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The Power of Kindness

kindness feature

Hana Leftridge, C'22, and Angela Vodola, C'23, write handwritten notes of encouragement to members of the Mount community who signed up to receive them. Photo by Kiyan Sheraz, C'19

“You are loved,” one girl wrote on a notecard. A few positive affirmations were written on another: “I am smart. I am kind. I am brave.”

kindness-in-text-1.jpgA small group gathered outside the bookstore, nestled perfectly in the space where student mailboxes once housed letters. For two hours the group crafted handwritten notes to students, faculty, administration and staff who signed up to receive a special letter of encouragement. Last year, the Notes of Kindness team mailed more than 350 letters.

Notes of Kindness is led by Director of Counseling Service Gerald Rooth, M.S., L.C.P.C. and coordinated by elementary and special education major Hana Leftridge, C’22. Sinclair Caesar III, a former assistant director of residence life, started the group in 2015 with the help of Megan Schultz, C’19.

Schultz, a self-described military brat, started the Happiness Project when she was in high school. (Her essay about it was published in Lighted Corners and won a gold circle certificate of merit from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association.) No matter where she moved, she wrote monthly notes and sent small gifts to more than 30 friends from all over the country. As she prepared to transition from high school to college, she hoped to bring her Happiness Project to the Mount.

The summer before her freshman year, she received an email from Caesar. “It was essentially my Happiness Project!” she exclaimed. She quickly signed up to receive notes, volunteered to help write to others and slowly took ownership to organize spreadsheets, collect supplies and spread the word.

“She had personally done a lot of letter writing to people and found it was a good way to connect and show gratitude and share positivity,” Rooth said. The two brainstormed ways to organize something on campus to model those values.  His office provides logistical support and basic funding for stationery, markers, booking space and advertising letter-writing parties.

Schultz graduated in May and now works in human resources at the Department of Defense. She handed the coordinator position to Leftridge—a familiar face at letter-writing parties. Leftridge also volunteered at her high school in a similar role with Future Teachers of America where she wrote notes of encouragement to support educators.

“When I got to the Mount, I was excited to join Notes of Kindness. I really liked the idea of spreading positivity and gratitude because that’s something I’ve tried to emulate in my own life: to focus on the good things in life and be grateful in the present moment,” she said.

The small group also sponsored tabling events in Patriot. Last year for Valentine’s Day they asked people who were walking through to write down something or someone they love on a note. “Even if the effect of it is small, people remember it and it builds momentum,” Rooth said. “We have to be patient because good things take time.”

Angela Vodola, C’23, an honors student, sat quietly as she focused on writing the rest of a long sentence. Her pink Sharpie glided along the card as the words filled the void. The elementary and special education major says doing something kind for others is important to her.

“I’m from Newtown, Connecticut,” she said, looking down at her note. On December 14, 2012, her town became the epicenter of a violent mass shooting. “In my town, a lot of people do 26 acts of kindness to honor the 26 people who were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.”

When asked about a kind gesture that made a difference in her life, she requested more time to think and reflect on her answer. Later, she recounted a different story in her community—one that didn’t make headlines or national news. A few years ago, while she waited in line at a store with her sisters, a stranger bought them cookies. “Little acts like that make me want to give back,” she said.

Katie Carrigan, C’21, is a psychology major and has received notes. She has kept every one of them. She has also volunteered to write the notes since her freshman year.

“When I write, I feel better,” she said. Science agrees. Many studies over the past decade have found that people who consciously count their blessings tend to have fewer toxic emotions, more life satisfaction and lower levels of depression symptoms. “It increases endorphins,” Carrigan added as she finished hand-lettering a green envelope. She’s correct. Neuroscientists believe generosity activates reward centers in our brains—and we are wired to help others.

“Handwritten cards help us slow down and pay attention,” said Caitlin Faas, Ph.D., assistant psychology professor and department chair. “It seems like it wouldn’t matter, but that’s exactly the point. It does matter and adds up quickly.”

“The purpose of Notes of Kindness,” Schultz wrote, “is to build a more positive and supportive community for everyone, and to love each other as we are. Even, sometimes, to help others remember to love themselves as they are.”

The next letter-writing party is Wednesday, February 19 from 4 to 6 p.m. in the Mount cafe. All supplies are provided, and all are welcome. Contact Hana Leftridge at for more information on how you can volunteer, donate stationery or be of service.