- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 25, 2007

Giving up a seat on the bus, picking up a dropped purse and loaning out a pair of gloves — these are random acts of kindness students at McKinley Technology High School in Northeast are doing on a daily basis.

“I don’t expect anything back,” says 17-year-old Jazmine Dorsey, a junior at McKinley Technology High School. “It makes me feel good to know I helped people.”

Jazmine attended a weekly assembly Feb. 13 at her school conducted by the Art of Living Foundation, an international nonprofit educational and humanitarian organization with its national headquarters in Northwest.

The Art of Living Foundation encouraged students in grades 3 to 12 to do acts of kindness at home and at school for 30 days in January or February through its Kids for Kids and Teens for Teens human-values education programs. Students from 50 schools nationwide, including seven schools in the District, reflected on their daily acts and expressed through writing and art what a world filled with human values — such as kindness, friendliness, honesty, generosity and compassion — would look like. The students planned and executed a community service project for their school and community.

“How do we have students make the right decision the first time rather than adults reacting to negative behaviors?” asks Daniel Gohl, principal of McKinley Technology High School. “We are giving them an experience base to think before they act — that pausing to consider what comes next and using good values to make good choices.”

Besides McKinley Technology High School, the Academy for Ideal Education’s high school in Northeast and elementary school in Northwest, Options Charter School in Northeast, Myrtilla Miner Elementary School in Northeast, Bell Multicultural High School in Northwest, Garrett Park Elementary School in Garrett Park, and the Urban Nation Hip Hop Choir in Northwest are participating in the human-values education programs.

Art of Living Foundation teachers visit the schools once a week to facilitate a discussion and engage students in a game, skit or other interactive process that focuses on human values. The teachers visit individual classrooms for a half-hour session or hold an assembly for several classrooms or an individual grade level.

“It’s become personal. They can look in their own lives for situations where they can help,” says Uma Viswanathan, assistant director of youth programs for the Art of Living Foundation. “It really brings it to life and makes it a tangible day-to-day reality.”

Emily Peck, director of youth programs for the foundation, has noticed a shift in attitude when students engage in random acts of kindness from self-centeredness to selfless service, she says.

“The human values come out in a shift of attitude from ‘what about me’ to ‘what can I do for you?’ ” Ms. Peck says. “It becomes their own knowledge when they experience kindness, cooperation and friendliness in their day-to-day life.”

A change in attitude leads to action and to acts of kindness, followed by new patterns of behavior, she says.

“It’s so beautiful to see kids taking pride in kindness,” she says. “This program shifts their attitude, so they feel proud of being friendly and of being kind.”

When students share their acts of kindness, their faces light up, Ms. Viswanathan says.

“They’re overflowing with wanting to tell us what they’ve done,” she says.

Ms. Peck and Ms. Viswanathan asked students at McKinley Technology High School to list some of the human values and express how acting them out through random acts of kindness made them feel. One student said she felt regular until she realized what she was doing was a random act of kindness. Another student said he didn’t know what he had done was an act of kindness until later when he reflected on his day.

“That good feeling is valuable for us,” Ms. Peck told the students.

At the end of the assembly, she asked, “What are you going to do this week?”

The students’ answer — random acts of kindness — is part of the Art of Living Foundation’s initiative for a violence-free, stress-free America, which began three years ago in Canada and two years ago in the United States. The initiative offers events and social programs focused on human dignity and respect for others. The idea is that individuals can create a better world through their words and actions and eradicate violence and stress by practicing human values.

“If you look at the need of the hour, violence, depression and anxiety are on the rise,” Ms. Peck says. “Our program meets the need by reducing stress and teaching simple techniques on how to manage the mind and regulate emotions. Then human values come out on their own. These are in us naturally but are covered up with veils of stress.”

The Art of Living Foundation is working toward a better world, but not by trying to fix problems, Ms. Viswanathan says.

“What do we want our world to be like?” she asks. “So, what do we want? Let’s come together and move there together. The time is now. We can’t wait.”

The celebration of Human Values Week, March 25-31 is the second part of the initiative for a violence-free, stress-free America.

Human Values Week will reaffirm a dedication to cultivating a peaceful, stress-free and violence-free society. To highlight the week and celebrate the Art of Living Foundation’s 25 years of service, there will be a gala Wednesday at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Northwest.

At the celebration, a Universal Declaration for Human Values will be declared, and the winners of the national essay, art and poetry/prose contest for elementary, middle and high school students will be announced. For the contest, students will reflect on their personal transformation through acts of kindness and imagine what the world would be like if everyone did the same as they had done for one month.

Spiritual leader and humanitarian Sri Sri Ravi Shankar also will offer comments and guided meditation for world peace. He founded the Art of Living Foundation in 1982 to provide programs that reduce stress and revitalize human values.

“The spirit of Human Values Week is people coming together from different backgrounds and recognizing that words and actions have an impact,” Ms. Peck says.

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