JAMbethekindkid, Inc. continues to set off chain reactions of kindness
This article is the first in a series of stories from Just the Way You Are, a collaboration among the Fred Rogers Center, JAMbethekindkid, Inc., and the authors of When You Wonder, You’re Learning: Mister Rogers’ Enduring Lessons for Raising Creative, Curious, Caring Kids. During each week of the #BeKind21 campaign, we’ll be sharing profiles of people from across southwestern Pennsylvania who practice kindness in their daily lives. This story profiles the work of coalition member JAMbethekindkid, Inc.
Eleanor Boggess has a theory about kindness. “Whenever you experience someone being nice to you, it sort of throws off a chain reaction, where you feel like you have to do something for someone else now.” She adds: “It just goes down the line until everyone eventually has to think about kindness.”
Grace Keller sees kindness in a similarly infectious light. But the transfer of kindness from one person to another, Grace stresses, is a two-way street: “Kindness is something that can not only benefit others whenever you do it but also benefits yourself. Because whenever you’re kind to someone, you are giving and receiving. You spread kindness, you gain kindness, and it just kind of connects people in a way.”
In speaking with Eleanor and Grace, a ninth- and eighth-grader from Avonworth School District, respectively, one could conclude that kindness just comes intuitively, even effortlessly, to them. Instead, Eleanor, Grace, and other students like them at this small, public school district located just outside of Pittsburgh, PA have worked hard to incorporate kindness into their daily lives. Importantly, their school has a special community dedicated to the cultivation of kindness at Avonworth and beyond: JAMbethekindkid, Inc.
JAM Enterprises started in 2016 when two first-graders Julia Nardozzi and Amelia Lucas approached their former kindergarten teacher Maureen Frew at Avonworth Primary School with the idea of starting an after-school club that would make and sell different products and donate all proceeds from their sales to different charitable organizations. Mrs. Frew agreed, and combining the first initial of each founding member’s first name, the team decided to call themselves “JAM.”
Today, Avonworth’s JAM club has grown to include over 90 members, and more than 24 schools across four different states have created their own affiliated JAM chapters. JAM’s trademark product is a t-shirt adorned with a simple message — “#bethekindkid” — but a deep impact. Since its founding, JAM has sold over 100,000 shirts across the world, generating in total more than $15,000 charitable donations. That’s fifth-grader Imogen Boggess’s favorite part about being a JAM member: “We get to help millions of people all over the world. I like knowing that I helped people and that I made someone’s day.”
Though a high schooler today, Eleanor remembers the value of the lessons she and her peers received while elementary students in JAM. JAM, says Eleanor, helps younger students to understand challenges faced by communities near and far while helping those students embrace their own agency to be helper. “We’re not telling [JAM students] to fix it for us,” she explains. “We’re helping them see what we can all do to help.”
Student agency is at the heart of JAM, Maureen Frew stresses. “The biggest thing that I want people to know about JAM is that it’s student-driven. It was inspired by two students; a grown up didn’t think it. The students come up with the ideas, they research the products, order the products. They learn about profit and loss. They learn about success and failure.”
Maureen gratefully acknowledges the embrace that JAM has received across the district. “Everyone has embraced it from the bus drivers, to the custodians to the secretaries, the kids, the parents, the families. They have really, truly embraced it, and helped us to grow our community.” Just as importantly, JAM has inspired school community members to imagine ways that they could incorporate kindness and service into their own activities. Maureen says that educators across the district are asking questions like “How could they adopt the local Meals on Wheels? Could they have a kindness corner? Or could we set up an area in our elementary school to learn bookbinding to make books, and take those books and give them to other people. That’s kindness in action.”
What’s clear is that JAM has succeeded in bringing kindness to the forefront in Avonworth. Amy Keller, mother of JAM member Grace Keller, tells us that in the wake of the pandemic, she’s been thinking more about the role of kindness in her professional and personal life. “When you’re kind and when you make a kind act, you are, you’re sort of honoring someone else. You are saying, I see you and because I see you, I want to do something that helps you and moves you forward.
Kindness, Amy says, “brings people together, and it builds empathy and perspective and all kinds of things that our world could use more of.”
Join the 21-day #BeKind21 challenge and complete one act of kindness each day. And, while supplies lasts, you can purchase a special JAMbethekindkid t-shirt celebrating the #BeKind21 campaign and Just the Way You Are coalition and featuring the logos of our three partners. All proceeds will be donated to the American Red Cross’s relief efforts following Haiti’s recent earthquake. Learn more about the #BeKind21 challenge here.