soon there was an email list of familiar names, organized events for kids, and a community of caring neighbours.
“I will talk to anybody,” she admits with a grin.
As a new mom, she talked to lots of parents who remembered their childhood as a time when they were free and safe to roam, and neighbours would look out for the kids and each other.
While they were sighing fondly over the good old days, Lindsey was cooking up ideas to make it happen again.
That’s how World-Changing Kids came about. On the website, worldchangingkids.ca, she describes it as “a community of friends where everyone is invited to create, inspire, teach, learn and support one another; a community where everyone feels loved, included and safe.
“Thee ultimate goal is to raise as many children as possible within this beautiful community and then set them loose to see what they can do, to see how they will change the world.”
Her book, Plant a Garden of Kindness, “serves as a guide to show people how we can build the community we want.”
Since the book was published in 2014, copies have been sent around the world. Both kids and families have been inspired to carry out its acts of kindness across Ottawa and beyond. For instance, at St. Anthony School on Booth Street, the youngsters in Mrs. Rupnik’s primary language class looked forward to monthly Kindness in the Classroom workshops by Lindsey Barr last year. “They called me their kindness teacher.”
Based on the book, activities ranged from cleaning a park to making kindness cards for the students’ van drivers. The kids beamed when their drivers thanked them for the cards, she says. In session after session, they learned first-hand the empowerment and pleasure that come from acting with kindness.
Lindsey thinks more kids should have the opportunity to learn these transformative life lessons. In fact, she has set up a Teaching Kindness program she hopes to deliver in schools and to after-school clubs. “It’s adaptable to any group.” Plans include a kindness workbook and a pdf (portable document format) version of the Plant a Garden of Kindness book.
“I want to teach children the power of kindness, the power of empathy and compassion,” she explains. Parents want their youngsters to have this understanding, she believes, “but they don’t know where to start.”
There’s an easy answer to that. You start with World- Changing Kids and Lindsey Barr. New kindness projects and opportunities are happening all the time. In recent weeks she has launched a Kindness Club in collaboration with another local organization, Family Harmonies Familiales. And if you follow the World-Changing Kids website and Facebook page, you can get involved, sign up for projects and buy the book. It offers world-changing ways to start the new year.