Spreading the love isn’t just for the holidays. Giving back, donating and being kind don’t have a season. Investing that kind of good juju in the universe, your community and your own home is good not only for the recipients of your kindness, but also for you!
In fact, while researching for her book “What Makes a Hero: Surprising Science of Selflessness,” author Elizabeth Svoboda found that the brain’s “reward center” lights up the way it does in response to sex or food. Being kind and giving to others gives you a feel-good rush, one you can’t help but want more of. So refresh your inspiration to spread the love with these stories from 13 generous souls.
1. Jaclyn Fu: Love Yourself First
You cannot fully care for or love those around you if you can’t do the same for yourself first. "Loving ourselves exactly as we are can be easier said than done on some days," says Jaclyn Fu, co-founder and CEO of Pepper, a bra designed especially for small-chested women.
Through the ups and downs of running a startup, and the pressures and demands as a modern female entrepreneur, she discovered that recognizing both the bad and good parts of ourselves is what leads to true self-love.
When you accept your own flaws and imperfections, you’re better able to recognize them, celebrate them and support them in others. Jaclyn calls self love a messy journey. "Where I am now is the result of time and patience with myself."
SPREAD THE LOVE: Tell yourself what you love about you.
2. Barb Crews: Throw Kindness Like Confetti
At the beginning of 2018, Barb Crews invited some friends to join her new Facebook group, Team Susan: 50 Acts of Kindness. It’s a tribute to her daughter Susan Titus, who passed in late 2017 after a five-year battle against leiomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer. Crews’ hope was that those touched by Susan’s life and her example of generosity could do 50 acts of kindness (AOK) this year in her or another cancer survivor’s honor.
Each week, members post stories about their AOK. Crews sees a lot of posts about food being brought to sick neighbors, people donating clothes or blankets to the homeless and others simply passing along a well-deserved “good job!” “A lot of it is just share a smile,” says Crews. “It doesn’t cost money to be kind.”
SPREAD THE LOVE: Extend a random act of kindness.
3. Adam Goldberg: Use Your Talents for Good
Since July 2016, Adam Goldberg has hosted photo shoots at more than 70 craft breweries around the country in order to raise money for local animal shelters. His customers get a professional photo of their pet and a local beer, his subjects get a mouthful of peanut butter and he has been able to donate more than $57,000 to shelters!
His work (see a sampling on Instagram @AGoldPhoto) has not only provided much-needed funds to the shelters, but has also improved adoption rates. He says, “I saw your photo and immediately went to the shelter,” is one of the best compliments he’s received on his work.
SPREAD THE LOVE: Share your hobby or talent to support a nonprofit.
4. Aesha Ash: Squash Stereotypes
Frustrated by how African-Americans are portrayed in the media as characters or stereotypes, Aesha Ash created the Swan Dreams Project in 2011 to inspire women and children of color from inner-city neighborhoods like the one she grew up in. Ash, a retired dancer from the New York City Ballet, set out to “counter the negative images in the media by using my art form.”
“This work fills my heart so much,” she says about her self-funded project. She shares photographs and posters with those who request them, teaches free ballet classes and uses her art to empower, validate and illustrate how people are more than their environment.
SPREAD THE LOVE: Volunteer at a school to empower the next generation.
5. Margo Porras: Grow a Garden of Love
Food is a universal way to show kindness. And at the Southern California home of Margo Porras — a blogger, podcast producer and social justice warrior — they’re planting a garden for a very special reason.
"We want to use that experience to teach [our] kids about food deserts and scarcity, which is rampant here in California, in addition to the skill of growing things," she says. Margo's family of four will consume some of the food they grow and share the rest with Mama’s Kitchen, which delivers meals to AIDS and cancer patients and their children.
SPREAD THE LOVE: Serve at a soup kitchen or donate to a food bank.
6. Jessica Ashley: Lend an Ear
Jessica Ashley is a certified divorce coach who founded the group Single Mom Nation when she realized that pre- and post-divorce women share a deep need for personal connection, resources and expert advice from another woman who’s been there, just like her.
She and the resilient community she’s built via a podcast, Facebook group and website “spread the love by taking what many women might call the worst experience of their lives and unfold it to find the most amazing possibilities waiting for her.”
SPREAD THE LOVE: Be there to listen to a friend in crisis.
7. Billy Ivey: Pass the Napkins
Dad of five Billy Ivey has been putting notes in his kids’ lunch boxes for 14 years, but he was taken aback when this daily family moment started resonating with a wider audience on Instagram. His witty, borderline irreverent #Napkinisms poke fun at mundane and ridiculous realities of everyday life and brighten more than just his kids’ cafeterias.
He says you don’t have to do something grand to do something great. “My responsibility is to do what I can to make people feel good. I start with my five kids and hopefully move on to other people.”
