We know all too well lately that perhaps nothing hurts us as deeply as the loss of a young person. And it’s a tragic reality, but we’re losing more and more children and adolescents to suicide.
For longtime philanthropist and volunteer Andra Liemandt, the world changed when a dear friend’s daughter lost her life to suicide at only 12 years old. Andra began looking for ways to process her heartbreak and open conversations with her own children. As she did, something that surprised her happened: a movement was born.
“It really was something that was unleashed, rather than me starting it,” Andra says of The Kindness Campaign, the nonprofit she founded in 2015. I talked to Andra about how, in just a few short years, The Kindness Campaign went from the first spark of an idea to a movement that touches the lives of over 40,000 students.
‘We Are All Enough’
One of the first steps in this big movement was a little doll: the Enoughie Buddy. Sitting around their kitchen table, Andra and her daughters created Enoughie Buddy “with the idea of ‘we are all enough.’” From there, they developed a journal kids could use to talk about their feelings. Andra shared her tools with the principal at one daughter’s school here in Austin. He wanted them for his students, and he helped bring them into other schools.
This was all happening pretty fast, so Andra decided to turn her movement into an official nonprofit. Since then, lots more people have gotten to know Enoughie Buddy and the work of The Kindness Campaign. The organization now serves schools nationwide. And its toolkit continues to grow. A curriculum teaches emotional health. The Kindness Campaign also offers training for educators.
One of the latest additions is Kind Music, which helps kids nurture their emotional health through songwriting. This program actually does good in a couple of ways. Besides helping kids, it also employs musicians. That was important to Andra, a musician herself, because she knew how the music community has suffered during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Andra says The Kindness Campaign will always keep growing, adapting and evolving to serve its stakeholders’ needs. Their philosophy is “if we don’t have it, we build it.” One aspect of that is harnessing the power of technology to spread TKC’s message. The need for tech solutions became especially clear during the pandemic. Shifting their work during Covid sometimes felt like starting the whole organization over again. But it also set the stage for new innovations like TKC’s Kind Gym app. “We are stronger than we’ve ever been — and more accessible, more nimble,” Andra says.
‘They Felt Valued’
Since its beginnings around Andra’s kitchen table, The Kindness Campaign has made a big impact. She saw that firsthand recently when she visited a school to talk about their experience with TKC programs. The educators there told her that they felt their culture had “stagnated” during the pandemic.
“They told us they feel that they’re back on track,” Andra says. “Every child, every faculty member, from the lunchroom to every staff person, was seen. They felt valued, they felt heard, and they had a sense of self-worth.”
Results like that help grow Andra’s movement. The Kindness Campaign has worked with Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, as well as organizations like Girl Scouts, National Charity League and Boys & Girls Clubs. “The number one thing that we ask them is, ‘What does kindness mean to you and your organization? And what does it look like for us to be a partner to you?’” she says.
‘It’s a Long Journey’
Andra’s story shows us that the most painful events in our lives can become catalysts for movements. But she reminds us that it’s important to care for your own emotional health first before you start thinking about ways to turn your pain into positive action.
She also advises getting super-clear on your values and motivations. “It’s a long journey, and you just want to ask yourself a lot of really important questions about why you’re doing what you’re doing,” she says.
You don’t have to start your own organization to be a powerful #MovementMaker. “There are a lot of beautiful nonprofits out there to plug into,” Andra says. Even as an experienced nonprofit volunteer, she says it was still enormously challenging to launch the Kindness Campaign. “You have to want it more than anyone else,” she says. “You have to be really passionate, and you have to have good people by your side.”
How You Can Support The Kindness Campaign
Feeling inspired to join the movement? There are lots of ways to show The Kindness Campaign you’re by their side. You can donate to The Kindness Campaign online, sign up to volunteer, buy Kindness Campaign merch and join TKC Kindness Champions in Training on Facebook.
It also makes a big difference when you simply share messages of kindness and positivity on social media. “If you see someone being kind, share it on social media,” she says. “The more that we can either be kind to ourselves or put kindness in the world, the more we will begin to see that shift happening for all of us in our community.”
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