By KAROLYN GEPHART
Kindness brought author, teacher, and motivational speaker Tamara Letter to Friendswood recently. Her goal was to meet two Kindness Cultivators she had mentioned in her new book.
Letter met with former FISD Counselor, author and motivational speaker Barbara Gruener and Bales student Jax Van Reenen at the playground that Van Reenen, along with Kids for Peace, had built there through an act of kindness after Hurricane Harvey.
It was Gruener who originally responded to a tweet by Letter and mentioned Jet Stream Jax (Van Reenen’s video production name) and his video on the devastation to his town caused by the hurricane. Van Reenen’s video was seen by Kids for Peace representatives who contacted the district, Gruener and Van Reenen to tell them they were partnering with FISD to bring a new play space for kids.
Van Reenen and children around the nation collected Kind Coins to provide playgrounds for hurricane-damaged schools in the US and Puerto Rico.
“At my school in Virginia, I was working with a fourth grade and fifth grade class on a year-long kindness initiative and knew that Jax’s mission to rebuild playgrounds for hurricane-damaged schools was a worthy mission to support,” Letter said. “We collected ‘Kind Coins’ and sent them to Kids for Peace in care of Jax’s campaign and throughout the year I kept in touch with his guidance counselor, Barbara Gruener. Through her blog posts, I was able to share with our students the joys of kindness rocks, the Peaceful Hearts Garden, and the newly rebuilt playground. As our students crafted their own Kindness Passion Projects, we thought of Jax often and the model he set for being a spokesperson for kind acts.”
While in Friendswood, Letter was given a tour by Van Reenen to show her the kindness rocks, the Peaceful Hearts Garden and the new playground.
Letter gave him a signed copy of her new book, “A Passion for Kindness: Making the World a Better Place to Lead, Love, and Learn” and showed him where his story is told in Chapter 3.
“I was able to personally share with him the positive impact he has had on me, my collaborating teachers, and the students in our classes,” Letter said. “As I was writing my book I wanted to spotlight individuals who step out of their comfort zone to make kindness a priority for others. Jet Stream Jax was a natural choice to spotlight, and I included him in Chapter 3 along with his counselor, Barbara Gruener.”
Letter’s students were able to meet Van Reenen earlier through FaceTime in to their classroom.
“I believe it’s important for us to be the good in all we do, and to acknowledge others when they do the same. Jet Stream Jax is much more than a fourth grade student as Bales Intermediate School. He is a global advocate for all the things we hope our children grow to be: responsible, articulate, respectful, and most of all kind,” Letter said. “It was my privilege to meet Jax and visit his new playground. I hope he always remembers the positive impact he has to change the world for good.”
In November 2018, Letter received the R.E.B. Award for Teaching Excellence, which provided funding for her to travel the United States and Canada cultivating kindness for global impact. Her first stop was to fly to Texas to meet Gruener and Van Reenen in person.