You’ve seen the bright red and blue signs in yards across the county — Just Be Kind. The three simple words began with a small after-school club of 10 to 15 kids at Van Buren Elementary in Plainfield.
Once school ended in the summer of 2015, the group wanted to continue doing fun things and earn money to enjoy their summer.
“We wanted to do something, so we thought about making T-shirts and selling them. It kind of went from that to spreading kindness to others,” said Emily Smith, a seventh-grader at Plainfield Middle School.
Throughout that first summer, others learned of the group and wanted to get involved.
Sierra Nieto, a junior at Plainfield High School, heard about the club through its leader, Andrea Hilton.
“Andrea and I go to the same church so she introduced me. We do fundraisers for others groups, kind of like selfless deeds,” Nieto said.
As the group formed, so did the mission behind it. Now, residents in Plainfield, Hendricks County and beyond can see people wearing Just Be Kind T-shirts and sweatshirts. Signs are posted in yards across the country and even overseas and most recently, the kids have been making Christmas ornaments, planters and other home décor.
“They hand make all the signs, so there’s no one mass producing these and they have a long wait list for them,” Capt. Jill Lees with the Plainfield Police Department said.
Lees serves as a mentor for the Just Be Kind Club and has promoted several events between the kids and officers.
“I feel it’s really important the kids keep working on these projects, and spreading the kindness as far as they can. I love being attached to the group. I want them to see me in a positive light as a police officer but also as Jill. There are some older girls in the group and I want them to know they can do what they put their mind to and just be present as a role model,” Lees said.
Hilton says the kids make all the decisions.
They’ve loaded up half of a semi of bottled water to send to Flint, Mich. They’ve sent shirts and signs to Ferguson, Mo., and they regularly partner with Head Start and Awesome Westside Advocates (AWA) to host fundraisers for groups supporting members in the community. They are present for Plainfield’s National Night Out, the Tri-Kappa Gingerbread Christmas craft show and the Quaker Day Parade among many others.
The kids take turns managing projects and everything is put to a vote.
“They are doing some amazing things and as adults," Lees said. "We often see the road blocks and challenges, but these kids see something and just do it."
A quick scroll on their Facebook page shows proof that the message is traveling much farther than they could have ever imagined.
Not only can residents find signs posted in front of the Hendricks County Sheriff’s Office and Hendricks Regional Health Hospital, staff at IU West Hospital staff is wearing T-shirts and numerous businesses are supporting the group, Francis W. Parker Montessori School 56 with Indianapolis Public Schools displays a sign. Signs are posted on lawns in Crawfordsville, Speedway, Zionsville, Bloomington, Eminence, Portage, French Lick and Wabash.
Posts have been made from North Carolina to California. Children in orphanages in India display the T-shirts proudly and neighbors in the Middle East have posted the signs.
“It’s really amazing, because we didn’t think it would have gotten this far," Smith said. "This is really helping people, it might make their day a little brighter."
The girls agreed that though the group does spend some funds to have fun as a group, visiting the Festival of Lights in Cincinnati for instance, the fundraisers and the work they do for the community, by far, is the highlight.
“Seeing people’s faces light up when we do something kind — that makes my heart melt," Nieto said. "To me, it feels like there’s more hope in the world, rather than the stories that you hear, the crime rates and stuff like that. Just us peeking through, kind of cracking that shell ... It helps spread more kindness than evil in the world one step at a time.”
Anyone can join the Just Be Kind club. Currently 35 kids meet once a week, ranging from 2 years old to high school age. Events are posted on the Just Be Kind It’s Easy Facebook page.