For many people, 2016 festered. From vitriol in the elections and caps lock matches on social media to the deaths of beloved entertainers and other tragedies, the year has been heated and wearisome. Many just want the year to end and turn to 2017 as the start of something brighter.
For Lt. Kris Sell of the Juneau Police Department, she plans to do just that – make 2017 brighter for everyone – through kindness.
Back in September, JPD proposed A Year of Kindness, which would encourage Juneau residents to commit to at least one act of kindness per day. Every week, those participating should reach out to someone outside of their normal social circles and connect with people of different religions, cultures, races and socioeconomic backgrounds in an effort to better unite Juneau.
“A lot of people feel like 2016 was a negative year for them,” Sell told the Capital City Weekly. “Things were not as kind as we would like them to be. We wanted to visibly close out that. We want to embrace a kinder way of living.”
To gear up for 2017 as the year of kindness, Sell said she wanted “to compartmentalize the negativity” of 2016. To do that, JPD will be hosting two barbecues, one at Sandy Beach from 1-3 p.m. on Dec. 31 and the other at Auke Rec from noon-2 p.m. on Jan 1. People are encouraged to bring food for a potluck. JPD is also asking people to bring socks to donate if they can; the socks will later be distributed to those in need throughout the year.
At the barbecues, people can write down events or negative feelings they’ve experienced this year and then place them in a fire as a symbolic act of letting go, Sell said. The Juneau Fire Department will also be present “just in case,” she added.
According to Sell, “if you want a super cleansing experience” at Auke Rec, participants can also take part in the Polar Plunge. Everyone should remember to bring a suit, towel, foot protection and warm, dry clothing.
That’s not the only plan she has to start 2017 on the right note. On the first day of the legislative session, Jan. 17, Sell plans to hold what she calls an “Encouragement” on the steps of the Capitol Building. It’ll resemble a protest with the gathered people and signs, but there’s no political agenda.
“It’s kind of like your team going into the Super Bowl,” she said. She just wants to encourage the legislators and their staff to do the best they can for Alaska.
Sell said people should keep a journal of their acts of kindness. People may also post them online. The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, a national nonprofit, will assist JPD with A Year of Kindness through a website where people can post, either anonymously or not, acts of kindness they have experienced or did themselves.
“It’s not to brag but to inspire,” Sell said.
The website is not live yet, but should be up and running in early January. Updates will come through JPD.
To keep the kindness going strong, organizations and other groups are asked to sign up for a “kindness surge,” a week where the group will commit to engage with the community in some act of kindness. As of print time, Sell said 15 of 52 weeks have already been filled.
One of the first signees, the Juneau Coalition on Housing and Homelessness, has signed up for Jan. 22-28. Their big project will be happen on Jan. 25: Project Homeless Connect. It’s an annual effort to connect the homeless to services and resources around town in one centralized place, from free haircuts to food to visits from doctors. This year it’ll be centered at the Juneau Art and Culture Center and will run from 9 a.m.-3 p.m., Gus Marx of Juneau Youth Services said.
“It’s not always a nice topic to talk about suicide or homelessness,” Marx said, but he emphasized the importance of being aware about the issue. During the event, the coalition will get an idea of how many people are homeless in Juneau and will be able to use that number elsewhere, like when addressing the Legislature.
Saralyn Tabachnick, executive director of Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies (AWARE), said one of its first acts of kindness was giving their week to the Juneau Coalition on Housing and Homelessness (which AWARE is also a part of).
AWARE is currently choosing a new week and isn’t sure what it wants to do as its acts of kindness, Tabachnick said.
“Kindness has always been really important to AWARE,” she said.
A few years ago, she had been thinking about what kindness meant and found she associates it with love.
“Love is confusing for people, but kindness is pretty clear … Kindness is healing … treating people like human beings, letting people know that they are important,” Tabachnick said.
Showing people they are important is something that Hilary Young wants to do with Juneau Suicide Prevention Coalition’s week (Sept. 3-9), which leads up to World Suicide Day on Sept. 10. She said the coalition hasn’t decided on details yet since their week is still far off, but she wants to help people recognize that they matter.
Oftentimes, when people are depressed, they feel alienated or useless. “When you’re depressed or suicidal, even if that’s not the truth, you can feel that way,” she said.
Young said she knows the Violence Prevention Coalition is organizing for National Kindness Week in February (the week of Feb. 17). Sources of Strength from all three high schools, as well as the National Honor Society and Interact Club at Juneau-Douglas High School should be teaming up for something, she said.
One of the signees, the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, took the Feb. 19-25 slot. The church got involved after A Year of Kindness was presented to the council of churches by Sell and then discussed by the parish council, Sister Marie said.
“It’s a very Christian thing to do, to reach out and be kind to people,” she said, commenting especially for reaching out to those who are different. “It’s perfectly in tune with who we are.”
The church hasn’t decided what they will do yet, she said, and is interested to see what other groups try.
“Think of what a nice place this would be,” she said. “Juneau is a nice place to live. Think how much greater it would be if everyone practiced daily kindness.”
• Contact reporter Clara Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.