The gun control debate has raged across the country since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School claimed the lives of 20 children and six adults, but there's one thing everyone seems to actually agree on ... acts of kindness. Many of the acts being made in the U.S. and abroad are being done in the name of Charlotte Bacon, one of the six-year-old victims of the tragedy.
A woman from the U.K. named Kerry waited for a family to place their order at a village cafe in Lancashire, before interrupting and telling the cashier everything was on her.
"The lady was totally bemused and even more so when I nervously tried to explain my reason!" Kerry wrote afterward. "Words failing me, I gave the lady a printed card stating my act of kindness was in honour of Charlotte Bacon. She read the card and asked if it was a worldwide initiative, to which I replied, 'I hoped it was.'"
Kerry had printed a bunch of the cards to be used to accompany acts of kindness.
In Ohio, Sara Casey of Powell Elementary School gave a speech to her classmates about Charlotte Bacon and how important it is to be kind to others. Then the girl shared her idea of making a kindness quilt.
Stories like those are among the entries into the contest for the Charlotte Bacon Act of Kindness Award. Newtown Kindness is running the contest and winners in different age categories will be named on Feb. 22, Charlotte's birthday.
"We just thought it was appropriate to honor Charlotte in this manner — around kindness," said Aaron Carlson of Newtown. "And really it's the one thing that the Bacons' want to support. They're not interested in politics and guns and mental health. Kindness seems to be a no brainer."
Carlson and his wife Christi, whose daughter Ava was close friends with Charlotte, founded Newtown Kindness, an organization whose mission is to "encourage acts of kindness in our children, while supporting the Newtown, CT, community." It has a website, NewtownKindness.org and is in the process of obtaining its 501c3 status as a non-profit.
The deadline for submissions is right up to the evening of Feb. 21 and entries may be made to Aaron Carlson via email at email@example.com or be mailed to Newtown Kindness PO Box 681, Newtown, CT 06470.
"We encourage the kids to tell us their own story," Carlson said.
Children can make their own submission or nominations can be made by teachers, parents and other children.
"One 8-year-old-boy made a handwritten submission nominating a teenager," Carlson said. "That was unexpected, a younger kid promoting an older one."
Those who are age 18 and younger can win. The contest details can be found by folllowing this link.
Kindness is Contagious
Newtown Kindness' Facebook page attracted followers and contest submissions from nearly every state in the U.S. and from other countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom. The Charlotte Bacon Act of Kindness Award was even featured in a spot by CBS in Minnesota.
Children from all over the world may enter the contest. "How can you give a limit on encouraging kindness?" Carlson asked.
"We did it for fun, 'Let's do something for the kids,'" he said. "We thought of buying a Toys R Us gift card for the winner, but it's grown into something fantastic. It started as a simple concept, but we've gotten a lot of donated prizes."
When word of the Charlotte Bacon Act of Kindness Award reached the Houston Dynamos, a Major League Soccer team, the team donated what turned out to be the grand prize: The child's family will go to Houston and meet the players.
Awards will be given out to different age groups and there will be honorable mentions. Among the prizes are trophies, hotel stays, Giants tickets, gift certificates and there will be 31 girls' handbags. Another possible prize could be a pizza party for a whole class.
Newtown Kindness created a reading committee to review submissions — and Charlotte's parents, JoAnn and Joel Bacon, will read some of the entries.
"Right now we'll announce the winners online and possibly do something more formal," Carlson said.
Paying It Forward
Aside from running the contest, Newtown Kindness strives to perform kind acts of its own. One of the first contest entries was from a Sandy Hook mother who nominated her son, Mark DeLoughy, a third-grader who led his classmates to safety during the shooting.
Newtown Kindness contacted Connecticut State Police Troop A and organized an event where the troopers did a roll call and Mark walked by officers who high fived him for his act of bravery.
"It's really fantastic," Carlson said. "It was really emotional. A lot of police officers helped. Everyone was happy to participate. It was a major milestone for us."
Carlson intends to do more things through his organization.
"If a kid in Minnesota really loves animals, we'll donate $100 to the animal shelter there in his name," he said of one possibility.
The idea is to encourage and perform acts of kindness, paying it forward, according to Carlson.
"It's easy. Nobody has to go to Capitol Hill and talk about it," he said of kindness. "It's not debatable and if we talk about this, it will make a positive impact in the long run."