Houston Kraft admits that he was coasting through Snohomish High School in Washington state until a teacher suggested he try being a leader instead of a lollygagger — and an amazing thing happened. Houston says, “I wanted to help people know that they mattered -- that they had value and that someone cared. So I helped organize a club called RAKE — an acronym for ‘random acts of kindness, etc.’”
“At our first meeting, 20 kids between 9th and 12th grades showed up. We offered them two donuts each. They had to eat one and give the other to someone in school whom they didn’t know. This ‘random act of kindness’ forced them to reach out and meet others, learn their names and try to make a connection."
"Later in the semester we had picnics and hot cocoa mornings. We had potlucks where people connected and had great conversations and new friendships were made. Our little club grew to 75 kids by the end of the year. I was hooked on advocating a positive message and helping kids communicate their emotions.”
As class president for two years at Bowdoin College, Houston realized that his zest for performance and passion for students making positive choices were leading him in one direction. “I wanted to tell personal stories and encourage kindness in the world,” he said. “I want to connect with young people and to understand their stories and their suffering. There is so much pain that goes unnoticed, but if someone listens, they might not feel as lonely.”
Today the personable (and downright handsome!) 26-year-old Washington state native with Kennebunkport, Maine roots is a full-time motivational speaker who preaches kindness and respect at schools and educational conferences across the country. He is frequently contacted after bullying incidents. His full school assemblies are uplifting, funny and real — and they are obviously well received. In 2011, he appeared at 13 schools; by 2015, he was visiting more than 135 across the country.
Houston recognizes that one assembly or presentation doesn’t alter a school’s culture, so he leaves behind his “business cards.” They do not include his address, phone number or email contact (but he’d be happy to share that with you). Instead these cards have one word on one side and a challenge on the back.
Take the KINDNESS card. The back side reads, “Find one person in your school whose birthday it is this week and prepare a present and/or party! It could even be someone’s half-birthday! Either way, do something awesome like you used to do in elementary school. Make it Batman themed. Or ice cream themed. Hand-make a card. Kindness speaks loudest when it is spoken with thoughtfulness.”
Houston also created a free App for iPhones and iPads called CharacterStrong, with 180 messages (one for each day of the school year) advocating ways students can practice honesty, forgiveness and kindness.
“I wish more parents would have honest conversations and give practical ideas to help their children practice the arts of compassion, love and kindness,” Houston says. “Kids go to soccer camps, tennis clinics and SAT prep classes, but why don't parents also focus on teaching their kids important personal skills that will create a more loving world. What better skill to develop than the skill of Kindness," he says.
Are you making a genuine living wage doing this, I asked. “YES!” he answered with a big smile. “I also get cool emails from teachers and students, I hang onto relationships, I connect with people. You see, hope doesn’t evaporate. There’s always goodness and positivity around us every day if we look for it. We just need to be cognizant of the emotions of students and their ability to understand, control and use them for good.”
You’re my Valentine, Houston! You’re one helluva guy.