By Lindsay Doty
In her garage, Andrea Hilton is working diligently stenciling yard signs. She does 12 at a time. Then, starts another batch.
The message on each one is as simple as it gets: Just be Kind.
“I think it’s quite relevant today and it’s basic. Be Kind. That’s what we need to get back to,” said Hilton, the adult helper behind the growing youth club “Just Be Kind. It’s Easy” in Hendricks County.
The Plainfield-based group consists of around 30 school-aged children from Hendricks County, ranging from first grade to high school. Together, they create JBK shirts, signs, and other items, sell them, and then put the profits back into the community.
“The kids make all the financial decisions. They have put over $20,000 into the community,” explains Hilton, who refuses to be called the leader but helps the students with plans.
The club has funded everything from Head Start field trips for children to picnic tables at Cypress Manor in Danville for county residents in need.
“The kids’ sense of community is amazing and their sense of what is right,” she said.
While COVID-19 has changed how the club meets (they Zoom instead of gathering regularly at Hilton’s house), it hasn’t changed the demand. With tensions in the world -from politics to pandemic stress, the kindness message seems to resonate more than ever.
“The signs have not stopped selling. It is crazy! I have a lady from Indy today who wants 50. We do porch pick-ups too,” says Hilton.
For 14-year-old member Emily Smith, the club is about being a good role model.
“It means helping others without expecting anything in return and treating others how I would want them to teat me, said Smith, a Plainfield High School student who has been in the club for five years.
Just Be Kind began in 2015 as an after-school project at Van Buren Elementary to raise money for the summer. The students came up with the kindness t-shirts. Things took off from there.
In recent years, the signs cropped up in yards, storefronts, and screenprinted on apparel and other items.
This summer, the club did blessing food boxes for the First Baptist of Amo and Family Promise Resource Center in Plainfield.
JBK signs and shirts have been sold throughout the country and globally, thanks to social media.
“Since we started, we have sold or given away over 8700 signs,” said Hilton.
During their club meetings, the group discusses topics like bullying, both sides of it.
“We all mess up. We are not always kind, but that doesn’t define who we are.” They also decide how they will spend the money.
“We don’t care if you have been in the club five years or walked through the door. One of the things we stress a lot is everyone has a voice,” said Hilton.
While “Just Be Kind” may be as simple as it comes, kindness seems to be a timeless message and one that everyone can use a little more of.
“It’s easier to be nice and respectful than not be,” said Emily Smith.