A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Kentucky by Heart: Louisville teenager motivated by helping others, inspires ‘random acts of kindness’

By Steve Flairty
KyForward columnist

When Shareen Dunn used her Advent calendar as a guide to encourage her son, fifth-grader Andrew, to do simple and loving gestures for others, she often provided some sort of tangible reward. Today, 15-year-old Andrew, a freshman student at Louisville’s duPont Manual High School, doesn’t need those items to motivate him.

What spurs him today to do kind things is the feeling he receives when he sees someone’s life get a little bit better. “It’s awesome,” he said.

Andrew Dunn

Andrew’s now the face of an organization that’s doing a world of good around Louisville and even beyond. It’s commonly called RAK Louisville, with “RAK” forming the acronym for “random acts of kindness.” With the help of his social media-savvy mother, his father, and his First Responder Team, along with a “student advisory board,” RAK Louisville is certainly demonstrating the best of human instincts through many ways, according to the website, as a “movement to flood this city of Louisville with random acts of kindness and epic acts of service.”

Steve Flairty grew up feeling good about Kentucky. He recalls childhood day trips (and sometimes overnight ones) orchestrated by his father, with the take-off points being in Campbell County. The people and places he encountered then help define his passion about the state now. After teaching 28 years, Steve spends much of his time today writing and reading about the state, and still enjoys doing those one dayers (and sometimes overnighters). “Kentucky by Heart” shares part and parcel of his joy. A little history, much contemporary life, intriguing places, personal experiences, special people, book reviews, quotes, and even a little humor will, hopefully, help readers connect with their own “inner Kentucky.”

Much of the action of RAK has Andrew and his helpers involved; much also starts independently from ideas found on the web site http://raklouisville.com/, the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/RAKLouisville/, along with Twitter and Instagram. RAK also has an app for smart phones as a help in getting started.

He talks with excitement about involving his soccer team working with Syrian refugees near their apartment complex. “I had two soccer goals and set them up in the field in the middle of the apartment complex,” Andrew said with a grin. “The kids would all come and play. They did not understand very much English and we did not know what they were speaking. When we started playing, we could communicate without even speaking because soccer is a universal language.”

Sports teams, he noted, “think of themselves as family, so let’s see if we can get them to serve as a family.” Not long ago, his soccer team served 165 homeless persons a bountiful Thanksgiving meal.

RAK has also participated in The Forgotten Louisville program, a feeding program for homeless and needy people on Wednesdays. It is a population that Andrew feels his most passion to help, saying: “You never know if the person sitting next to you might be homeless.”

RAK has also supported a Louisville group called the Burrito Riders. “They ride their bikes and deliver breakfast burritos to the homeless and to those in need. We support them by helping provide burritos.” Making burritos is something that anyone can do, Andrew emphasized, and it’s “just fun because you’re rolling burritos with your friends and family.” RAK Louisville has made over 3000 burritos for the project.

Starting RAK Clubs in schools is an ongoing initiative, and Andrew would like to see a great number get established. “You have to find a teacher to be a sponsor and meet with the principal,” he explained.

The RAK Louisville website and Facebook page regularly promotes a “challenge” activity, one that is relatively easy to organize and gets almost immediate results. For example, the “March and April Challenge” asks willing participants to make sight word flash cards for Byck Elementary School’s summer educational camp. To facilitate the project, specific instructions are given on a link: http://raklouisville.com/march-and-april-rak-louisville-challenge/.

In referring to his mother’s using an Advent calendar to start the process toward becoming RAK Louisville, Andrew noted, grinning: “She’s from Malaysia; a very British thing to do.”

There was something “mechanical” about the first project he tried, as in the practical and trendy gifts he gave away. “It started with me going to my fifth grade class and giving out mechanical pencils. It was the craze,” he said. “Everyone wanted them.”

Andrew Dunn is the face of an organization that’s doing a world of good around Louisville and even beyond. It’s commonly called RAK Louisville, with “RAK” forming the acronym for “random acts of kindness.”

Apparently, someone was impressed by his kindness while overhearing talk in the store about his reason for buying; they responded by paying for the items. That’s an example of the “everyone wins” nature of RAK, that the receiver and the giver are blessed through the act, along with others finding inspiration to act similarly.

Through my conversation with Andrew, I learned about others random acts of kindness done by his group. There’s the fun “Ding Dong Ditch Donuts” event where “you leave donuts on the front step, ring a bell and run away,” he explained. “They look down and see a box of donuts.”

When his First Responder’s Team gets notified that someone is in need of nutrition, the members give out “RAK Food Boxes.” The boxes contain such items as fresh eggs, bread, canned food and may include bacon.

Coming up with creative ideas are a feature of RAK Louisville. Sometimes something as simple as putting encouraging notes on windshields is a worthy idea that’s been practiced. Andrew wants to continually monitor the RAK activities so that they “don’t create conflict.” Read that as meaning whatever is done should be entirely wholesome and respectful. That’s the kind of heart he has.

I asked him what his long-term goals were for RAK. “Go global with it,” he said, matter-of-factly for a 15-year-old. “I want to be a good CEO running my own nonprofit or social enterprise on a global scale. I want RAK Louisville to be the idea generator that empowers others to become social entrepreneurs or start their own nonprofits.”

Then I asked Andrew what advice he’d give to others to do something like RAK Louisville. “That you have a passion and a purpose in life,” he said. “Find that passion and find that purpose. Once you find that, you can go anywhere.”

And what Andrew has accomplished already at such a young age, his words would seem quite credible.

………………

Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of six books: a biography of former Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and five in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #4,” was released in 2015. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly KyForward and NKyTribune columnist and a member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)

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