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Transcript – Happy Activists: Wilson County Kind Makes Kindness Cool

Follow along with the transcript below for episode: Happy Activists: Wilson County Kind Makes Kindness Cool





[0:00:01] PF: Thank you for joining us for episode 474 of Live Happy Now. We know that kindness is crucial and sometimes these days it seems to be in short supply. But today, we’re talking to a couple of happy activists who are creating kindness in a place you might not expect. I’m your host, Paula Felps, and this week I’m joined by Mayor Randall Hutto and Project Administrator Susan Shaw, who are the driving forces behind an initiative in Tennessee called Wilson County Kind.


As the name implies, Wilson County Kind promotes kindness, starting with local government. Randall and Susan are here to share how this initiative started, why it’s important for governments to embrace kindness, and what effect this has had on their community. Let’s have a listen.




[0:00:49] PF: Mayor Hutto, welcome to Live Happy Now.


[0:00:52] RH: Thank you for having me.


[0:00:53] PF: This is a wonderful thing that we’re going to talk about today. It’s something, I love the fact that it comes from a government agency. I love the good that you’re putting out in the world. So, before I ask you any more questions about it, why don’t you tell us, tell our listeners what Wilson County Kind is all about.


[0:01:09] RH: Well, thank you for having me on the show. For us, we get lots of conversations, and lots of traffic that comes through our office. Normally, it’s an opportunity for us to help people. They have an issue, many people don’t walk to the door saying, “Hey, you’re doing a great job.” Again, it becomes an opportunity for us to really do a setback and take a chance on how can we help that person that comes in.


Normally, we’re able to do that. Sometimes we’re not able to, but most of the time we are. But we realize that as we began to see people come in and how happy they were leaving, the focus though was always on what’s not done right, what’s missing, what’s not there. It reminds me of a story that I heard about a professor given a test to his college class. He handed a piece of paper out. He told him to leave them all face down. Then he was going to give them a little bit of time to write on that project and write on the test. Then took it back up and began to read what they wrote.


Anyway, the test was really a white sheet of paper with a black dot in the middle of it. When they all flipped it over, he said, “Now, write what you see.” Everybody spent time writing. They talked about the dot. It was black and it was in the middle of paper, but nobody focused on the white area that was outside it. That was the point that he was making there that a lot of times when we go through life, what we focus on determines our attitude, maybe how we live. So, that was the piece that we noticed here. Once we solved that problem, those people were happy that were mad when they walked in, and we realized that there were a lot of good going on in the county, but people were just focusing on the bad things.


Many times, we saw that, for sure, on Facebook, where they talked maybe about the government. We were trying to figure out how can we get the message out here that this is not really what’s happening and tell the story, but many times when we did that, it would just balloon into something that would get out of control, because they would start fussing about something else. We said, what can we do to bring positivity to the people in the county for them to realize all the good things.


There are definitely some things we need to get better at, things we need to correct. That’s where we started the initiative in Wilson County Kind, and we said, focus on something that’s good. When you see a good act, post that on social media. Send a story to the paper on that. Let somebody else know that something good has happened. So, that got the story started.


Then I had an episode with a young lady that I met at the Wilson County Fair. She came up to me and we normally made it to fair and ride some rides, but she came up and said, you know what? Her goal was, was that she wanted to do something nice for Wilson County, so she made some bracelets that said Wilson County Kind on it. She gave me a couple at the fair. I wore those for a while.


Then I asked her a little bit more about this. I said, “Tell me what you’re doing here.” She said, “Well, I’m going to sell these bracelets for whatever anybody wants to give me. Then once they give me the money, I’m going to do something good with that money. I’m not going to pocket it for myself. I’m not doing it for me. I’m doing it for other people.” So, as time went on, what she did with that money was they actually made up some packets. Actually, they’ve given me several packets so far of things to give out to the homeless people, homeless population.


Inside that back during the wintertime, I had a couple of hot hand warmers in there, a gift card, maybe a couple of other things, a bracelet. So, I went out and I just saw somebody on the side of the street that I knew who was homeless. I would hand that out. So, that became hit, but that was just one example of things that happened as we started talking about Wilson County Kind.


Susan Shaw have her with me here. She’s really the overseer of all this. I’ll let her talk in just a minute about that, but there’s been many other things, but that was the initial goal was to say, focus on the positive things that are happening here and let’s put that out in social media or tell people about any time you catch a kind act. There’s more good out there than they are bad, but we don’t focus on it, so let’s get that out there. So, that’s the origination of Wilson County Kind.


