Morella Bierwag and other volunteers with the Shyann Kindness Project want to make the world a kinder, gentler place one act of kindness - and one backpack - at a time.
For the fourth consecutive year, the local nonprofit will donate backpacks, school supplies and books to the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association.
This year, in addition to distributing about 300 backpacks, a partnership with Starbucks, the Valencia Library, Pima County Board of Supervisors, Make Way for Books and Kool Smiles has enabled the "Backpack Night" to expand into a "Kindness Week."
"This group was so excited about this event that they turned it into an entire week of learning about kindness to encompass the message of the Shyann Kindness Project, which promotes kindness and understanding about the differences between people," said Bierwag, president of the board of directors for the volunteer organization that began its mission to spread random acts of kindness in memory of Shyann Ariana Rosati in 2006.
"It all goes back to Shyann, who had special needs and was physically different from others her age."
Since then, the organization has provided gift packages, books, backpacks, dental items, school supplies and other things to almost 10,000 children in hospital emergency rooms, clinics, homeless feeding programs, shelters, schools and other locations where children are in stressful or traumatic situations.
It also supports programs and resources for parents and caregivers of children with special needs, and promotes social responsibility through youth volunteerism.
Bierwag said the upcoming "Kindness Week" at the Valencia Library has been particularly inspiring for everyone involved since the Sunnyside neighborhood has enthusiastically embraced the story hours, essay writing, reading, volunteerism and kindness activities that will take place during the event.
"It is really exciting when a group you are working with is so energized; it gives them more 'bang for your buck,' if you will. The more they participate and get involved, the more their kids benefit," said Bierwag, a University of Arizona alumna and owner of Let's Go Communications, which specializes in Internet development and marketing.
Shyann Kindness Project Executive Director Sandy Rosati is gratified that the event has grown from an opportunity to provide school supplies for local children in need to an avenue in which to reinforce the message about kindness and address social issues ranging from diversity and prejudice to anger, violence and bullying.
"We are trying to get the message out about how bullying hurts everyone - not just the kids who are bullied, but those who bully others. Bullying has been around for a long time, but it seems to be more prevalent than ever with social media, and when we talk about it the kids can all relate," Rosati said.
Overall, Rosati and Bierwag agree that kindness should never be underestimated, since you may never know the impact one kind act will have on another's life.
"I saw from Shyann how people often aren't accepting of others who are different, and it goes so much further than people with disabilities. We are all different in some way and people are unkind based on those differences," Rosati said.
"I think if we were all just kind to each other, it would be a nicer world to live in."
How you can help
There are several ways to support The Shyann Kindness Project:
• Through Aug. 13, Starbucks stores throughout Tucson are accepting donations of backpacks and school supplies. Donations can be dropped in designated baskets at local Starbucks, excluding those in Target and grocery stores.
Donations are also being accepted at La Mariposa Resort, 1501 N. Houghton Road; Pilate-Cally Correct, 7844 E. Wrightstown Road; and The UPS Store at 120 S. Houghton Road, Suite 138 and 9121 E. Tanque Verde Road, No. 105.
• Drop off donations from noon to 5 p.m. Aug. 10 at the smoothie truck in the parking lot at Sunflower Farmers Market, 3860 W. River Road. The items collected will be distributed to children from low-income families who are part of the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association and at Shyann Kindness Project events throughout the year.
• Join "Kindness Week" activities from Aug. 1-4 at the Valencia Library, 202 W. Valencia Road. For more information call 749-4021.
• Participate in the Second Annual "Tri" for Acts of Kindness Sprint Triathlon & Duathlon from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 17 at La Mariposa Resort. To register go to www.shyannkindness.org or call 271-9565.
Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at firstname.lastname@example.org