By Amy White
The Texas Catholic
Middle school students at Prince of Peace Catholic School in Plano are on a mission to spread kindness—whether by writing cards, donating books, or throwing a big holiday bash, complete with ice cream sundaes and loads of presents.
Random Acts of Kindness, or RAK, is a parent-led service organization for sixth through eighth grade students at Prince of Peace Catholic School. Founder Eileen Sherman kickstarted the group during the 2014-2015 academic year, almost a decade ago, hoping to encourage a love of service among students. Her youngest son, Andrew, was a sixth-grade POP student at the time.
The original RAK group, comprised of six boys and six girls, completed both individual and group service projects. Overseen by parent leaders, RAK members each contributed $10 per month, and the total $120 would be used by one member of the group to do an act of kindness of that member’s choosing.
“They picked things that were near and dear to their hearts and things that the other kids might not have known about,” Sherman said.
Mary Beth Walsh, now a junior at Texas Christian University, was one of those founding students. She joined the group in sixth grade.
“My involvement in RAK is probably my favorite thing that I did at Prince of Peace,” Walsh said. “It really exposed us to a lot of organizations and different issues going on in our community that we could have a direct impact on.”
She remembers speaking to the school during morning announcements to share ideas about kind acts students could do.
“We wanted to encourage younger students to complete random acts of kindness in their day-to-day life,” she recalled. “That’s what it really was all about.”
The group quickly grew, soon becoming a service program at POP. Now, almost a decade later, about 150 students across the three grades and 26 parent leaders are involved in RAK, said Tamara Bayo, Christian Service Coordinator at POP.
“We have over half of our kids in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade in the RAK group,” she added.
RAK also developed a scholarship program. Each year, eighth-grade students planning to attend Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Dallas can enter an essay competition. One or two winners—chosen by Bayo, administrators, and a selection of former RAK students like Walsh—are awarded one-time monetary assistance toward their high school tuition.
Like the founding group, current RAK students still meet monthly and engage in a variety of individual and group service projects.
“We get to pick up trash in the spring. We can make cards for seniors in nursing homes,” shared Patrick Alessi, 13, a seventh-grade POP student and current RAK member. “It makes us become closer because we get to spend this time together doing projects.”
Alessi, who joined RAK this academic year, recently completed his personal project: His RAK group partnered with POP’s Society of St. Vincent de Paul to throw a Christmas party for a family in need.
“We bought presents. We wrapped presents. We made an ice cream stand,” Alessi said. “There were chocolate chips, marshmallows, gummy bears… The kids loved it.”
Students used their allocated project funds to purchase gifts for the children, including a superhero helmet and a mini basketball hoop.
Lindsey Thompson, a RAK parent leader, recalled the event fondly, saying, “The compassion, interaction, love, respect, equality, collaboration, and new friendships that were formed has touched my heart deeply.”
She added, “It truly was a magical and wonderful opportunity for the team to interact with all the children and spread the joy of Christmas.”
Thompson noted a growth in the zeal for service and sense of compassion in the RAK students she’s led, including in her sons Paul and Joe.
Bayo also commented on the personal growth of RAK members.
“A lot of times, people see a need and don’t do anything,” she said. “We’re trying to get the kids to take action right away.”
Looking towards the future, Bayo hopes RAK will grow. She plans to offer service opportunities for fifth-grade students and to encourage eighth-grade students to continue serving with their peers post-middle school.
“I would love to encourage some of the other schools to do it,” she added.
Sherman, reflecting on almost 10 years of Random Acts of Kindness, is encouraged by the growth and impact of the organization.
“It’s an incredible group of kids. It’s an incredible community. It’s an incredible group of parents,” she said. “I hope they continue to let God shine through them.”
Find more stories celebrating Catholic schools in the Diocese of Dallas in the Jan. 26 print edition of The Texas Catholic.