(Nov. 22, 2019) One year after creating the Matt Kurtz Kindness Award and Grant, Jackie Kurtz’s program has been recognized nationally and even worldwide.

Kurtz, who tragically lost her son in 2017, created the inaugural Matt Kurtz Kindness Award to honor individuals who help spread a positive life outlook.

Matt Kurtz (1985-2017) was a Worcester County resident who was known for constant acts of kindness, according to his mother.

family

Jackie Kurtz and her husband, Ron, left, and son, Brian, choose the recipients of the awards and grants while looking through the hundreds of submissions they receive for the Matt Kurtz Kindness Awards and Grants.

After hearing from several people about how small acts of kindness could positively impact health, mood and relationships, the Kurtz family decided to create an awareness program to honor his legacy.

During the first year, the family received around 25 recommendations. Now, they are receiving around 100, with many spanning all the way from California and Hawaii to even France, parts of Africa, Pakistan and India.

“We want people to nominate someone who inspires them with their kindness and compassion,” Kurtz said. “We’ve actually been averaging 100 nominations and grant submissions each time. My husband, Ron, and my son, Brian, and I narrow them down and we think about what Matt would have liked; what would have inspired him.”

The family has even received so many donations – around $3,000 – that they were able to offer more than two kindness awards and grants like they had originally intended. Kindness awards, are presented on Nov. 1 and May 1 and the kindness grants are given out Aug. 1 and Feb. 1. Award and grant recipients both receive $250.

Linda McGean, of Bishopville, was the first recipient of the Matt Kurtz Kindness Award for constant small acts of kindness throughout the day as a guidance counselor at Ocean City Elementary School. She received a certificate and check for $250 last November.

The first Matt Kurtz Kindness Grant was awarded to Jude Al-Hamad, a then Stephen Decatur High School senior who received the award in February 2019. She used her grant to provide care packages for children staying at the Believe in Tomorrow Children’s House by the Sea, a respite housing program.

“We’ve gotten so many people that are sending in their nominations and their projects and it’s evolved beautifully,” Kurtz said. “We know Matt would love it.”

The second grant was awarded to Connie Hammes, of Minnesota, who used the funds to create “catios,” or cat-friendly patios for shelter cats to receive fresh air and exercise. 

The next set of awards were given in May to Silas Scauzillo, 9, of Florida, and New York City resident Liz Buechele.

Scauzillo’s younger sister, Gianna, has Down Syndrome, and he wanted to educate people about accepting others despite their differences.

“We received over 60 nominations recommending Silas for the Kindness Award,” Kurtz said. “All these people told us how much Silas inspired them and why he should win this award.”

Buechele earned the award after creating The Smile Project, a nonprofit organization with a mission to spread happiness through random acts of kindness, raise awareness of ways that individuals can become more present in the world and positively impact loved ones and strangers throughout the course of everyday life.

The August grant winners were Mindy Oursley, of Ohio, and the first couple to receive the grant went to Indiana residents Ashley and Dustin Beeler.

Oursley used her grant to create new programs and activities inside her Kindness Club for third and fourth grade students in her elementary school. The club teaches kindness, compassion and empathy to everyone and demonstrates acts of kindness around the community.

The Beelers started a local chapter called the Little Free Pantry, which are installed in neighborhoods where there is a high percentage of food insecurity, where people do not have reliable access to affordable, nutritious food.

The pantry allows people to take and leave supplies as they need them. With the grant, the family was able to install two new food pantries in addition to the three they already had.

“When you tend to focus on the negative, it brings out the negative,” Kurtz said. “When you focus on the positive, it tends to make you more positive. There’s way more kind, positive people out there than negative ones. I think it’s time to give more attention to the kind, positive and compassionate people.”

The most recent Kindness Grant Award recipients for November were Selkirk, New York, couple Renee and Mike Fahey and Jessica Munoz, of Hawaii.

The Faheys created a grassroot organization in 2016 called Street Soldiers, which serves hot meals to the homeless and less fortunate. The family often used their home and vehicles to serve these meals. 

Finally, the last award of the year was granted to Munoz for her volunteer efforts and awareness campaign against human trafficking.

By day, she is a nurse practitioner, by night she is the founder of New Life for our Children, which focuses on early intervention and providing care and recovery for children who have been exploited.

“Jessica Munoz had a great quote where she said, ‘She joined the legacy of ordinary people who changed the world,’” Kurtz said. “I thought, ‘That’s beautiful,’ and that’s what these people are … they are ordinary people like you and me, but they go out and do and practice kindness every day, and that is a way to change the world a little bit at a time.”

The Kurtz family will be accepting submissions for the next grant award until Wednesday, Jan. 15. The winner(s) will be announced on Feb. 1, 2020.

To learn more about sharing small acts of kindness, turn in a submission or learn more about the Matt Kurtz Kindness Award and Grant, visit MattsKindnessRipplesOn.com

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