Messages of kindness and peace from students around the world stretch 18 miles
Imagine unrolling a paper chain from Carlsbad more than 18 miles south.
Now, consider that each link of that paper trail carries a handwritten message of love and kindness. Consider, too, that these 360,000 chain links were created with used paper — homework assignments, old tests, artwork, paper bags, cereal boxes — by students from schools in all 50 U.S. states and on all continents except Antarctica.
You get the gist of this colossal undertaking by Kids for Peace, a global nonprofit based in Carlsbad.
Instead of stretching the paper chain from Carlsbad’s Pacific Rim Elementary School to Westfield UTC, however, they arranged the strands into a giant heart on the football field.
This paper chain project, more than 18 months in the making, came to fruition on Nov. 13, World Kindness Day.
“It was started because of the pandemic,” explains Jill McManigal, a Carlsbad mom and former teacher who co-founded and heads Kids for Peace.
Students, isolated for months at home, needed to find ways to connect and to remain optimistic during this uncertain time, she says. “By doing this paper chain, they were symbolically connected.”
The recycled paper “love links” were written in several languages, including Chinese, Farsi, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Swahili and Tagalog. One message read “love” in Braille.
Messages sent from other states and from abroad were stapled and assembled into chains by local student volunteers.
“We did it on campus throughout the day, during lunch recess and after school for six weeks,” says Oscar Torrico, an Oceanside Reynolds Elementary School counselor.
Among thoughts shared were: “You’re loved,” “Kindness matters,” “Have faith,” Care for each other,” “Have a good day,” “All we need is hope,” “Stay Strong!,” “Be the source of someone’s joy” and “Learn to dance in the rain.”
Teachers said the project energized and excited students.
“My kids were so proud to be part of something on such a grand scale. They read messages of love from all over the world,” says fifth-grade teacher Margaret Malek at Reynolds Elementary. She made assembling the chain a community service project.
A team took a section of the chain to classrooms inviting all students to join in creating links.
“It was relaxing for kids to work on their love links,” she says. “They reflected on the day and positive wishes for world. “ Some of their messages reflected life’s “keys of excellence” taught in her class, such as: “Own it” and “Believe in yourself.”
“They really struggle with believing in themselves and with their self-esteem, especially during the pandemic,” Malek says.
When done, everyone assembled on the playground. They laid the links in the shape of a peace sign, then students sat and stood in it.
The original goal of Kids for Peace was to set a Guinness world record for the longest paper link chain.
When Guinness informed them their chain needed to exceed 100 miles in length, they decided it would be too time-consuming, considering it took 18 months to produce and five days to assemble just 18 miles of chain.
While their efforts won’t earn Guinness status, McManigal is convinced, based on her organization’s research, it is the first 18-mile recycled paper chain with messages of love, hope and peace.
Kids for Peace already set a Guinness record in 2015 with creation of the largest collage of handprint cutouts (104,108 handprints). Each was personalized with a positive message, and the collage was displayed on several walls of Dignity Health hospital in Glendale.
McManigal founded Kids of Peace with Carlsbad High junior Danielle Gram in 2006 to stress acts of kindness, love and peace. It grew to encompass three Carlsbad elementary schools, then spread to other San Diego schools. The California Department of Education became a partner four years ago. Now there are 450 chapters on six continents.
In addition to its school Peace Pledge Program, the group launched an annual “Great Kindness Challenge” 11 years ago, asking for 50 acts of kindness to be completed during the last week of January.
Each season begins with a spectacular event to get the kids excited: local school principals sky diving (2016) or bungee jumping from a bridge (2019). One year, a bus tour that started in New York’s Times Square, where it was featured on “Good Morning America,” crossed the country to Carlsbad, stopping to perform 50 acts of kindness along the way.
Every year it organizes a service project to grant a child’s wish in another country. A Kenya girl named Maggie wished she had a school to attend, so Kids for Peace built one. A girl in Pakistan yearned for a school that accepted girls, so they worked with local authorities to construct and furnish one. A boy in Liberia wanted a health clinic to help save people during the Ebola outbreak. His wish was granted.
All of these were paid for by school kids’ fundraising activities — wishing-well coin tosses, lemonade stands, haircut sales and more.
“We are always looking for ways to harness the passion of children,” McManigal says.
Links of the paper chain from Saturday’s heart display will be delivered to senior centers, local city halls, libraries, school districts, politicians’ offices, the White House and the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C.
“There’s something magical about this,” McManigal notes. On World Kindness Day, she took a photo of volunteers standing around the perimeter of the heart. For one picture, she asked everyone to touch the heart with their feet. One teacher looked down and, out of some 360,000 links, spied a hopeful message written by one of her own students whose family had been hit hard by the pandemic.
“It was so healing,” McManigal says. “There were times during the pandemic that we needed that extra boost. It really uplifted our spirits when we read the messages.”
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