Program promotes acts of kindness by youngsters

Seven schools in area participate in program, recording ways of helping

January 29, 1999|By Jennifer Sullivan | Jennifer Sullivan,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Erin Benjamin helped her mother type a resume, helped a neighbor's crying child find their dog and studied for her next day's midterms -- all on a recent Tuesday afternoon.

In honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the Polytechnic Institute sophomore, 15, has been making an effort to offer a helping hand to everyone she meets.

She is one of thousands of elementary through high school pupils nationally participating in a program that invites youngsters to perform acts of kindness and to make moral decisions while learning about King's legacy.

National organization

Do Something, a national nonprofit organization based in New York City, created the Kindness and Justice Challenge in honor of King two years ago. Seven schools in the Baltimore area are participating in this year's challenge, which began Jan. 18 and ends today.

"The Kindness and Justice Challenge is to train people to be community leaders," said Andrew Shue, chairman of Do Something.

Poly, Robert Poole Middle, Cecil Elementary, Rognel Heights Elementary-Middle, all in Baltimore, and Kenwood High in Essex, Kreiger Schecter Day School in Pikesville and Riverview Elementary in Lansdowne have been posting pupils' acts of kindness and justice on an Internet Web site.

Kenwood High is leading the state with its more than 2,500 acts of kindness and justice committed by pupils.

Johnson Central High School in Paintsville, Ky., had 18,615 acts as of yesterday.

The Web site has recorded 725,000 acts. Results of states and schools are available at www. dosomething.org/kjchallenge.

The Kindness and Justice Challenge is a community service effort and part of the schools' curricula.

Teachers receive packets

Teachers who enroll for the free program are sent a class packet from Do Something that includes daily lessons on nonviolence, fairness and respect.

Shue, who played Billy on television's "Melrose Place," said an act of kindness could "be as simple as cleaning up the house or putting flowers on the table for mom."

Acts of justice, Shue said, are a more difficult.

Among them is standing up for a friend.

Last year, about 14,000 pupils participated in the program.

Pupils win prizes

Schools with the most entries and the pupil who performs the most acts will receive prizes including trophies and a year's worth of video rentals from Blockbuster.

The top school will be visited by the Rev. Martin Luther King III, who will present the pupils with a trophy.

But Polytechnic Institute English teacher Sandy Loughlin has not had to entice her students with prizes.

She said youngsters, including Benjamin, want to be thoughtful for its own virtues.

"Young people have gotten a bad rap," said Loughlin, who teaches ninth- and 10th-graders. She said the program allows pupils to make compassion and caring automatic.

Benjamin agreed that the program is a good idea, but said it's not hard for young people to be thoughtful.

"I like the program, but it is a little superficial," she said. "I think people should be nice all of the time."

Pub Date: 1/29/99

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