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Duchnowski: Practicing kindness until it becomes a habit

My friend Jen Slepicka has perfected the art of random kindness.

I remember sitting in a cafe with her last fall, idly listening to the older ladies at the table next to us gossip as our own gossip session was winding down. Jen had bought a few decorated, dipped pretzel sticks, wrapped to go, and I was finishing my ba-jillian-th cup of coffee when we overheard one of the women wish the other a happy birthday.

As we got up to leave, Jen handed the pretzels to the lady who officially was one year older that day. She simply said, “happy birthday,” and made her exit. Effortless. Unplanned. Truly a random act of kindness.

Though a little younger than Jen, students at Huntley Middle School in DeKalb practiced kindness last week through The Great Kindness Challenge, a national effort they tweaked a bit to fit their own schedule. The program’s website,, encourages young students to smile at 25 people, slip a nice note in a friend’s backpack, hold the door open for someone or carry a friend’s books.

Huntley Middle School counselor Debbie Geiger learned about the program from PTO member Patricia Klonoski. Geiger posted fliers around school and offered treats to students who completed a kindness checklist over a few school days.

Geiger also illustrated Feb. 26 the importance of curtailing unkind words by asking students to squeeze toothpaste out of a tube. Then she challenged other students to get the toothpaste back in the tube.

“They made the connection that when we say something hurtful, even if we apologize, we can’t always make it better,” Geiger said.

Throughout the week, she noticed staff and students being kinder in general. Of course, one shouldn’t need a checklist to be nice to the person walking next to them, but kindness, like anything else, can become a habit we lose. It also can be overshadowed by more impulsive emotions.

It’s a reality Geiger didn’t immediately know how to explain.

“We have a culture in our society that when someone is mean to us that we should be mean back to them,” Geiger said. “We have put in the back of our head the whole Golden Rule that we should do unto others that as we would like to be done to us.”

As she talked more, Geiger tossed out another idea.

“Maybe we’re more focused on judgments than kindness,” Geiger said. “I don’t know.”

I don’t know, either, but I’m thankful for people who provide examples of genuine kindness.

• • •

Kindness in the face of grief: You may remember reading in the Daily Chronicle that Dawn Weber and Tamara Getzelman recently hosted a Random Act of Kindness Day to honor their children, Timothy Getzelman and Lexi Weber, who were killed Feb. 21, 2011, in a car crash. Getzelman was from Sycamore, Weber from Maple Park.

The community again is responding with kindness after a recent car crash claimed the life of an 11-year-old Sycamore boy and seriously injured an 18-year-old Sycamore woman.

North School Parent Teacher Organization will collect donations for Matthew Ranken’s family. Donations can be made in the office of any Sycamore school building or sent to: North School PTO, 1680 Brickville Road, Sycamore, IL 60178.

A friend of Nick Weber, Matthew’s older brother, is planning a rap event at 7 p.m. Saturday to raise money for the family. Doors will open at 6 p.m. at The House Cafe, 263 E. Lincoln Highway, DeKalb; admission is $5.

In addition, a portion of the sales between 5 and 8 p.m. April 2 at Culver’s, 1200 DeKalb Ave., Sycamore, will go toward the Ranken family, according to an event posted on Facebook.

• • •

A snow castle: After the roads are sufficiently clear, check out a snow castle in a private yard at the corner of Fisk Avenue and Fifth Street in DeKalb. It is beautiful. The creator wasn’t interested in being named in the paper when I stopped there Tuesday morning, but his castle has been attracting plenty of attention from passersby.

It’s a reminder of the fun side of snow days.

• Jillian Duchnowski is the news editor at the Daily Chronicle. Reach her at 815-756-4841, ext. 2221, email or follow her on Twitter @JillianDuch.

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