When I met Chun Rosenkranz at a West Village coffee shop a few weeks ago, I went in for a handshake and was met with a hug. “I’m a hugger,” he said. I’m a hugger now too.
Ten years ago, Chun was found guilty of possession of painkillers and spent a year in a Florida jail. Addicted to the pills that landed him there, Chun was forced to go through the grueling detox process in a cell. A gay man, he felt isolated from the other inmates because of his sexuality. In the darkest time of his life, Chun felt defeated.
That same year, the seventh and final novel in the Harry Potter series debuted. While readers around the world lined up outside of bookstores for the midnight release, Chun, an enthusiastic fan of the series, was at a loss. Paperbacks quickly sold out and hardcovers, categorized as a potential weapon, weren’t allowed in jail. Unbeknownst to Chun, a friend from college bought the novel, photocopied 759 individual pages, bound them (complete with a homemade book jacket) and sent them to Chun in 200-page installments. For the giver, it was a short-lived act of kindness and compassion. For Chun, the gesture was life-changing.
This simple act of good will gave Chun a way out of the purgatory he felt he was living in. It also gave him a sense of purpose. After experiencing the powerful and lasting effect of a modest act of kindness, Chun was inspired to devote his life to the service of others. Upon release from jail, Chun applied and was accepted to Columbia University’s Masters’ program to study Social Work. Years later, the “I’ll Be There Project” was born.
The I’ll Be There Project is founded on the belief that collectively, ordinary citizens can change the world. Simple, individual acts of kindness and compassion leave an impression on both the giver and receiver and can create a ripple effect, sending forth currents of positivity.
Researchers have found that when positive emotion is passed from one person to another, the receiver is more likely to be view themselves as able and worthy, and in turn appear as such to others. In other words, positivity is contagious. Just as fear and anxiety are infectious in times of unrest, confidence and hope can be spread just as easily.
Chun executes “intentional” acts of kindness on a weekly basis, targeting those most in need. During the coldest weeks of winter, Chun purchased coats at thrift stores for those experiencing homelessness. Yet instead of simply handing them out as a favor, Chun hung them from clothing racks, allowing people to shop around before deciding on a winner. It is those carefully thought-out touches that remind those who are struggling of their worth and make them feel part of society.
On Valentine’s Day, Chun passed out individual roses to people on the subway who were alone or seemed in need of a boost. In March, Chun was able to provide a wheelchair accessible mini-van to a family whose daughter is handicapped, drastically bettering their day-to-day life. In April, the I’ll Be There Project teamed up with “Real Senior Prom” to throw a dance party for low-income senior citizens in New York City. In an age where elders are often marginalized to forgotten corners of society, these two organizations showed that a little love can go a long way. The families of the senior citizens were invited, amusing accessories like feather boas and plastic crowns were distributed and a band played oldies coaxing seniors to take to the dance floor. Most recently, Chun filled Easter baskets with hygiene products, healthy snacks, and socks for New Yorkers in need.
Chun pulls out all the stops, but powerful acts of kindness can be unplanned and fleeting as well, such as leaving an unexpectedly large tip to a server or simply asking how our barista’s morning has been. So many of us, plagued by the stresses of everyday life, rush through our days disconnected from the people we encounter. The I’ll Be There Project teaches the value of being the person who stops to have a chat with the doorman, the commuters on the subway, or someone you’re sharing an elevator with. These small gestures will send forth a jolt of positive energy, creating a chain reaction that will alter the lives of strangers.
After meeting with Chun, I became inspired to practice simple acts of kindness during my daily routine, such as buying the groceries of the person behind me in the checkout line at the supermarket, sending “you are appreciated” postcards to neglected loved ones, carrying an extra umbrella for someone who forgot theirs, and bringing homemade treats for my coworkers to ease the stress of the workplace. I found that after performing these actions –which took very little time and energy–I was met with a blissful, natural high. Reversely, when an act of kindness was performed on me, I felt the same rush of positivity and was immediately inclined to pass it forward.
It’s a tense time in America. Our politicians seem inauthentic, their views often disturbing, their motives questionable. Yet adversity has brought like-minded people together. It is tempting to feel powerless as an individual, but the I’ll Be There Project teaches us that opportunities to create change are within reach in everyday situations. Collectively and independently, we do indeed have power.
In the darkest hours of the Harry Potter epic, the Hogwarts students united against their oppressors, calling themselves “Dumbledore’s Army.” Anyone could join, so long as they believed in the power of good. I like to think of the I’ll Be There Project practitioners as a realized Dumbledore’s Army and that in the end, as the last line of the series states, all will indeed be “well”. The first step toward a peaceful world is an easy one—take advantage of your individual power and be a catalyst for change. It takes only one small gesture.
Chun encourages people to post their acts of kindness on social media using the hashtag #illbethereproject and then challenge three friends do to the same. The hope is that the acts of kindness will inspire others and create a movement that will combat the negativity we encounter on a daily basis.
I’ll Be There Project is currently the activist in residence for Red Flag.org. We have partnered up to inspire activism through daily acts of kindness. Join us by taking on the challenge to pay it forward.
To learn more about the author, Nicole Monforton, visit her bio
To learn more about “I’ll Be There Project” visit founder Chun Rosenkranz’s bio