That’s definitely a loaded question, especially when I can speak for hours about my work with Life Vest Inside. Generally, my first response is I’m in the job of falling in love with people more and more each day! I’m the Founder of Life Vest Inside, a non-profit organization on a mission to empower the world with kindness. Our motto is simple: help people recognize the AMAZING and wonderful potential they have to effect real and positive change in the world through simple yet powerful acts of kindness. My goal is to spread kindness, empower people and build self-esteem and self-value because there are way too many people out there who forget to see just how awesome they are.
If I could describe myself with three words it would be a passionate dreamer who believes in the best of people. That was me ever since I was a kid. Ever since I can remember I felt that there was something big I was meant to do, something world changing. I had no idea what it was, but I knew I wouldn’t stop until I found it. One of the main things on my mind since childhood was the concept of peace and uniting people. I could never understand why people just couldn’t get along and I dreamed of really uniting people of this world, helping people see that regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, culture – we all want the same thing – KINDNESS and PEACE! Kindness is a universal language after all.
As a kid I never wanted to grow up, so I guess that’s why I’m still a kid:) It’s important that as we get older we continue to look at the world through the eyes of a child. There have been tons of experiences that shaped my world view and the person I am, but one of the greatest influences in my life has been my dad. My dad is a dreamer just like me and he has always instilled in me the idea of perseverance and that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to.
If you can believe it, I was extremely shy as a kid. Always had so much I wanted to share but I didn’t have a voice. It was only once I went through a pretty traumatic experience when I was 15 years old that I began to find my voice and in my opinion it’s because I began to finally see my value. As a teacher, I was always very sensitive to how I spoke with my students and any child for that matter. When I looked at a child, I saw them for their potential, the amazing person sometimes hidden within them. It was my goal to help the kids see just how wonderfully amazing they are. Perhaps because that’s what I needed someone to do for me.
Playing piano with my dad as a young girl. I started playing the piano by ear ever since I can remember. Music was sort of my escape or comfort zone. Whenever I felt lost, angry or hurt I would sit at the piano and suddenly everything made sense, everything was ok. My dad is extremely musical and he also played piano by ear. I guess you can say it was our secret language.
I’ll never forget this one specific day. I got into a fight with a friend and came home very angry. I ran into my room, shut the door and began crying. My dad knocked on my door and tried to reason with me to answer and talk it through, but I was stubborn and didn’t want to hear anything. I heard him go back down the stairs and thought to myself, “He must have given up on me.” But then I heard it, the sound of my dad playing the piano. It was as though he knew exactly what to play, exactly what sound would connect with what I was feeling. He also knew that it would draw me downstairs and he was right. I slowly inched out of my room, down the staircase and crept into the room. Before I knew it I was sitting by his side and playing with him. Without me noticing he would slowly give over the reigns to me as he crept out of the room allowing me to express myself with the sound from the piano.
When I was a sophomore in high school, there was a fire in my house and the piano and all my memories were erased in that one tragic night. My family and I had been moving around for almost 6 years until we finally moved back into our house. It was an extremely emotional experience moving back in after what were 6 very difficult years for my family. One day I came home walked into my house and there in the corner of the living room was my very own piano, sitting there waiting for me. My dad knows how much it means to me. We say nothing to each other. Without a word my dad pulls up two chairs and once again we are sitting side by side in our very own little world, speaking to one another in our secret language. I’ll never forget that day.
I have a BIG backstory so I hope to touch upon some of that in this question. Like I mentioned above, kid Orly always dreamed of changing the world. When I was 15 years old that dream was challenged and I was very close to giving up on myself, giving up on everything for that matter. In the beginning of 10th grade my family and I went through a traumatic experience, my house filled with all my childhood memories burned down. One thing after the next seemed to be going wrong: my father lost his job, my siblings and I were living my different relatives and so the one thing that is a child’s sense of security, their family, was shaken to the core. I’ll never forget the night of the fire, but the worst thing of all was seeing my parents faces. It was as though everything had shattered and seeing them broke my heart. I realized I needed to stay positive, recognize that everything happens for a reason. So I made light of the situation and tried everything in my power to stay as positive as possible. It worked for a couple of months, but you can only put on a show for so long. I needed to express my feelings but I didn’t want to burden my family, afterall they were going through it as well. So I kept it inside, locked. When I tried to confront my friends, they changed the subject. Looking back, I understand that they were unsure of how to deal with what I was feeling, so they felt it best to change the subject. On the outside I appeared like a rock, but on the inside I was a mess. But as I learned you can only bottle something up for so long until it all comes crashing down and boy o boy did it crash down hard! It was the end of December and I had just got back from a school seminar, fell asleep and didn’t wake up the next morning. I was in a state of sleep for almost 2 months. I would wake up briefly during the day, eat something perhaps and then go back to sleep. I fell into a deep depression and wasn’t in school for almost two months. I had nothing but time to think and question why certain things happen in the world. But what hurt me most, was that I felt more alone during that time than I’ve ever felt in my entire life. No phone calls asking how I was doing, no visits to try and cheer me up, it was just me and my thoughts. I closed down emotionally and mentally. The truth is there were points when I just no longer wanted to be around. I tried so hard to hide my emotions from my family, but looking back I know just how much it must have hurt my parents to see me that way. Even though they reached out, I couldn’t see it, I didn’t want to see it. You see, when you feel so down a part of you doesn’t even want to try to lift yourself back up.
