CROFTON, Md. — Whenever seven-year-old Penelope Chandler misses her cousin Hunter, or Hunti as she called him, all she has to do is look at the bookmarks she made in his memory. Hunter died three years ago after a battle with substance abuse.
With the help of grief services, her parents told Penelope what happened to Hunter and discussed with her about the importance of safe medication use. It was important for Penelope's mom Erica Chandler that they be open and honest with her about Hunter's life and death.
"It was a very difficult time and a very traumatic loss for all of us," Erica said. "And we really wanted to teach Penelope that even with difficult times that something positive can come from that."
Penelope came up with the idea to thank local first responders in her community who help people dealing with substance abuse. She started a group called Hunti's Hope Hunters and threw a big party for the Anne Arundel County Mobile Crisis Team. She had food, gift cards and handed out her bookmarks to everyone on the team.
"It made me feel very happy because I was able to help others," Penelope said.
"With this small idea, with a little bit of money and a few reaches to create some partnerships in the community, this huge thing happened," said Erica.
Penelope was able to pay for the party thanks to a grant from the non-profit Kindness Grows Here, started by Kristen Caminiti.
"I thought our world needs more kindness so I decided that our family’s mission was going to be to go out and spread kindness as far and wide as we can."
She started with just her kids and gradually more friends became involved. The turning point for her grassroots group came in May of 2017 when a noose was found hanging outside Crofton Middle School. Caminiti and hundreds of other parents and students showed up a few days later to draw messages of peace, love and positivity on the sidewalk outside the middle school.
"Our group wanted to respond in some positive way because we were not going to let a hateful act like that just stand without a response of saying this is not ok," said Caminiti.
From there, the group continued to grow and Caminiti turned it into a non-profit. They host anti-bullying seminars and kindness events around the area. Their mission is one that can be appreciated by people of all ages.
"I think everyone is born with a kind heart and that sometimes people lose that focus on how to go about spreading it everyday, so we all need those reminders of why kindness is important and how easy it can be to spread kindness," she said.
Penelope plans to continue spreading kindness and awareness about substance abuse. Her mom says she couldn't be prouder of her daughter's drive to make a difference in the world.
"We sometimes forget to stop and be kind and what [Kindness Grows Here does] really helps remind all of us, parents and kids, to take that moment that one minute to acknowledge someone and be kind," Erica said.
Kindness Grows here is accepting applications for its Kid Kindness Grants for 2019. The deadline is November 1. Click here to fill out an application.