Students at Vancouver’s King David High School were out on the streets performing acts of kindness for complete strangers on Nov. 15, as part of a day-long project organized by the Grade 12 class. It was the kickoff for the school’s Random Acts of Chesed (RAC) Week, an annual event that’s now in its ninth year.
Teams were spread out at various Canada Line stations, where their tasks included picking up garbage, writing good reviews about restaurants on Yelp, giving stuffed animals to children, writing thank you cards to Oakridge Mall janitors to show their appreciation and giving “free hugs.”
“The goal was to engage in conversations, have meaningful connections, ask people how their day was going and use the tasks as a starting point to create dialogue,” said Jessie Miller, who was on the organizing committee.
The Vancouver public responded enthusiastically to the teens, with many people asking why they were there, what they were doing and supporting their acts of kindness.
“People applauded for us and someone gave us a box of chocolates to show her appreciation for what we were doing,” said Teah Bakonyi, a Grade 12 student. “Each group had to show pride, spirit and create meaningful connections, and the winning team was rewarded with a non-uniform day with a pizza and ice cream party.”
This year’s theme was “Be a light in the dark,” a reference to mental health and the many people struggling with loneliness, sadness and mental illness. At a school assembly, RAC Week organizers strung fairy lights in a dark auditorium and cited examples of times when students may have felt themselves to be surrounded by darkness.
“We wanted students to think about why we were doing this, and why mental health is so important in our community,” said Oren Mathews, another Grade 12 student on the RAC Week organizing committee.
Students were asked to turn on their phone flashlights if they had ever been affected by the darkness being described. “Eventually, everyone had their lights on,” Miller said. “It reminded us that everyone goes through periods of darkness, sadness and loneliness, and that we need to help others who are going through it. Sometimes the people closest to us need help the most.”
Ellia Belson, the school’s director of Jewish life and events, said she was impressed with the committee’s emphasis on family and inclusion. “They expressed their wish that our school feel like a family for every single student, and that with the growth of the school, that everyone, especially students in the younger grades, feels supported here,” said Belson.
“Sadly, it’s a common occurrence for teens to face stress, anxiety and depression, and they emphasized that as a community, we are all here to support one another.”
The kickoff was followed by a week of more acts of kindness. Students decorated cookies and made friendship bracelets, lotions and scrubs for other students in the school. The Grade 12 class volunteered in the city, making sandwiches for charitable organizations serving the homeless.
A benefit concert with student bands performed, and funds raised are being donated to Krembo Wings, an Israeli organization that facilitates activities for youth with disabilities, and for the Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre at B.C. Children’s Hospital.
RAC Week was initiated nine years ago in honour of the late former student Gabrielle Isserow and her legacy of kindness and inclusivity. Marcos Mogyoros, her classmate and friend, addressed the school by video, sharing how Isserow’s example still shines brightly.
“She was kind, generous and always looking for ways to help others and make their day a little better. She was a role model of what it really is to be kind and good,” he said. He encouraged students to follow in her footsteps and “be a light.”