It came to a point where I didn’t want to go back to school altogether. When I did, I just wasn’t the same studious kid with a smile on her face. One morning I woke up and looked at myself in the mirror and I didn’t see that same girl staring back at me; that dreamer who always believed she would change the world. That scared me most of all. I knew that it was going to be hard to pick myself back up and I had no clue how I would do it. I was so shy to begin with and now I was even more reserved than before. It was at that moment that I made a promise to myself, a promise that I’ve kept until today, a promise that led me to teaching, led me to film, led me to Life Vest Inside, and ultimately to a life where kindness and empowerment is at the forefront of my mind. I promised myself that I would be there for others the way I had wished someone would have been there for me and I do my best to stick to that promise. It took a long time and that year was a very lonely year. Looking back I realize that it was the best thing that could have happened to me because over that year I learned how to love myself, value myself and that is the most important thing of all. There are way too many people out there who don’t value themselves, don’t recognize just how awesome they are, but rather always strive to be someone else. If only we looked at ourselves, our potential and realize that we matter, we are significant and we are enough! I began to find my voice and I began to break out of my shell. The big change happened on a school seminar the following year. We were in a group discussion and the topic was obstacles and believing in yourself. I did something I never did, I raised my hand in the group discussion and I began sharing with the people there some of the things I had learned about overcoming obstacles, advising them that the most important thing in the world is to believe in yourself and to have faith in yourself. I knew that it was my faith in myself and my faith in G-d that really helped get me through. Yes, there were times I was just so angry with G-d during my lowest point but ultimately my faith strengthened so much. So what happened after that session? My own peers began coming up to me and seeking advice from me. I most certainly found my voice and I found that the more gave, the more I helped others, the more I healed. I guess I began to fall in love with giving and helping others and it became one of the main focuses of my life.
By senior year, it was as though I was a new person. I began getting involved in every extracurricular activity, every charity event and I myself began mentoring kids younger than me who were going through some very difficult times in their life. I knew I had found my calling. When I looked at people, I didn’t just see them for what they showed the world, but I saw them for their potential. This was something that I had always felt, but I finally found a voice to express what I was feeling. When you help someone see their potential, help them recognize that they are more than they think, it’s one of the most amazing gifts you can give someone. I wanted to help others see in themselves, what I had so wished for someone to see in me. I wanted to empower people to value themselves based on things that were real as opposed to what society tells us. It’s not about the circle of friends you run in, your popularity level, how smart you are, how much money you have, but rather the lives of the people you touch. KINDNESS shows us our true value, shows us our true potential. Because when you’re involved in performing an act of kindness, you are filled with such a great sense of joy and at that moment you see your potential to effect change. Naturally your self-value rises and when you value yourself, suddenly you begin to see the value in others.
I knew I had a message to share and I knew I was meant to share it. I decided to go into film in college because I wanted to convey a message and what greater way to do so than media. I had the greatest 4 years in Brooklyn College and my years were all to do with giving. At the same time I worked heavily with tweens and teens in my local community. I love kids and knew I wanted to eventually teach.
When I graduated college my dream was to make a film that would reach the world and I told myself that once I do that I would go into teaching. I knew I had what it takes to make something powerful and I was going to prove it to myself. To be honest, my family wasn’t exactly very supportive of my choice in career with film. I love my family, they are my everything but sometimes the people who are closest to you can discourage you the most. Not because they hate you, but because they love you and they are worried for you. Even though I know that, it’s still hard to accept it at times.
