LIFE & FAITH

From ‘Random Acts of Kindness’ to year-long altruism

cclick@thestate.comDecember 1, 2013 

— On a recent early November day, Andrea Martin was working the cash register at the Family Dollar store in Elgin when a customer with a small child approached the checkout lane, a pair of children’s shoes and some women’s socks in hand.

Martin, 22, already had noticed that the little boy was barefoot. “When she came in she put her son in the buggy because he didn’t have shoes on,” Martin said.

But when the cost of the items exceeded the amount of cash in the customer’s hand, the customer asked Martin to remove the ladies socks from the bill.

Instead, Martin, a member of Radiate Church in Northeast Richland, pulled out a “You Matter” card and took care of the bill herself.

“I paid the rest of it for her and she was about to cry,” said Martin.

‘Radiators’ and showing kindness

Chalk up another Random Act of Kindness on the part of Radiate Church members, who have embarked on a yearlong movement to show their love for others by donating their time to local charities, their money to the homeless, and even by buying a cup of coffee for the guy who idles behind them in the fast food drive-through line.

The congregation, which meets at Killian Elementary School in Northeast Richland, has begun a yearlong You Matter movement, which it describes on the church’s website (www.radiatechurch.net) as “simply doing something loving, caring, and unexpected for someone else, and letting them know that they matter!”

“We have people who have bought hair cuts and, while their neighbor was out, they cut their grass,” said Pastor Brandon Goff, who founded Radiate Church in 2011. The church is a contemporary church under the auspices of the International Pentecostal Holiness Church (www.sciphc.org). The church has distributed 2,000 “You Matter” cards this year, he said.

Earlier this month, the church embarked on a seven-day blitz called “Cover Columbia,” reaching out to charities to donate time and money. During that seven-day span, the members donated 484 hours.

“The vision of our church is to help people and to be a church that is part of the community, not just in the community,” said Goff. “We decided we would find people in ministries and organizations that are constantly going and needed some help.”

Martin said church members call themselves “radiators” and hope they will inspire a movement beyond their congregation.

“When you do that for one person, then they might be able to help another person,” Martin said. “It’s not just our church. We want to get everybody doing it.”

Out of inhumanity, a project to promote humanity

In Greenville, Rabbi Marc Wilson said the city’s “Year of Altruism: A Movement Powered by Humanity” project has aimed to do just that, casting a blanket of good will and good deeds over the city that he believes could be duplicated in Columbia and hundreds of other communities across the country.

“One of the overarching things as the year is moving on is are we going to leave some kind of legacy behind,” Wilson said last week. “Is the Year of Altruism going to be over after the Year of Altruism is over?”

Greenville’s project began percolating five years ago when the city commemorated the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the 1939 “Night of Broken Glass,” in which Jewish synagogues, businesses and homes in Germany and Austria were destroyed. That date is seen as the beginning of the descent into World War II and the Holocaust.

That Greenville commemoration in 2008 drew more than 800, when only 200 were expected. As the city prepared to commemorate the 75th anniversary, Furman University officials suggested to Wilson and St. Claire that they consider a yearlong commemoration. That’s when civic leaders, educators and organizers decided to turn the inhumanity of the event on its ear.

“Instead of a single evening dedicated to remembering one era of evil, we propose to rally our community around a yearlong celebration of human goodness,” the Year of Altruism website noted. The Year of Altruism kicked off in August.

More than 85 organizations, from schools to congregations to charitable groups, have participated in all sorts of symposiums, partnerships and events. Children have been tutored, cans have been collected for the area food bank, awareness has been raised on issues from AIDS to domestic violence. The arts have been celebrated along the way with plays and concerts.

The Year of Altruism has brought together unlikely partners at times, Wilson said, but the overarching theme has been one of community togetherness.

In an effort to expand beyond Greenville’s boundaries, Wilson said he has been in talks with others in Columbia and beyond in hopes of transplanting some parts of the Year of Altruism to church projects within the Episcopal denomination.

Wilson and his partner in the venture, Robert St. Claire, don’t believe the Year of Altruism has to be a one-city undertaking, and they look to outreach efforts such as the “You Matter” project at Radiate Church as proof that people are more than willing to root for humanity over inhumanity.

“We have been talking about seeds we can implant that will endure,” said Wilson. “We have heard from other communities that have said, can you show us how we can do this?” A community ought to do its own “needs-gap analysis” and tailor a program that suits it, Wilson said.

“As much as we like the idea of this being an all-enveloping year cycle, we realize there are going to be places that may just do part of this stuff,” Wilson said. “A lot of that is doing the needs-gap analysis: what isn’t happening that should be? Are you interested in doing this? What can we do to emphasize that humanity can grow out of inhumanity?”

“As goofy as it sounds, it is almost unrestrainable.”

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