A year ago, Mayor Gary Soiseth launched Turlock’s Million Acts of Kindness campaign, hoping to transform the City of Turlock into a friendly and welcoming place through a variety of thoughtful and compassionate deeds. Since then, the city has blossomed through caring actions, from efforts of kindness at afterschool programs to the welcoming of refugees. Most recently, Soiseth signed the City of Kindness pledge, joining 10 other elected officials from across the nation in their commitment to making the world a kinder place for all through the launch of an official Kindness Counter.
“Being kind isn’t a new concept in Turlock, but the initiative allows me to highlight residents that are making a positive difference in our city,” said Soiseth.
The inspiration for Turlock’s Million Acts of Kindness initiative came from the vision of Soiseth’s good friend and Anaheim mayor, Tom Tait. After seeing Tait’s dedication to strengthening Anaheim’s sense of community rather than simply tending to his governmental duties, Soiseth decided to duplicate his ideas here in Turlock.
Following the City Council’s adoption of the initiative in February 2016, it was introduced to the City of Turlock’s Afterschool Program. Since then, students have taken it upon themselves to meet Soiseth’s challenge through engaging in various activities, like sitting with a new student at lunch. These efforts are tracked by placing leaves on a kindness tree at each school site.
“Every time I visit an afterschool site and talk with the students about their plans for kind acts, they get more and more creative about how they will make their school and community a more open, tolerant and accepting place to live,” said Soiseth.
Soiseth elaborated on other ways community members have gone out of their way to be kind as well, such as a group of young bullfighters who raised funds for a little girl battling cancer, and a Turlock police officer who paid for and personally changed a resident’s flat tire when the resident was unable to afford fixing it on his own.
A particularly overwhelming act of kindness as of late, Soiseth said, has been the Turlock community’s welcoming embrace of refugees fleeing the war in the Middle East. Churches such as Monte Vista Chapel and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints have been exceptionally helpful to the hundreds of refugees coming into the city, he said.
“Even though they might not share the same religion or culture as the refugees, these current Turlock residents have been key to properly resettling our newest Turlock residents,” said Soiseth. “They represent the best that Turlock has to offer and I’m very proud of their kind reception and inclusion of these new American citizens.”
Initially, Soiseth considered abandoning the Million Acts of Kindness initiative altogether when launching it last year, as it came during a politically-charged time in Turlock as the non-profit Turlock Certified Farmers Market went head-to-head with Golden State Farmers Market Association for their spot in Downtown Turlock, leading to some contentious City Council meetings and a divide among community members.
“In one Council meeting, I was called names like ‘corrupt’ and ‘jerk.’ Even the Million Acts of Kindness initiative was mocked,” said Soiseth. “While I understood that we had differences, I was devastated by the tone and rhetoric coming from some residents—instead of being constructive with their disagreement, they came to the meeting to hurl insults and to personally tear me down.”
It was Turlock Junior High School’s Wall of Kindness that encouraged Soiseth to move forward with the initiative, where notes with words of positivity and comfort flourished.
“The notes said ‘Be sure to taste your words before you spit them out’ and ‘Whoever tries to bring you down is already below you,’” said Soiseth. “These words of wisdom from Turlock’s youngest residents gave me a resolve to move forward with the initiative.”
Now, Soiseth is working together with mayors from around the country to keep track of the nation’s acts of kindness by participating in the national Kindness Counter, which will track the hundreds of thousands of kind acts in Turlock and other communities as they collectively work toward the goal of 100 Billion Acts of Kindness – a resolution drafted and ratified in June 2016 at the 84th annual U.S. Conference of Mayors. In the eight weeks since the launch of the Kindness Counter, City of Kindness has broken 100 million kind acts.
Moving forward, Soiseth hopes to add more kindness to the counter, and is working with the leaders of Love Turlock to think of new projects that may benefit the community – the first of which is “thanking” Turlock’s firefighters by improving their firehouses. He is also working on a blog for Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” foundation, where he hopes to highlight the city’s efforts on a national and international stage, and, along with Stanislaus State President Ellen Junn is working on the second Summit on Inclusivity, where residents from diverse backgrounds will meet to discuss different ways of making Turlock an even more welcoming and inclusive community. His State of the City address in March will also detail specific ideas to better the community, such as kindness towards veterans and those currently serving in the military.
If any resident of Turlock would like to get more involved with the Million Acts of Kindness initiative or would like to bring recognition to an act of kindness, Soiseth encourages them to contact him at email@example.com or call 209-668-5540 ext. 1100.