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Kindness is Contagious: 'Smiles from Drew' fills hidden needs

FARGO — There are kids in your community who are keeping a secret.

They want to participate in after-school activities but they won’t ask. Even in elementary or middle school, these kids already know the state of their parents’ or guardians’ budget.

They won’t ask to learn how to play the tuba or join the football team because they know there isn’t money for the fees or the shoes or even the gas to get there.

How do I know? Because I’ve talked with adults who have been those kids. They vividly remember longing to participate but not asking because they couldn’t put their parents in the position of having to work through the bills.

Sharon Kirkpatrick was a single mom who struggled to keep her kids involved in activities outside the classroom walls. She knew they needed that outlet, so she figured out the finances, month after month. She remembers seeing her son, Drew, smile as he played football or any other number of sports.

Those memories are precious to her because they’re all she has left of Drew. He died when he was 20. Sharon started “Smiles from Drew” shortly after his death as a way of using kindness to grieve. She raises money for kids in her area of Santa Fe, N.M., so they can “experience life with help with non-academic extracurricular activities.”

When I asked her what advice she had for helping kids in other parts of the country, she suggested calling the local school guidance counselors.

“They have the pulse of the school and know which kids might need this sort of encouragement,” she said.

It was during this conversation that Sharon also shared with me that she still buys a cake each year on Drew’s birthday. Instead of bringing it home, she makes it a random surprise for someone else.

“I buy a cake from one of our local bakeries and I always put a little ‘Smiles from Drew/Pay it Forward’ card on there. Well, I got a call one day from a woman who was crying. Sobbing. She said she had gone to the store to get her son’s birthday cake. He was turning 6 and he had autism. She didn’t have enough money for the birthday cake, so she was gathering change and just hoping she’d have enough.

"When she got to the store, the cake was paid for. She called me and said, ‘You don’t even know what that means to us.’ I told her, ‘You don’t know what it means to me to be able to do this.’

"Every time I do an act of kindness, I think of this lady and helping her with this birthday cake — a simple birthday cake — and what that made me feel like.”

You can learn more about Sharon’s organization at SmilesFromDrew.org or listen to my interview with her on "The Kindness Podcast" wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at info@nicolejphillips.com. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND, 58107.

Nicole J. Phillips, a former Fargo television anchor, is a speaker, author and host of The Kindness Podcast. She lives in Aberdeen, S.D., with her three children and her husband, Saul Phillips, the head men's basketball coach at Northern State University. You can visit Nicole at nicolejphillips.com.

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