It’s been a good week for kindness.
So it’s fitting that, as the socio-political pendulum seems to be swinging in the direction of decency, this Friday marks World Kindness Day, an international effort to commit to random acts of kindness.
Good ol’ kindness has always been at the heart of Make The World Better Foundation (MTWB), the nonprofit started by former Eagle Connor Barwin to revitalize public spaces and make them inviting places for communities to come together.
Since launching in 2013, the organization has brought neighborhoods together to create playgrounds, gardens, mural projects, and more.
“Kindness is community-building. Kindness exists at a friends and family level, at a block level and a neighborhood level and a city level. And we believe at MTWB that it just ripples.”
When Barwin’s mom, Margaret, recently told Barwin about kindness.org, a nonprofit committed to studying kindness and educating the world about its value in problem-solving, and Friday’s international day to rally behind it, of course he wanted to jump in.
In a recent MTWB newsletter, the organization explained the premise of World Kindness Day: Participants attempt to make the world a better place by celebrating and promoting good deeds and pledging acts of kindness, either as individuals or organizations.
They also suggested some actions to get started, courtesy of kindness.org: Write a note to a teacher. Leave a generous tip. Send flowers to a friend. They’re the kinds of simple, tangible things we can all do to make the world a little bit kinder.
Follow MTWB’s suggestions or come up with your own acts of kindness, then tag them with #maketheworldbetter—which is an easy way to follow Tip #7: Spread positivity on social media.
As Friday’s observance approaches, Barwin—now a special assistant to Eagles General Manager Howie Roseman—took time to talk about what the day means to him, and how we can all jump in to make Philly and the world a kinder place.
Jessica Blatt Press: World Kindness Day comes around once a year, but kindness has always been at the heart of Make The World Better Foundation, no?
Connor Barwin: I gotta give my mom credit for bringing kindness.org and World Kindness Day to MTWB and our staff. When we heard about it, we all just kind of sat around and were like Oh my god, this is at the core of what we believe!
Kindness is community-building. Kindness exists at a friends and family level, at a block level and a neighborhood level and a city level. And we believe at MTWB that it just ripples. And that’s kind of what kindness.org believes in, too, and has the scientific research to back up.
In terms of how kindness is woven into MTWB, when we partner with a neighborhood or community and try to work with them to improve their public space, it’s all about listening, meeting people where they are, being thoughtful and kind along the whole process.
And we believe that when you do that, it gets reciprocated, and it spreads, and that’s really where a neighborhood comes together and can build a public space that is a place where people go and connect and acts of kindness happen, and there’s just pure joy for little kids, teenagers, parents, older people.
“One thing I learned from both my parents and from playing sports is that you’re not always right, and it’s definitely worth listening and trying to understand where people are coming from.”
And so when my mom brought this to the staff and my attention, we just fell in love with it and thought it would be a great thing to promote in our most recent newsletter.
It’s interesting—maybe it’s just the political climate of what’s going on—but we’ve been sending out a newsletter twice a month for a while now, and [laughs] when we told people about kindness.org’s suggestions for “10 random things you can do [to be kind]”, we got the biggest response we’ve ever gotten to a newsletter!
We were really blown away. People loved it. Hopefully it inspires people.
JBP: You’ve done so many huge acts of kindness for our city that people can forget you’re a human like anyone else—a dad, a husband, a son, a citizen. What are some simple acts of kindness that you try to make a part of your everyday life?
CB: First, big picture, I think the one thing I learned from both my parents and from playing sports is that you’re not always right, and it’s definitely worth listening and trying to understand where people are coming from. Your point of view will get farther if you listen, and you’ll most definitely learn a lot more if you listen. So I’ve always tried to hear every perspective and, again, kind of meet people where they are and try to understand. Because everybody is living in different circumstances, they’re getting different information right now.
And then just at a small level, I was very much inspired when I was young by how my dad—who was a city police officer and city manager, and still is a city manager—used to come home from jogs and have litter in his hand. It just had a profound impact on me.
Now, I live in Fishtown—where, unfortunately, there’s too much litter on the street—and my son, who’s two years old and four months, and I will go for a walk and we take a brown grocery bag. We each have our own little picker-uppers and we just walk until we fill up the bag. Unfortunately we don’t usually get but two blocks [until it’s full], but it’s just been a fun thing for me and him to do.
I think it makes a very small difference, and it’s a good example for my son. And I know at least some people are like, “Alright, I’m going to pick up trash now, too. I’m going to do something kind.” That’s one of the biggest takeaways.
JBP: Speaking of kids, they can feel especially powerless and overwhelmed right now, with the pandemic going on and their routines totally upended. What words of encouragement could you offer for kiddos about how their acts of kindness are a way to make a real difference and have some control at a time when they can’t control much else?
CB: I think it’s maybe not what kids can do but I think adults should learn from and be inspired by kids. When I take my son to the playground and see him run around with little kids and have no idea what’s going on and be friendly and kind to kids he doesn’t know, that’s inspiring.
JBP: What has MTWB been up to while the pandemic has been going on, and what projects are on the horizon?
CB: I’ve been working with the Eagles and been busy with the season, but our staff has been awesome. They’ve moved a lot of community meetings virtually, and so at the rec center in Gray’s Ferry, our big project continues to go through design. That’s a $14 million rebuild project that is on schedule; we’re through schematic design, and we’re into design development. And that’s on schedule to start construction some time next summer, which is going to be amazing.
Our first project six years ago was at Ralph Brooks Park, and we recently did an updated $200,000 renovation to that site, which is now done. It’s not open yet, because we’re doing a bunch of street painting and things around it, so we’re waiting until the spring. And Waterloo is our other project; we did phase one about a year and a half ago, which included two basketball courts, and now phase two will start shortly and wrap up some time early in the spring of ‘21.
JBP: Your annual concert fundraiser obviously had to be canceled this year because of Covid-19, which was a bummer. Are you planning any other fundraisers in its place?
CB: We’re going to run an online campaign for a month, kicking off December 1st, to raise some funds. We don’t know how much we’ll raise to try to make up the difference from the concert and our other annual corporate fundraising event, but we’ll see.
All in all, it’s been a good year for MTWB. We continue to execute and work with different communities and neighborhoods, and 2021 should be a really exciting year.
“You don’t have to love everybody, you don’t have to agree with everybody, but we can be kind and civil.”
JBP: Kindness has been dear to you for years, but it certainly feels more important than ever to fuel kindness, to create community and create safe, warm, inviting, special places for community—so thank you for everything you and your team are doing.
CB: Thank you. I appreciate that. And, again, I’ve learned a lot from my mom in the last two weeks from kindness.org—maybe I knew it, but it’s a good reminder—that people really can just choose kindness.
You don’t have to love everybody, you don’t have to agree with everybody, but we can be kind and civil, and that’s a good reminder right now.Photo by Stacey Salter Moore, Industry & Commerce Image Works