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Project aims for heart of matter

Students celebrate gratitude with small acts of kindness
Chris Bolster

Contagious compassion has a history at Brooks Secondary School and students are hoping this year for it to spread farther and faster than before.

Students have been challenged to improve the general atmosphere of their school and their lives one random act of kindness at a time. The Compassion Project was spearheaded by teachers Chris Bratseth and Darren Bennett in 2009 and started as a way to combat bullying in schools and online, and to promote the idea of treating others as someone might themselves want to be treated.

This year the project, involving one of the largest clubs at the school with more than 30 members, is again working to bring the power of empathy and kindness to the forefront. The community will be given a glimpse into what the group has been doing with a gala event at the school and also a challenge to enact 10,000 acts of kindness in a single day.

“It seeks to create safe, caring and connected schools and communities,” said Bratseth, who sees the project as a way to enhance emotional empathy and compassionate action in students.

Bennett’s digital media class students are participating in the project by making posters and are featured in the documentary that is being created, said grade 11 student Kyle Peckford. Again, the project has teamed up with Tony Papa and Powell River Digital Arts Film School to produce a documentary film on the power of compassion.

This year the project is focusing on the theme of gratitude.

Grade 12 student Michaela Douglas said she was recently told that just being there to listen to a friend talk about her challenging family life meant so much. Michaela said she is going to focus on giving more compliments.

Grade 11 students Carly Missio and Doinita Graham explained that they have gratitude for their grandmothers who are strong role models for compassion and helping others.

The students commented that the project is reminding them to pay more attention to the small things that people do to help.

“For me, compassion and gratitude fall around the little things,” said Kyle. “It’s less ‘I’ll save you from a burning building’ and more ‘I’ll tell you that your shoelaces are untied’ or ‘I’ll hold the door open for you.’ It’s the little things that brighten the day.”

During the months of February and March students in schools around School District 47 have been working on their stories of thanks, said Bratseth.

The Compassion Project Gala, being held at 6:30 pm on Friday, April 11, in the Great Hall at Brooks, and then again the next day at 12:30 pm, will give the community a peek into how the students view compassion and gratitude through interactive media showcasing the students’ diverse perspectives. Admission is by donation.

Students will give presentations and read their stories on how people have made a difference for them with their positive actions.

Also at the gala will be information about the Charter of Compassion, a document created in 2009 by TED Prize-winner Karen Armstrong. The charter urges all people and religions of the world to embrace compassion’s core values of universal respect for all, the interconnectedness of beings, upholding the golden rule and working to reduce suffering when encountered. Individuals will be able to sign the charter that evening.

City of Powell River signed onto the charter in June 2012. At the time of the signing Powell River was only one of a few Canadian cities that had adopted the charter. Seattle, Washington was the first city to sign on in 2010. Currently 28 cities have signed on and organizing campaigns are taking place in 180 more. The charter has been translated into more that 30 languages and has been signed by more than 106,000 people globally. On May 23 schools around the district will sign the charter.

“The whole idea is to create new rituals around giving back,” said Bratseth. “We need to give people more opportunities to give back.”

He hopes that as a society that puts a high value on competition, a compassion challenge will resonate and help create a model that other communities can look at adopting.

Val Litwin, who more than a decade ago travelled across the country with Bratseth committing randoms acts of kindness, now heads up the Whistler Chamber of Commerce. He will be in Powell River for the challenge and hopes to take it to Whistler in the near future, said Bratseth.

This year’s challenge is being held on May 23 and the students are asking the community to take their lead and commit a random act of kindness that will improve someone’s day. It could be as simple as smiling at a stranger, planting a tree or donating some time to volunteer.

Bratseth is hoping that at the end of the day 10,000 people will go home and share how they were touched by kindness that day and it will have a ripple effect.

These acts of kindness can be documented and shared using smart phones. Bratseth said he hopes the acts can be captured and shared through a photo, video or simply by someone telling their story. People familiar with social media tool Twitter can hashtag their photo or 140-character story with #compassionchallenge.

Tony Rice, physical eduction teacher at Brooks, is focusing on compassion to self by challenging his fitness classes and the community to 10,000 laps around the track.

Management at First Credit Union is encouraging its staff to add at least 1,000 acts to the community total.

The collection of acts of kindness will be curated into a gallery show at Brooks, showcased online and used to create Walls of Compassion at each school in the district to help facilitate conversations about how to create healthier, more connected communities.

“At the end of the day we’ll have this incredible mosaic of different expressions, intergenerational and intercultural, of how this community gives back,” said Bratseth.