By Josette Keelor
On a recent morning, Sabrina Showalter of Woodstock visited with residents at Consulate Health Care as part of a weekly craft project she and activity director Teresa Downey started.
Crowded around a table in the dining hall, conversation was jovial and laughter spilled out into the hall. Interested passersby ducked in to see what the fuss was about, or to join in on the fun. Candy was spread across the table, as if Halloween had come early, but there was work to do. Theirs was a mission for good.
The candy was there to fit into dozens of tiny plastic zip-close bags, which Showalter planned to distribute around the community as part of a campaign of kindness.
The idea started when she read Woodstock author Jason F. Wright's novel "Seventeen-Second Miracle," which he published in 2010. She attended a walk that he hosted in Woodstock that year to raise money for his Seventeen Second Miracle College Fund.
The idea is to take only a few seconds to do something kind for something else. Showalter has taken it to the extreme, though. She said Wright even told her, "I need a 'no' coach."
She strives every day to help someone.
The acts of kindness are meant to be anonymous, she said, but word has gotten around about her. At stores around town she posts sheets of paper that say "Take a smile," with smiley faces to tear off and take with you. She also prints out "Kindness: Pass it on" pages, with suggestions on how to help others in spontaneous ways.
Give a flower, bake cookies to share, walk a dog, or simply listen to your heart.
"It doesn't take much," she said. "Just something small."
At the health care center Thursday, Showalter's assembly line began with Annie Wright, who cut out rectangles reading "Please Enjoy this Random Act of Kindness." Then Mildred Myers, Charles "Chucky" Bianco and Marie Stevens fit card paper and candy into each bag.
Showalter will give the bags of candy to people on the street or in hospital waiting rooms, and tape bags of quarters to vending machines.
It was at Consulate Health Care that she received her first letters back from the thankful.
The messages read: "Thank you very much," "May your days be blessed," "More people need to be kind" and "God bless us, one and all."
"This makes it all worth it," she said, though she said she doesn't think people know she left the coins for them.
At the health care center, she said, "We're just working on these week by week ... as an activity."
"You have loving hearts, right?" she asked the group.
Bianco said, "I just like it. It's nice to help the visitors."
Stevens enjoyed "the combined effort."
But as everyone else paused to chat, Annie Wright was still focused on cutting card paper. It's because she loves cutting, Downey said, but Wright wasn't so sure.
"I do? That's news to me," she said, sparking laughter from the others. "You surprise me," she said, eventually relenting that she likes "everything." Mostly she enjoys the variety.
Downey said Showalter brings everything for the group effort each week and volunteers at Consulate in other ways too.
"She comes a lot," Downey said. "She does everything."
But Showalter stressed that the residents there were the real story behind the small movement.
"I just think that everybody should get up every day, and that should be their one goal," she said. "Strive to do one act of kindness."
"Nine times out of ten, someone's going to pay it forward."
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or firstname.lastname@example.org