Juneau’s first Year of Kindness ends, but kindness effort will continue

An attendee places a slip of paper with something they hope to let go of in the coming year into a bowl to let it dissolve at the Year of Kindness celebration on New Year’s Eve. (Photo by Adelyn Baxter/KTOO)

Juneau’s Year of Kindness, an initiative that began last January, officially ended Sunday with a celebration at Thunder Mountain High School.

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It was Lt. Kris Sell’s last day in uniform for the Juneau Police Department, and she can’t think of a better way to go out.

“I’ve actually turned in all my gear except what I’m wearing,” Sell said. “It’s my last Juneau thing, and I’m very torn with how I feel about that. I’m so happy that this was so successful and so sad that it’s ending.”

Sell, other volunteers and community members are celebrating an idea that began as a dream to make Juneau a kinder place. In the fall of 2016, the presidential election was winding down, and much of the country was reeling from a year that included terror attacks, violent protests and mass shootings. Sell found herself wondering what could bring the community together.

“The inspiration that came to me, out of nowhere, was that kindness is something we can agree on,” Sell said. “You might think that love is the antithesis to the hate we see in the world, but love is a complicated concept and we don’t all agree when we see love what it actually looks like, but I think we have a wide understanding across our culture as to what kindness is.”

Sell and another JPD employee formed a committee and turned to the community for help. What they got, she said, was an overwhelming flood of support. They asked community groups to host different kindness events through the year. Sell said the calendar was full by April.

Lt. Kris Sell of the Juneau Police Department speaks on A Juneau Afternoon, April 1, 2016. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

“Sometimes it was a book club, sometimes it was a boxing club, it was the Department of Corrections, it was the Alaska Peace Officers Association, it was Grateful Dogs,” Sell said. “Every group took a week and it really formed the backbone of the year of kindness.”

Steering committee member Carol Kell said Sunday’s celebration honored the success of the initiative and the work still to come. Last year, they kicked things off with a bonfire on Sandy Beach. People wrote down things they wanted to let go of and then burned them in the flames. On Sunday, they were asked to do the same on rice paper. Then the paper went into bowls of water.

“The words roll off onto the water and the paper dissolves underneath it,” Kell said. “So we’ve gone from fire to water, just to bring it full circle. And so we’re celebrating.”

They also honored kindness standouts in the community. Antonio Prescott was nominated for helping the homeless downtown in his spare time by handing out food and supplies.

“I hope that everybody sees that there is some problems that are happening and we can help,” Prescott said. “We can come together and help this community.”

Sell said it’s hard to quantify how much of an impact the year of kindness has had on Juneau. Comparing crime statistics from the past year may not paint a perfect picture, but she feels from what she’s heard, there were more random acts of kindness.

“So maybe for some people it was that little nudge that gave them that push to do something they wanted to do anyway,” Sell said. “You know, sometimes we get a little shy in our lives, and this gave people something to initiate that conversation.”

The year may have come to an end, but the effort to make Juneau a kinder place will not. ROCK Juneau, a community organization that wants to improve the welfare of children and youth, plans to continue working in the community for the Year of Kindness for Kids in 2018.

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