Words like "plotting" and "epidemic" usually have negative connotations. However, the members of the Summit County Youth program are working to change that. What these youth are plotting are acts of kindness and generosity, and the epidemic they're spreading is goodness.
SCY director Phil Gallagher introduced the idea for the GOODness Epidemic two years ago, hoping to inspire the students involved while helping out the community at the same time.
"Honestly, the students inspired it," he said of the project. "We ask students to live a story that is compelling; that's what you're supposed to do with your life."
Summit County Youth is divided into three age groups, grade school, middle school and high school, each of which meets every week at Breckenridge Christian Ministries. There the students can do projects, hold discussions or simply hang out with their friends, as well as participate in the occasional camping trip. The program has been around for more than 30 years, but as the GOODness Epidemic shows, is continually looking for ways to involve youth in positive practices.
The GOODness Epidemic is a weeklong project during which the students think of and execute various ways to spread goodness and brighten the lives of the people around them.
"It's what we're telling them all year long - plot goodness in the world, be about goodness, make these kind of things happen," Gallagher said. "You hope that it spills over into their lives and they continue to do good things on a normal basis, because the small things count and matter."
Each day of the GOODness week, which starts Sunday and runs until March 16, has a suggested theme for the type of good deeds to be done. "Freebie Monday," for example, suggests that students do something for someone else that would typically cost them money, such as walk a dog, babysit, shovel or deliver baked goods for free. "Two Tuesday" suggests putting others before yourself by opening doors and letting others be first in line. Other suggestions throughout the week include giving hugs to people on the street, donating clothing, writing thank you cards and meeting new friends.
"We're asking them to really plot goodness to be intentional," Gallagher said. "We talked about the idea like, you should do something that requires something of you, something that takes planning, something that takes preparation, something other than spontaneous, something you set out to do - you actually plot goodness and make it happen."
Last year, high school student Dominick DeLillo and his friends baked cookies and brownies and brought them to the local police and fire departments.
"Their reactions were very nice," he said. "They help people all over the county, obviously, but some people overlook them, so it was good to give back to them."
Davis Gidney remembered buying smiley face balloons at City Market and handing them out to employees around the store.
"They were so surprised. Like, pleasantly surprised," she said, laughing at the memory.
John Ransberger's favorite experience was spending time at the Laundromat and paying for people's laundry loads. He remembers two girls in particular who were so pleased that they asked if they could do something in return.
"What we said is, 'go pass it on, do something nice for someone else.' I like that," he said. "I've seen that - it will spread to more people."
Though they were nervous about performing public deeds at first, such as approaching strangers for hugs or handing out free food and gift cards, the students said they quickly got used to it and eventually began to enjoy themselves and watching other people's reactions.
"Once you get over that initial tension, you just kind of let go of your feelings. I'm not doing this for me, I'm doing this to make other people's day," Melina Mueller said. "I think even brightening somebody's day can be a huge impact, because you don't know what they're going through or where their heart's at and just a simple smile or hug can totally change their mindset."
When her classmates at the high school noticed, at first they thought it was strange, she said, but eventually their curiosity got the better of them and soon they were asking if they could help too.
"You think, wow, people are going to be so judgmental, but no, they're going to be like, 'wow, this is awesome,'" she said. "I feel like the whole general thing is, people forget that doing good things is free, and that it doesn't, you know, take a lot of effort, so it's not a hard thing to go out and be nice to people. People just make it hard and make it a bigger deal than it is."
"I agree," John said. "It's really easy to do small things. A lot of things we do are just small, but they help and they brighten someone's day a lot."
"It's just like an everyday thing - approach your day without going out of your way to help people and when you do, it's so surprising," said Davis Gidney. "A part of the goal, I think, is to catch people off guard and set examples and change the normal, everyday mindset."
It's easy to get Melina, John, Davis and their group members to talk about their plans for the GOODness Epidemic and what it's like watching people react to the things they do. And while they're looking forward to their deeds next week, they said they see the effects spilling into their overall lives as well.
"Goodness shouldn't be contained to one week," Melina said.
Gallagher laughed and jumped in. "It should be an epidemic."