'Challenge accepted': York seeks 10,000 Acts of Kindness in year-long unity effort

Nathan Newlin, of York City, fills paper bags with donated items following a press conference held to introduce 10,000 Acts of Kindness, a year-long collaborative effort to spread kindness and goodwill, outside of the York County Administrative Center in York City, Friday, June 29, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

York County leaders have a vision to fill 10,000 seats at a city table.

The only admission? Complete an act of kindness.

For an entire year, ambassadors from local churches, schools, businesses and organizations will be giving out "kindness coins" — which can be redeemed to join in a countywide show of unity.

The 1½-mile chain of tables will hold dinner for the community at Penn Park in York City on June 30, 2019 — an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the longest table.

But it's not about the record, organizers said.

Next year will be the 50th anniversary of the 1969 York race riots, and although many recognize there's still division today, they also want to celebrate the county's progress.

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The Revs. Joan Maruskin, a local volunteer with York Cares, and Ramona Kinard, vice president of the Black Ministers' Association, both knew there was more good happening in the area than people realized.

They got together with David Smith, the co-owner of I-ron-ic Coffee Shop and Art Boutique in York City, to organize a big event to help showcase kindness in the city.

Smith had previously partnered with LifePath Christian Ministries to organize the city's 275th birthday bash — a 550-seat dinner on West Market Street.

To attend that event, guests had to win entry through a golden ticket sold with candy bars.

From that, the idea for 10,000 "kindness coins" was born.

Those who sign up as ambassadors will be able to give out the coins for what they deem acts of kindness, and recipients can go online to be considered for a seat.

What counts as an act of kindness is up to the ambassador, said volunteer Maribel Burgos, but it will be more than just acts of courtesy, such as holding open a door or saying please and thank you.

She said joining a cleaning crew, or taking time out of the day to devote to others would be good examples.

A call to kindness: On the steps of the county administrative building on Friday, June 29, Maruskin posed the question: How many have received, done or are willing to do an act of kindness?

Many hands shot up from volunteers and community members who had come to hear about the new project.

"That proves it," she said.

Some York-area residents shared their reasons for getting involved.

For Thais Carrero, who gave the Spanish language presentation about the effort, it's an opportunity to bring change.

"(York's) a great place to live, but there's a lot of work to be done," said Carrero, a two-year Hallam resident who moved from Puerto Rico.

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She has found a large Puerto Rican community in the York area and hopes they can work together to become more engaged and involved in decision-making in the city and state.

And Carrero said she thinks Acts of Kindness is a good start in understanding that differences make a better and richer community.

Mindy Christian, executive director of Creative York — one of the organizations endorsing the project — said the idea fits its mission of inclusion in the community.

The arts organization is approaching its 25th year of Art in the Parks, which offers free art activities in city parks, and organizers plan to work with kids on kindness-related art.

Christian said there are smaller events around the city that celebrate diversity and unity, but nothing on a scale this big.

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Getting involved: The Acts of Kindness committee hopes to get as many local businesses, school districts, administrations, churches and organizations involved as possible.

At the June 29 announcement, ambassadors were getting into the competitive spirit.

York County Commissioner Susan Byrnes said her office was 2,600 strong — "come and get us," she said, as a challenge to other organizations.

Eric Menzer, president of the York Revolution, replied: "Alright, Susie. Challenge accepted."

He agreed it needs to be a community effort in order for the idea to prosper. His goal is to see hundreds of businesses leading thousands of employees.

Remembering the riots: Some are choosing to remember the riots as they focus on pushing the county forward.

“There’s a lot of love in this community, and there’s still a lot of pain in this community,” said York City Mayor Michael Helfrich, calling for work to bridge the gap.

York City Mayor Michael Helfrich speaks as organizers hold a press conference to introduce 10,000 Acts of Kindness, a year-long collaborative effort to spread kindness and goodwill, outside of the York County Administrative Center in York City, Friday, June 29, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Maruskin said she believes that the table of brotherhood that Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed about can become a reality.

"We live in divisive times, and it doesn't help to pretend those (divisions) don't exist," Menzer said, adding he also believes acts of kindness can help change hearts and minds.

"I lived here in York during the riots," said York City School Board President Margie Orr. "I will never forget it."

However, she said she wants to move forward, and she challenged other districts to do the same by getting involved with Acts of Kindness.

Funding: An ad-hoc organization, the Acts of Kindness committee must raise $303,000 to fund promotions, the minting of coins and the celebration next June.

Organizers are challenging businesses to donate $25,000 to $50,000 to help them reach goal, and individuals can donate online as well.

The committee plans to hold a kickoff fundraiser, which it said will be announced soon.

“I think this is a very worthwhile project, and I think it’s going to go far," said Sylvia Kelly, a 30-year resident of York City.

Jose Santiago, the director of the New American Welcome Center at the York YMCA who sits on the communications committee for the project, said he hopes it will continue for many years.

As a first act, organizers worked with representatives from Covenant House, a center for homeless youth, after the event to put together care packages of nonperishables for drop-ins.

Maruskin challenged cities and municipalities outside the county to get involved as well. If they want to join in on the celebration next June and add even more seats to the table, she said the York committee can help them do that.