I started a film company, but little did I know G-d had a different plan for me. To make a long story short, I was offered a job to teach middle school and being that it was a great opportunity I took the job and my dream of film was put aside. Don’t get me wrong, teaching was in no way a second choice. I believe until today, that teaching was and is part of my path in life. It was actually my years teaching that shaped me more than anything. I ultimately went into teaching because I love children and I know what it feels like to be a child with little to no confidence. Adults sometimes don’t see just how special kids are. I never wanted to grow as a kid; I was the typical Peter Pan. Kids have such an amazing innocence about them. They see the good in the world and believe that they can make a difference. We were all kids and we know what it is to dream as a child and believe that anything is possible. Unfortunately, as we grow up we get discouraged from pursuing those dreams, we get hurt, we become bitter, cynical, we build walls so high that no one can break them down. But deep inside, that child that inner voice is alive we just need to tap into it. My job was to insure that that inner voice, that inner light would burn strong and that I would be able to help the children I taught keep in alive by simply teaching them to believe in themselves, value themselves, and never ever give up. Teaching was never a job for me, it was a way of life. I became the person I am today because of my students. I guess you can say, I became the best version of myself. You need to practice what you preach and so I worked on myself constantly.
Classroom discussion wasn’t simply about facts and figures but it was about applying what we were learning to our lives, it was about empowering the children, building them up, making them fall in love with the trait of giving and kindness. The concepts of the organization, were concepts I developed with my students and I have seen them work first hand. I’ve seen grades gel together in the most beautiful way. I’ve seen the child who was left out their entire lives become a child whose name was chanted at school functions. I saw children from the so called popular group reach out to children from the so called “nerdy group”. I’ve seen labels fade, friendship blossom, and kindness at its peak.
When you talk about teachers, it’s not about what you can do to be a good teacher, it’s about what you can do to be a great teacher! I teacher affects the world more than you know because a teacher is creating the future generation of tomorrow. A small mistake can leave irreparable damage on the life story of a child. Teaching is not a punch in, punch out job – at least it wasn’t for me. I was their teacher, their friend, their mentor, their big sister, their coach, their biggest fan. It’s so important to believe in your students and let them know it. Empowerment is the key to a successful teacher. Empower your students, respect them, don’t look down on them, but search for their value and help them discover it in themselves. If you do that – you will be a great success and your students will perform even better in your class because they see that you care about them, so they too will care about you and care about the things you care about. It’s just natural. The world is a mirror, what you put out there you will see being reflected back at you. So when I would speak to my students, I transported myself back to when I was their age, the feelings, the worries, the fears, the anxieties – and I spoke to them from that place. The moment you forget what it was like as a child, you should stop teaching. Connecting to your students is vital to their success and can do more than you can begin to imagine. But I will say this, teaching is one of the most rewarding things in the entire world. While teachers don’t get paid as much as they should, they are often not appreciated for all they do, at the end of the day when you receive a letter from a student, even if it’s just one student, telling you that you made a difference in their life – there is no better feeling in the entire world and suddenly in that moment it is all worthwhile! One of my most valuable possessions are a few books of letters from students that I’ve compiled throughout my years teaching. It’s those letters that I turn to when I feel down on myself, when I feel like I haven’t made much of a difference, when I question my worth, because let’s be honest, we ALL question our worth. But, those letters empower me and energize me in a way I can’t explain, in a way that only a teacher would understand. So if you’re thinking of going into teaching, all I can tell you is that it’s the best choice you will ever make. YES! There will be hard times, but trust me when I say that the impact that you can make as a teacher is WORLD changing!
Leaving my teaching job to pursue developing the organization was no easy choice. I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t think about teaching, about my students, the bonds we made, the friendships, the lessons, the camaraderie. The way I see it, I’m teaching on a more global scale but it still wasn’t an easy choice. I knew ever since I was a child that there was something HUGE I was supposed to do in my life. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew that it was bigger than I could imagine and I knew that at the core of it was the theme of kindness, peace and connecting people on a global scale. YES! World peace is what I dreamed of and I guess it’s a big part of why Life Vest Inside means such a great deal to me. When I started teaching I knew I had found my calling, but towards the end something kept pulling at my heart. That longing, that passion, that feeling that there was something greater I was meant to do kept creeping up on me.
I’m going to reveal something that I haven’t told many people.
Little bit about my background:
“What you don’t know about me is that I’m the most determined person you’ll ever meet. And that’s exactly what I told my principal in 8th grade.
