From her cramped bedroom in Farmington, N.M., 20-year-old Madison Steiner custom paints cheerful designs on canvas shoes for children fighting long-term illness and disability.
In his garage in Riverside, Calif., Willis Ward, 84, converts scrap wood into toy trains to give to neighborhood kids.
Steiner and Ward have little in common besides a desire to put a smile on someone's face. And that's just the spirit the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation deemed worthy of recognition for its six-week Extreme Kindness Challenge, held to promote Random Acts of Kindness Week, which runs Feb. 13 to 19.
The foundation, a Denver-based nonprofit with the mission of spreading a "culture of kindness," picked three winners out of 50 submissions highlighting little things people do to make the world a kinder place, said Brooke Jones, manager of the foundation. The winners will be showcased in videos, produced by a group of journalists called Storytellers for Good, posted on the foundation's website.
Steiner, whose video debuts first on Feb. 13, has donated more than 150 pairs of shoes to kids in 30 states since launching her organization, Peach's Neet Feet, in July. She got the idea after she and her stepbrother, Corey Smith, painted their own shoes for fun and drew compliments from the kids at the nonprofit where they both work part time; they recognized an opportunity to make a difference.
"I always feel that my generation appears to be a 'me generation,'" said Steiner, who is pursuing nonprofit status for Peach's Neet Feet and wants eventually to get a degree in social work. "But I was raised in a very pay-it-forward family."
Steiner works with hospital social workers to identify kids who might appreciate some "sole-lifting" kicks, and spends several hours daily decorating each pair of shoes with the child's name and interests, be they rainbows, butterflies or dinosaurs. She funds the cost of each pair of shoes with donations from sponsors.
Peggy Filer, 53, another Kindness Challenge winner, has encouraged kids to "be the ripple" of good deeds ever since she was asked to be staff adviser of their Random Acts of Kindness Club at Cedarcrest High School in Duvall, Wash.
Filer, a health teacher, has seen the club grow from five students at its first meeting in 2000 to an average of 75 kids today. She leads them in a variety of good deeds. They distribute "I Am Loved" buttons on Valentine's Day. They conduct coat drives. They declared a recent Tuesday Sit-With-Someone-New-At-Lunch Day.
Filer said students sometimes roll their eyes at her chipper kindness peddling, but she has seen difficult kids transform when they realize their simple actions have the power to make others happy.
"It's a win-win thing," Filer said. "They feel good and you feel good."
It didn't cross Willis Ward's mind that he was doing anything noteworthy until he got a call from the RAK Foundation alerting him to his win. A stranger had nominated Ward after reading an article about him in a local newspaper, which described how he had given away more than 1,000 handmade trains to kids who couldn't afford toys of their own.
"I just love making things," said Ward, a widower who lives alone and whiles away his hours making the trains. Retired from a career in construction, Ward builds an engine and three cars from scrap wood, paints them and, in a unique flourish, decorates each car with the labels from pet food cans.
"The kids love them, there's nothing in the store even like it," Ward said. And, he recalled: "For Christmas if I got a 10-cent toy, I was very lucky."
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The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation website is a great source of ideas to find, and share: randomactsofkindness.org.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times