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February 18, 2014

Video: SPPRAK-ers spread message

TERRE HAUTE — Six-year-old Sunny Santharam knows what kindness is.

When his father Ram asked him the definition, Sunny quickly responded, “Be nice to everyone!”

With some spelling help from his father, Sunny carefully printed his answer onto a blue sticky note and added it to the multitude of definitions posted on a banner inside the Terre Haute Children’s Museum.

There was no wrong answer to the question “What does kindness mean to you?”

Monday was recognized as National Random Acts of Kindness Day, and the organizers of SPPRAK — Special People Performing Random Acts of Kindness — set up Compliment Corners around the city where volunteers shared positive energy with the public as a way of promoting kindness in the community.

At The Meadows shopping center on the city’s east side, volunteers were posted at both ends of the retail venue to make contact with as many people as possible.

“When you smiled at me, I thought, ‘How kind is that?’” said a Meadows shopper as she walked by, accepting a SPPRAK kindness card from Sherri Kelley and her college-age daughter Elisabeth Kelley.

That kind of positive response — as well as making people actively think about kindness — kept occurring throughout the day to the “kindness patrol.”

“People have been very receptive,” Sherri said. “A quarter have complimented us back. And one lady told us she’d try to be nicer today.”

As a nurse, Sherri said she knows the benefits that a smile or a nice word can have to someone who might be having a down day or facing a problem. That’s one reason she was eager to volunteer to encourage kindness. Another reason was that she was able to share a couple of hours with her daughter Elisabeth in a positive activity.

“Especially with the weather right now,” Sherri said looking outside at the dreary winter drizzle, “just wishing someone to have a nice day today — I notice their expression is kind of flat, but when you wish them a nice day, their face lights up.”

Many people, interestingly, do not know how to take a compliment.

Robin Heng, a SPPRAK co-founder, said she was at Baesler’s Market during the morning hours, and the people she greeted tried donate money to SPPRAK.

“I told them that today, I’m only giving,” Heng laughed.

A compliment was even tried on one older curmudgeon who could only respond with negative things about the city.

“I just let him talk,” Heng said of that brief encounter. “At one time, I was down on Terre Haute, too, until I decided to do something about it.”

Most people are really receptive to the kindness concept, co-founder Susan Short agreed.

“People are paying attention to SPPRAK, and they’re talking about it,” Short said.

Admiring the signature bright green sunglasses of the SPPRAK pack was Sugar Grove Elementary student Hannah Smallwood, who was visiting the shopping center with her mother on the holiday off from school.

Hannah said she has seen the kindness banner at her school that was donated by SPPRAK.

“We started the program with ‘Post-it’ notes in the schools,” Short said, “and the kids love it.”

Heng said the success of the SPPRAK kindness initiative is being modeled in several communities. SPPRAK has grown to 14 states where people are promoting kindness and recognizing the kind acts of others.

Monday’s Compliment Corners initiative will become an annual event, she said. Compliment Corner locations on Monday included Java Haute, Ruby Tuesday, Chick-fil-A, Union Hospital, Terre Haute Regional Hospital, ISU Barnes and Noble and Open Door book store.

Today, all Terre Haute Savings Bank locations will be participating by passing out water bottles and compliment cards to customers.

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.

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