[0:05:15] PF: Well, when you started thinking about this, like how did it go from you thinking this would be a great thing for us to do for the county to spread this good news to actually becoming a program, because that’s a big stretch of highway between those two points?


[0:05:31] RH: It definitely was a concept that we had to spend a lot of time on. I’m going to let Susan Shaw speak for just a second, because she really orchestrated all this and made all the mechanics fall together. I’m going to turn it over to her. Susan Shaw.


[0:05:44] PF: Okay.


[0:05:44] SS: Thank you for asking that. Really, it originated once the mayor, we talked about this and decided that this was something to focus on and emphasize. We decided to have a campaign launch and not just a press release or something to notify people, but a real campaign launch. There was a lot of focus put on that to have activities in that launch. So, we invited everybody that wanted to come to see this and hear about this. We introduced them to Lexi Potter, who does the Kindness Clays by Lexi. Her little bracelets. We had five stations set up that were activity stations that demonstrated kindness.


One of our local artists, Kim Greg, she had some blank postcards made up and with images on there that people could color. She brought some coloring materials and people could come up to her table and color it in and write a encouraging message on the back of it. We partnered with our side, Senior Living here, and we’ve collected all these after they were done and we mailed them to residents at her side.


We purposely did several activities that people could engage in and would demonstrate kindness and really get them motivated on it. The neat thing about this with kindness is that once you start putting a spotlight on it and a focus on it, people start to notice it more. Not only does it help the recipient of the kind act, but the person that did it feels better. Then the person that received it tells three other people, and then they might go out and do something or observe something or tell more people about it. It’s kind of this leveraging effect that once you start it and it can really continue to spread.


[0:07:22] PF: When did it actually launch?


[0:07:24] SS: It was September of last year. People asked, “Well, when does it start and when does it end?”


[0:07:29] PF: When are you going to stop being kind, Susan?


[0:07:33] SS: That was the answer. You don’t. We have a start date, but we don’t need to have an end date and we, so we keep publicizing when we observe, or see, or people tell us about something that was a kind act, we continue to publicize that. On social media, we encourage people to use #WilsonCountyKind, because that way we can pull it up and we can see what happens.


I wanted to tell you one other neat story, because you heard about Lexi and another young man, a sophomore at Mount Juliet High School that reached out when he saw the campaign launch and he said, “I want to do something and I want to help in this kindness campaign.” He had an idea that he noticed that with the athletics in the high school, that they would retire old equipment and sometime he didn’t know what happened. It might be thrown out or something. He said, “I would like to collect that and where could it be given?” In the county, there’s an initiative to try to start a boys and girls club. He said, “How about if I collect the equipment and if there’s a place to store it, I’ll collect it. I’ll deliver it. Then it can be used for that purpose later.” So, he did that.


[0:08:38] PF: That’s amazing. I love it, because what this initiative is making people do is like what can I do? They’re thinking about it. They’re pausing for a moment and saying, “How can I be part of that?” That’s really what it takes. Like you said, it causes this chain reaction. We’ll be right back with the show, but right now I want to bring in Casey Johnson, Live Happy Marketing Manager and cat owner, who’s here to tell us about her favorite new discovery called PrettyLitter.




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[0:10:01] PF: I wonder were there any challenges to implementing it? Did you hit any skepticism or people stonewalling against, because a lot of times when you try to do good, people say that’s nice, but and then they tell you why it’s not going to work.


[0:10:14] SS: They Mayor may have a different answer, but I’ll tell you what I encountered. It wasn’t exactly stonewalling. It was more, well, what does this mean? Because it’s very conceptual. It’s not a super concrete, but we did give examples, but it was more, well, what does that mean? What is this really? What’s the end game? I guess that might be the skepticism is –


[0:10:34] PF: Yeah.


[0:10:35] SS: Who’s going to produce? We couldn’t exactly answer that at the beginning, because how can you say Lexi Potter is going to want to give back and give these care packets. Brady Patterson is going to want to collect sports equipment and give that to a boys or girls club. It’s hard to know what people are going to do, but it was pleasantly surprising that so many people stepped up and had ideas. I want to tell you about one other one. We have an SRO. A School Resource Officer. This is something that Wilson County is really proud of, because we’ve had school resource officers in all of our schools for long before there was so much attention put on it and money put into it from the legislature.


