Not long ago, Lindsay Whittenberg was on a zoom call with members of the Corey Academy PTA when she brought up the idea of helping children’s self-esteem by “talking to kids through a mirror while we sit in a closet and hide.”
There was a pause as if the screen had locked into a freeze frame.
“I said, I know, it’s really outside the box, really weird,” Whittenberg recalls, referring to the Magic Mirror that offers sweet and positive affirmations to those who sit in front of it.
Little by little, though, Whittenberg began to hear voices trickle from the screen.
“That’s amazing,” muttered one.
“Wish I had a mirror like that when I was that age,” said another.
With that, Whittenberg knew she was onto something in starting a kindness campaign at her beloved school.
She was passionate and pumped, and for a reason none of her PTA cohorts knew at the time.
Two months before her zoom call, Whittenberg had received one of those phone calls no one wanted to get. Her brother-in-law had committed suicide.
“If that has ever touched you,” Whittenberg says, “you know that feeling. It’s a feeling I don’t wish upon anyone. The PTA didn’t know I was raw and on a mission to create change.”
They certainly do now. The former elementary art teacher is the Kind Facilitator Program Director of The Kindness Campaign (TKC), which spearheads the effort to create Kind Campuses across the country.
The Kindness Campaign, a non-profit based in Austin, provides accessible emotional health curricula and programs to individuals and schools. It has grown spirited legs and moved around the country like a quick-footed cross-country runner. It isn’t a campaign as much as a movement. Thanks to Whittenberg, it is infiltrating Arlington.
KindGym, Kind Campus, and KindMusic are just three of the offerings of TKC, along with that uber-popular Magic Mirror, an interactive experience for participants to learn about self-worth and affirmation through open dialogue in front of a mirror.
On Jan. 18, in the AISD Performance Arts Center, children sat in a chair, big headphones over their tiny heads, smiling at a mirror that talked back to them.
“TKC wants to provide a community for you and your children, where students feel safe and learn how to empower themselves,” says TKC Founder and President Andra Liemandt.
“We provide the tools needed to activate an emotionally healthy lifestyle. And it helps individuals reimagine and reconnect to their values, purpose, and joy.”
Last month, dozens of people filled the auditorium during TKC’s “It’s a Year of Kindness Kickoff Event,” which also served as a recruiting tool to certify others officially to go into their schools, much like Whittenberg went into Corey.
The idea, of course, is to start in the elementary schools and shift to the junior highs and high schools, City Hall, Mission Arlington, every Arlington nook and cranny.
TKC backdrop is mental health, which seems to have taken center stage lately. The kindness connection is one of those underlying forces we rarely consider. Kindness helps reduce stress and deepens friendships; being kind to ourselves can prevent shame from corroding our sense of identity and boost self-esteem. It certainly improves feelings of confidence and optimism – watching the faces of the children as they listen to a voice say something like “You’re beautiful. I love your eyes” goes a long way.
Whittenberg doesn’t just want a Kindness Week in Arlington but a Kindness Year.
“I remember when we first did it at Corey; teachers stopped me in the building saying, ‘my gosh, my kids got back from their mirror visit telling them they are smart,’” she says. “It hit home to them that it’s an affirmation not from a parent or a teacher – they expect that. It’s coming from a mirror.”
Faculty and staff stood in front of the mirror and experienced it as well.
“I was a puddle,” Whittenberg says. “Teachers felt valued. The cafeteria staff felt appreciated. Why? Every single person in this community needs to know their self-worth.”