This nonprofit founder has raised millions in disaster relief by teaching students about the importance of kindness

There’s a reason the old adage that ‘Beauty starts from the inside out’ has been around and passed down for as long as it has — it’s because it’s true.

The same can be said about kindness, too, when we come to the understanding that if we cannot be kind to ourselves, we cannot truly be kind to others.

In order to truly be able to serve others and to help them experience and realize their worth, we have to start by becoming confident in our own worth — something that the L’Oreal Paris Women of Worth program aims to teach and celebrate.

The initiative, which honors women in philanthropy with programs and pursuits that better the lives of others, is centered around the brand’s core belief that ‘Every woman is worth it.’

One of the women being honored this year is Laura Reiss, founder of nonprofit Kindness Matters 365.

An education program that teaches children the importance of kindness starting from the outside in, the different Kindness chapters around the world help students, teachers and ambassadors alike implement acts and projects of service with specific nonprofits to show how kindness and tangible service work in tandem to make a lasting impact on their communities and the world at large.

For Reiss, the concept behind Kindness Matters was something that had always been second nature to her, something that was passed on for her parents that she found herself teaching to her three children while raising them in Boca Raton, Florida:

“The crux of it all is that I was raised well. My parents taught me, at a very young age, the importance of gratitude, feeling good about who I am and what I have. They taught me the importance of compassion and how being mindful about how my actions and my words affects other people and they also taught me about kindness and the many different ways that I could show kindness.

As a young mother raising my three children and instilling the same values that my parents instilled in me, I saw that it really worked — the patience and the time and having these conversation with children about being grateful for who they are, mindfulness about others and how their actions affect them and always acting in kindness … I wanted this conversation for all children in our community.”

In 2008, Reiss approached her local elementary school and asked if she could start a free after school program that focused on teaching students about major concepts like gratitude, compassion, kindness (towards others, the environment, animals, etc.)

The school accepted and the first Kindness Matters 365 after-school program was born.

The original and most standard model of the program (which Reiss explains is “evolving very quickly into another model grown over 10 years”) is presented as a different accredited and nonprofit organization or foundation coming to speak about what they do and how they give back to students in an after-school chapter which is then coupled with an age-appropriate hands-on project that the children can participate in that directly gives back to the organization that’s speaking to them.

The model works, especially for children who are impressionable by nature — students don’t like to be spoken at necessarily as much as they like to get hands-on with what they’re learning about:

“It’s not just the children listening, it’s the children getting their hands dirty in kindness and giving back to the foundation that’s coming to speak —it gives them a sense of understanding about what the concept is and actually providing the service during the meeting.”

The nonprofits that speak at the Kindness Matters meetings are chosen by each given chapter’s Kindness Matters ambassadors who are given local resources to help find and select the best organizations for their chapters’ environment.

There are currently over 90 Kindness Matters programs worldwide which have have collected and distributed an astounding $1,347,300 in goods and raised $2.5 million in disaster relief .

But Reiss knows that none of this service-learning and education is even possible if the children aren’t attuned to the most important lesson of all — being kind to yourself first

“I speak to the kids about the importance of taking care of themselves first because once you have taken care of yourself, you are strong and you are confident and you’re feeling good about who you are. And then from that place, you can really give back and serve. Sometimes if we don’t take care of ourselves first, giving back and serving others can be depleting — it can be exhausting. And even though we have the best of intentions to give back and serve to those in need, we have to take care of ourselves first so that we are strong and capable to give back to others.”

The success of Kindness Matters 365 is both exciting and hard to process for Reiss:

“The evolution of this foundation and the growth of this Kindness Matters program has so far surpassed anything that I thought was going to happen in this small of a time frame … I feel like my eyes are so open, my heart is expanding moment by moment when I see the growth of this foundation.”

The growth is part of what’s led Reiss and Kindness Matters to being honored as a part of the L’Oreal Paris Women of Worth initiative, something that she’s called both “so exciting and so rewarding”:

“When I got that final phone call … I was humbled and I was ecstatic and I felt like this is a celebration not only for me, but for the hundreds of men and women who have been participating with this foundation for years and having it be what it is today. Finding out that I was one of the 10 nominees was both rewarding for me personally and I couldn’t wait to share it with our community.”

The $10,000 that Kindness Matters 365 has already received from being a Women of Worth honoree is being divided up into scholarship funds for ambassadors, ‘Kindness Kits’ (think pens, journals, banners, for each chapter) and potentially T-shirts for Title I and underprivileged communities with Kindness Chapters.

Winning the competition would give Reiss and Kindness Matters the space to pursue “big projects that we want to do that we have not been able to do,” namely better technology and possibly an App:

“That extra money would really provide some technology benefits and some more easily accessible information for our ambassadors."

But no matter what the outcome may be, Reiss has already won by teaching thousands “Remember to show kindness in everything that they do every day.”

You can learn more about L’Oreal Paris Women of Worth here. 

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