One of the school resource officers, they have a program to give out certificates for good deeds. So, they’re participating in the Wilson County Kind that when they see a student that does something that is just kind to another person, reaching out a hand, helping somebody doing something, they get a certificate with their name on it and they present it to them. They take a picture. They posted on social media. So, they’ve been posting it with #WilsonCountyKind, but I didn’t even know that they did that. So, that affected me too. It was nice to see that, and learn that.


[0:11:55] PF: I love that. So, what are some of the other things that you’ve done? What are the actions that you’ve taken as part of Wilson County Kind?


[0:12:04] SS: Talking about it is a big thing and that’s really the putting a spotlight on it, like I said, you don’t know what the end result is going to be, but we talk about it when we go to chamber meetings or meet the mayor. Inevitably, every time we talk about it, we learn about another kind action or deed or something that has happened. I talked about it at the Ambassador meeting of the Lebanon Wilson County Chamber. When I finished talking about it, the chair of that committee said, “Susan, that is so interesting.” He said, “If I think about it, as you’re talking, I’m thinking about over the last week and what acts of kindness that I observe.” He said, “I hate to tell you, but I really can’t tell you any.” He said, “But I can guarantee you that right now I am hyper alert and I will be looking for it. I am sure I’m going to observe this when I go out.” I thought, that’s right there, that’s part of the impact and what you see happen.


[0:12:59] PF: What I love about that, one thing we talk about a lot at Live Happy Now is gratitude and how having a gratitude practice really changes the way that you look at the world, because if you’re going to write down three things every day, you’re grateful for, you’re training your mind to look for things you’re grateful for. That’s exactly what you’re doing by spreading this message. You’re teaching people to start looking for acts of kindness. So, I love that. Now, instead of looking for the bad in the world, they’re out there looking for the kindness around them. That’s such a powerful gift to the community.


[0:13:30] RH: I think it is. I don’t think it’s taken attraction yet enough to where it’s where we want it. We’ve talked about it. We’ve got the two citizens that she just talked about, the SRO, but we know there’s a lot out there. We’ve got to find a way to make it a everyday train of thought, not just once in a while or one or two people, because we know just like – network came out of this after the tornadoes where volunteers came together to help all across the county.


There’s many good things have come together to prove that Wilson County is a kind and generous place to live. There’s a lot of that going on, but nobody’s telling that story. We are just getting started in my opinion with Wilson County Kind, like I have a sign in my front yard, and I wonder how many people drive by and look at it and say, “I wonder what that means.” That’s the goal. We’re in the early stages in my mind of people that sinking in, kind of like Wilson County, the place to be.


Wilson County Kind will continue to grow. We hope, and take more and more attraction. I think it takes three or four big events to happen that we can talk about that will start spreading a little bit, hopefully, like fire throughout the county, but it has not really in my mind gotten a lot of attraction, like we hope it does here soon.


[0:14:45] PF: Part of what’s so interesting to me is that, okay, so we know that kindness is very important, but it’s not something that you would think of tackling through a government agency. How does that work with your duties as Mayor of Wilson County to behind this movement? How do you work it into part of your duties?


[0:15:03] PF: I think it comes under the duties of quality of life. One of the goals here that we have, no question, we have to educate people. We have to incarcerate people. We have to make it safe, but quality of life is one of our major points that we want people to be happy while they’re here and enjoy the life that they have here. We don’t have to leave the county lines for anything to be honest with you. So, I think that’s where it comes in as far as quality of life goes.


It’s important for our people at least where I sent from to know that there is a lot of, we’ll take tourism, for example. There’s a lot of great things to do in Wilson County that people don’t know about, so we try to spread that word through tourism, but there’s a lot of good activities happening. A lot of people doing good for others that we’ve got to get that word out there. I think it’s really going to have to happen, as Susan said, when you ask a while ago the question, but what’s the problem? The but is, so how do I really help? What if I’m not good at social media? I don’t know how to do a hashtag. I don’t know what that means. How can I still take advantage of this? I think that’s the piece that is our next step is really getting a word. Here’s how you can do it.


[0:16:10] PF: I love that. What do you think would happen if other communities started taking this on as a governmental initiative or it’s just little pockets of some citizens trying to do this, which is a wonderful thing to do, but what if governments actually got behind that and said, yeah, that’s part of, as you said, that’s part of our quality of life and we’re going to make this about being a kind city and kind community? How would that change things?


