“Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.”
Say what you will about social media but sometimes it brings amazing people together. A while back I was commenting on a LinkedIn post about Kelli Kelly, you may remember her from Hand to Hold in Austin? A fellow Texan, named Andra Liemandt, also commented on the post and her company read The Kindness Campaign. I was naturally intrigued and of course, it was a nonprofit.
I am not a cyberstalker I promise but Andra’s LinkedIn intrigued me. She had a career in large corporate account management and is the founder and drummer of the Mrs, a pop-rock band that has been on Good Morning America and featured in a host of magazines and opened for Bon Jovi. Naturally, I needed to know more. So I reached out to her and we connected via phone this past week for an amazing conversation that I hope leaves you as inspired about kindness as I was. What better way to start a New Year and decade than with kindness?
Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what The Kindness Campaign does?
Andra Liemandt: We are on a mission to normalize emotional health. We all know that bullying, loneliness, and isolation exists but instead of allowing them to go unchecked we provide positive and acceptable tools that really promote emotional health. At the heart of what The Kindness Campaign (TKC) does it aims to create societal change by teaching emotional awareness, empathy, community and most importantly the development of building a healthy positive self-image. The place where we all tear ourselves down the most is with ourselves and that self-image is really where we try to build people up. Bullying has gone beyond the walls of our schools and now we need more help to access our teens and that is why we are building out tools to do that. That is exactly what TKC does.
Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start The Kindness Campaign?
Andra Liemandt: Suicide is the second leading cause of death among teens. Several years ago this touched my life in a very powerful and profound way when a dear friend of ours took her own life and she was just 12 years old and it was a direct result of bullying. There was no path for me to start a nonprofit or any inkling that I would be sitting here five years later talking to you about this. That event changed my life forever and was the catalyst for an ongoing healing process with my daughters.
We just couldn’t get our heads around what had happened. As a mom of two girls, I was terrified that something could happen to them. I began worrying what if my daughters felt alienated and I didn’t know, what if there was a bully, so many fears popped into my head. So I started a feelings journal where the girls and I could discuss emotions like grief and anger. From there the project grew to a general feelings journal, which I copied and took into my daughter’s school. Before I knew it the principal asked for a copy of my homemade journal and then shared them with four other schools. In 2015, we launched The Kindness Campaign as a 501c3. It was really something I was being led by and I just keep putting one foot in front of the other as I feel called to do today as this journey keeps going.
Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?
Andra Liemandt: Besides the fact that I am working against the second largest cause of death in teens? That is the real challenge. Since the beginning when we started out as this simple little feelings journal, we then just scaled very quickly. By far I think one of our biggest challenges has been ensuring that we are scaling the right way being able to meet the demands for the tools that are being created. I think every entrepreneur has to approach growth differently and because of the nature of our work, it is extremely important that we are serving our end-users, schools, and educators in the most quality way possible.
We have been super laser-focused on proof of concept along with our programs and curriculum. Our biggest challenge is trying to meet the needs of those that we serve. We receive 150 requests nationwide and are currently serving 40,000 students in 82 schools. This year our curriculum is available nationally through Erin Condren’s stores and the TKC website so we are excited about that. The reality is that the need is always going to be greater than anyone can meet. Partnerships like Erin Condren’s and so many other amazing corporate partners make this work possible in building emotional health a reality.
Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep doing this work?
Andra Liemandt: When I got into this work my motivation was simply to save lives. I carry my friend’s daughter in my heart always. Being able to give families and teachers solutions to address emotional health and to have conversations is so powerful and fulfilling. I was at the gym recently and a woman came up to me that I didn’t know and she thanked me for connecting her and her daughter. The woman said, “You don’t understand we did not speak the way we are speaking now because of the tools you gave us. I can not thank you enough.” We are creating tangible tools for emotional health and I believe that the work we are doing now will have an impact on suicide statistics in the future.
Charity Matters: When do you know you have made a difference?
Andra Liemandt: There are so many sweet stories, emails from parents and teachers. We have an event called the KIND5 and it is a four-hour program where I walk away feeling moved by the day and from the difference we have made in our student’s lives. I receive notes telling me about how impactful it was and I’ll never know the complete one hundred percent impact but I do feel that there is trajectory for these students who might not ever have this type of opportunity. We did one recently called I Am Enough and we had our signature activation, the Magic Mirror , which is one of our tools. When I am there with the kids it always reminds me that we are making a difference. It is not about me, it is about the tools and opportunities we create. I am simply a vessel that allows these opportunities to flow through me and happen.
Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had? What has your impact been?
Andra Liemandt: I believe there is a touchpoint from the first time somebody ever felt kindness to when it actually gets played out years from now. What I do know is that from the very first day that I knew this (TKC) was going to be something more than me and my daughters in my apartment working on the feelings journal and was going to become a nonprofit because it was growing so fast. I said then,”that our work needed to be measurable.” I knew then that we needed surveys to collect data and I do believe that there are direct outcomes from our work. In doing that we have had proof of concept tracking data from the beginning when we were one school and then five and now 82 schools. I do actually believe that there are indirect outcomes to measure emotional health.
We serve over 40,000 students nationally with our online programming. We just had our second annual House of Kindness event, we don’t do benefits but house parties and we had a great success which will go along way in serving our students. We launched a national PSA before every AMC movie in the fall because we have been so blessed with incredible partnerships. We have a national reach because of our online programming, which we are incredibly proud of. Success is measured in so many different ways.
Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for your organization, what would that be?
Andra Liemandt: I’m a big dreamer. Personally, my dream is for TKC’s reach to be so large, that schools and families can access us anywhere. We mean it when we say we want to raise a generation where emotional fitness is normal – as normal as physical fitness, and just as mainstream, too. We have life-changing tools for students, and we’re constantly innovating. So, my dream is to put these resources within reach for anyone, because children from all walks of life deserve access to this critical health metric.
Charity Matters: What life lessons have you learned from this experience?
Andra Liemandt: Life lessons evolve as you are on the journey. Where I am today on this journey and what we talk about at TKC is what if emotional wounds showed up on our bodies the way that physical wounds do? We would all take this conversation a lot more seriously. I think about this on a daily basis.
When I look at my life today, my biggest life lesson is from the Magic Mirror (video above) and that the life lesson is that everyone wants to be seen and heard. The Magic Mirror has also taught me that attention is a really important healer. When we feel safe and secure we then have space for empathy. I have learned that through kindness organic outcomes from emotional health happen when we feel connected to one another, then we feel seen and heard. Very often the impulse to bully just drops away. When we feel safe and secure we have emotional space for empathy which can be taught and that is huge. All of these lessons are the lessons that have added up in these past six years.
Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?
Andra Liemandt: This journey has allowed me to think in a deeper, calmer and more empathetic way for others. It has allowed me to give myself grace and forgiveness.