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Kindness Week: 'Culture of Kindness' campaign starts with schools

Crazy hats, dress-up days, M&M counting, collecting books, raising money for charities and give-a-ways - all ways schools are promoting "Celebrate Kindness Week."

Officially, Kindness Week is Feb. 8-12, but area schools have found ways to embrace this year's Kindness Week campaign throughout the school year.

Warren Larson, community benefit and public policy coordinator for MeritCare-Bemidji, has been the coordinator of Kindness Week for 17 years. He said the best way to promote kindness in communities is starting with schools.

As coordinator, Larson's job is to develop a theme, logo and put together a materials package for schools. Schools have the choice of when and how they want to promote Kindness Week.

Every year the Kindness Week campaign has a new theme. This year's theme is "Culture of Kindness."

"It doesn't matter which country you were born in or where in the world you're from, being kind is incredibly important for the success and well-being of people," Larson said.

According to Larson, Kindness Week places special emphasis on the value of helping people.

"In Haiti, we see so many kind heroes, helping provide food, rescue teams and support," Larson said. "There have been incredible acts of random kindness. If they didn't exist, the disaster would've been 100 times worse."

Funding for the Kindness Week materials comes from MeritCare Health System, the George W. Neilson Foundation, First National Bank of Bemidji and the Leech Lake Gaming Division.

More than 20 schools in the area participate in the Kindness Week campaign funded by these groups.

"All the schools who participate want to participate again," Larson said. "Many more schools have asked to be included in the campaign, but we don't have enough resources."

St. Philip's Elementary School will celebrate Kindness Week later due to scheduled state tests.

"We've been involved every year," said Principal Carol Rettinger, "It's a terrific thing to promote."

At Bemidji High School, the National Honor Society is heading a children's book drive, where students can donate gently used children's books. The school also plans to donate books to the Bemidji Area Food Shelf, The Bemidji Area Boys & Girls Club of the Bemidji Area and Northern Dental Access Center

On Jan. 29, Bemidji Middle School fundraised $425 for the American Cancer Society by having a Hat Day. This week, the BMS National Junior Honor Society is selling carnations and suckers for "Hearts for Haiti," with all of the proceeds going to the American Red Cross.

Other schools in the region are doing various projects to connect students to the idea that kindness catches on.

But Kindness Week is not just about being kind for only one week.

"Valentine's Day is set aside to tell someone you love them, but it should really be said all year round," Larson said. "Students and teachers should strive to be kind and respectful all year round."