[0:16:34] RH: I think it definitely does change things. We’re working to initiative here becoming an age friendly community, which allows for different things to happen for our older families here, grants to qualify for better services for those people. I think as a government as long as and what we’ve really tried to do smart here is that we don’t use any taxpayer dollars to do this, this is just a way of thinking of life. This is a new culture.


I think it’d be great for government, because right now government sometimes has a bad tone to it in our world today, but at the local level, it’s not really that. I mean, we’re here to provide the services that we just talked to you about, so we want to distance ourselves from any negative tone when you say government that you may feel inside of you. I think it would allow for people to say, “I like my government. I trust my government. I’m glad they’re doing this. It’s not cost me any money. I get benefits from it, because people are kinder as I walk across and see them walking down the street.” We know that we live in the best part of the country, probably. I think right now is when you wave at people, you don’t know, you speak to people, you talk to people, you don’t find a stranger. That is in our culture here, not for sure if it exists everywhere else in the country or not, but I know it exists here and we want to continue to expound on it.


[0:17:52] PF: If people are hearing this and they’re saying, “This is what we need to do, like we need to do something similar.” How do they get started? This might be a Susan question. I’m not sure, because it sounds like she was driving that vehicle quite a bit. How do they go from an idea to implementation?


[0:18:07] SS: Well, first of all, you get the support of people like Mayor Hutto. You get the support of somebody in government like that. Also, a support from the school systems, which we had huge support. Annie Barger, she’s with the Family Resource Center for Wilson County Schools and Beth Petty in the same role for Lebanon Special School Districts. They got with us and helped plan it. Then we also, because it’s not paid for with taxpayer money, we needed a small amount of money to do some promotional things, like yard signs, and stickers for water bottles, and we gave out t-shirts and all those things we gave out free at the campaign lunch.


What you do is we found a great partner. We have something called Ten Community here in Wilson County. It’s nine or ten banks that group together to be very supportive within the county. They sponsored Wilson County Kind and basically put up some funding this small amount, but for us to be able to buy some things that help with the PR. So, you brand it, you get the support locally of whoever it happens to be, government, school systems, chambers, our Chamber of Commerce were very supportive and the banks are helpful, because ours are very community-oriented banks in the first place.


We brand it. You come up with a good name. The logo was created for us by a local visionary design group who is a local marketing firm in Watertown and they did that pro bono. Then you just have to create some spark around it. Now, there’s a lot more PR that we can do and we need to do and we’ll constantly be thinking and building on that, but that’s how we got started. We brainstormed with people to say what our kind acts, what are some activities that people do? Sometimes it’s being in the line at Chick-fil-A and saying you’re going to pay it for the person behind it. That it starts a lot. That happens a lot of times and people recognize that. Then talk about it, when you see something or hear something, then talk about it. Make it known.


[0:20:04] PF: I love it. I love it. What’s your dream? You’ve got it kicked off, you’re going, you’re picking up momentum. What’s your vision? What does success look like for this program?


[0:20:14] SS: I think success looks like recognition. It looks like seeing acts of kindness everywhere you go, whether it’s in a store, or a school, or at a playground, or something. It’s hearing about people reaching out and doing something kind for somebody else. It’s hearing more, thank you. It’s receiving more thank you notes in the mail. That to me is what it looks like if you’re trying to create a vision. It can continue forever, and I hope it does, and I hope it just continues to grow.


[0:20:43] PF: I love it. Thank you so much for sitting down and talking with me today. I appreciate both of you. Giving your time and letting us share this with our listeners. We’re going to give them all the information they need to know about how to find Wilson County Kind. They can check it out. Maybe get some ideas for doing it themselves, but thank you so much for the good that you’re putting out into the world.


[0:21:02] SS: Thank you for asking, Paula. We enjoy talking with you about this.




[0:21:10] PF: That was Randall Hutto and Susan Shaw talking about Wilson County Kind. If you’d like to learn more about this initiative or follow them on social media, just visit us at livehappy.com and click on this podcast episode. While you’re there, you can also sign up for our weekly Live Happy newsletter. Every week we’ll drop a little bit of joy in your inbox with the latest stories, podcast info and even a happy song of the week. That’s all we have time for today. We’ll meet you back here again next week for an all-new episode. Until then, this is Paula Felps reminding you to make every day a happy one.



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