SPREAD THE LOVE: Drop an unexpected note to brighten someone’s day.
8. Schnelle Acevedo: Get the Kids Involved
Schnelle Acevedo, the content creator behind BrooklynActiveMama.com, has made her home the front line for kindness and generosity. “I am constantly teaching my children how to be great humans,” she says, explaining that she’s always affectionate with them and supports their ability to give when they feel the urge.
On a recent subway ride, her youngest son was so enthralled by a performer that he emptied his pockets for them — a grand total of five pennies. She gave him some extra cash to put in the basket. “I absolutely loved the fact that he didn’t hesitate to give,” she says.
SPREAD THE LOVE: Introduce your children to simple giving opportunities.
9. Cupid's Undie Run: Run for a Cause
Thousands of people are running their hearts out for a cause every February in Denver, Austin, San Francisco and two dozen other cities across the United States. It’s part of Cupid’s Undie Run, a one-mile charity run/party that has raised more than $14 million since 2010 and expects to bring in $3 million in 2018.
“Our mission to cure neurofibromatosis (NF) is the big part of the love,” says Kristi Roberts, regional market manager for Cupid Charities. “We get people who are unaffected by NF who don’t know about the disorder, get them involved in a charity run and bring them into the fold.”
SPREAD THE LOVE: Run a charity race for a cause that’s close to your heart.
10. Jennifer White's: Pack a Bag
Since 2011, Jennifer White’s group ICT SOS has supported agencies in Wichita, Kansas, that serve survivors of human trafficking. “We get to serve crazy, once-in-a-lifetime needs that are so important to these kids,” says White, who created the nonprofit nearly overnight after reading about the trafficking statistics in her hometown.
Two of their main initiatives have made huge strides in helping its community. The Race For Freedom 5K has raised $138,000 since 2012, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to local service agencies. It has also distributed 1,103 Fresh Start Bags — duffles filled with new clothing, food gift cards and personal care items to give newly rescued youth and teens a sense of security and belonging.
SPREAD THE LOVE: Donate to organizations that help teens get back on their feet.
11. Holly Brookhouser: Give a Dog a Bone
"Being an advocate, foster and voice for rescue pets has pushed me out of my introvert ways and made me feel empowered to take a stand, speak up and make a difference," says Holly Brookhouser of PawsOfOz on Instagram, who started working in animal rescue in 2010.
Her goals are to end animal abuse, increase spay and neuter rates and place abandoned or relinquished pets in good homes — a mission she calls life-changing. Since 2010, Holly has supported the rescue animal community by fostering 50 cats and kittens, four dogs and puppies and even a hedgehog! She's also raised more than $3,000 collectively through her Instagram account.
SPREAD THE LOVE: Open your home to foster a pet, or “adopt, don’t shop.”
12. Martinus Evans: Be Someone's Cheerleader
If you’re a back-of-the-pack runner who feels you pound the pavement alone, give Martinus Evans’ podcast, 300 Pounds and Running, a listen. “In the podcast, those running at a larger size, those who have lost weight through the mechanism of running or those who feel very isolated get to see themselves and benefit from hearing from people who share their struggles,” he says.
He gets feedback from people who are totally pumped about starting their own running journey and who feel supported by a community they didn’t realize had been behind them all along.
SPREAD THE LOVE: Be a cheerleader for a new runner (or yogi or CrossFitter).
13. Kevin Kline: Run and Raise Money #ForChelsey
After Houston radio host Kevin Kline met pediatric cancer patient Chelsey Campbell, something truly special was born. Though Chelsey passed away about a year after their meeting, Kline and his wife Trish decided to create the Snowdrop Foundation in her honor. Kline also began running marathons — his current count is over 150 runs — to raise money for childhood cancer patients and survivors of childhood cancer.
Now in memory of what would have been Chelsey's 28th birthday, Kline and is encouraging people to make a donation to Snowdrop Foundation or to perform a random act of kindness in Chelsey's name, sharing their stories on social media using #ForChelsey.
SPREAD THE LOVE: Get involved in a cause you care about by donating your time, money or running ability.
14. Start a Birthday FUNdraiser
Here's one more story from my personal archive. After turning 30, I started requesting donations to charities in lieu of presents. Each year, I select a different organization and alert friends through social media. Since Facebook added the donation button directly inside posts, it's even easier!
For my birthday last year, I was able to send $300 to Make-A-Wish Colorado. I chose the organization after they fulfilled my 15-year-old cousin's wish to visit Hawaii with his family — a trip they expedited in the wake of a terminal brain tumor diagnosis.
In year's past I've directed those birthday donor funds to head start programs, anti-trafficking organizations and others who are serving a greater need in the community. It’s so much more gratifying to watch the donation total count up than unwrap gifts that I don’t really need anyway.
SPREAD THE LOVE: Turn your birthday into a FUNdraiser for a charity.