But being a determined person started long before that. My early schooling experiences stripped me of my self-confidence. When I was in 3rd grade, I was removed from “general education” classes and put into “resource” class – away from my peers – labeled as a learner who was different. I felt like an outcast but worst of all I lost the faith to believe that I could achieve things. I used to dread going to resource room, but a loving teacher and a small poem changed all of that.
One day we were given an assignment. The teacher handed out a short poem on a white sheet of paper. How was I to know that that paper would change my perspective and the trajectory of my life. We were told to try and memorize the poem as best we could. I took the sheet of paper in my hand and looked at the unfamiliar ideas spread onto the paper for the first time. The teacher read the poem aloud for the first time with a very soothing yet strong voice.
If you think you can do it, you can.
If you think you do not, you don’t.
If you’d like to win but think you can’t,
It’s almost a cinch you won’t.
If you think you’ll lose – you’re lost.
For out in this world we find,
Success begins with a fellow’s will
It’s all in a state of mind.
Life’s battles don’t always go to the strongest or fastest man.
But sooner or later the man who wins is the one who thinks he can.
Although I didn’t fully understand the message, after the first reading it somehow spoke to a certain part of my heart – the part that was craving encouragement. The teacher told us that we should feel free to decorate it in any which way we like. I remember it as if it were yesterday. I took the paper in my small hands and pasted it onto a pink sheet of construction paper. I then decorated it with different designs and for some reason I began feeling connected to the poem. Night after night I would read the poem to myself before going to bed. I saw that little window of alone time as an escape; it was my time with the poem, it was my time to reflect. It gave me strength and as time went by my confidence began to grow. When I was faced with something that seemed to be a challenge I no longer ran away in fear. Rather, I became determined to figure it out. There was nothing I couldn’t do. I was most certainly still weak in certain areas but I had a tool in my hand to help me get up when I felt like giving in.
The words of that poem have been a guiding light for me, words that have pushed me forward when I was ready to give up on myself. Through a fire that destroyed my house in 10th grade, my father losing his job, moving from house to house for 5 years, being separated from my family, falling into a deep depression. One struggle after the other hit and it was difficult to keep positive. However, it was my experiences and my desire and determination to give back that led me to teaching. I wanted to be the teacher that saw in my students what they were still unable to see in themselves. I understood the value of empowering someone to believe in their dreams, believe in their talent and that was the kind of person I wanted to be for others. My seven years teaching were the most transformative years of my life. Giving a child a glimpse into the storehouse of wealth and knowledge they have within is the greatest gift anyone can receive. The themes and ideas of kindness, values, and self-worth were incorporated into every single classroom discussion. Children transformed before my eyes, not just academically but socially as well. This is my wish for all children to experience through the Life Vest Inside and the Life Vest Inside Kindness Curriculum.
My dream for a kinder world isn’t based on fantasy, but rather rooted in reality. These are concepts I’ve used, I’ve tested, I’ve experienced. I have seen firsthand how they have worked and changed the lives of so many. When I made the decision to take a leave of absence from teaching and dedicate myself to Life Vest Inside it was my students who gave me the faith in myself to take the final leap. They told me that it was time for me to share with the world the lessons that I had shared with them; that I’d taught them.
Leaving your comfort zone is never an easy thing to do. After all there is no guarantee of success, but as the poem goes, “Success begins with a fellow’s will, it’s all in a state of mind…the man who wins is the one who thinks he can.”
I love what you do and you know, i am a big fan, so i know the “Life Vest Inside” story and about the name? Appreciate if you share it with readers and Young & Shining Community.
I love this story and love telling it. Lots of people always inquire about the name and wonder “why Life Vest Inside?” In January 2007, my family and I went away on winter vacation. At the time there was a young girl (6 years old) in my community that was ill. I didn’t know her personally, but I was praying for her as was everyone else in my community. During a stopover of our flight, I received the tragic news that she had just passed away. I was devastated to say the least, but the first thing that I thought about was my 7th grade students back at home. You see, they had lost a classmate of theirs only 3 years prior when they were in 4th grade. Just before winter vacation, they started opening up to me about it; asking really difficult questions: “Why does G-d do what He does? Why do bad things happen? How do we make sense of it all?” I had just started being able to get through to them. I knew that they would hear the tragic news of this 6 year old girls death. What would I say to them. How would I be able to explain to them why and how something so tragic happened? How do you stay afloat in a world that sometimes seems to be pulling you downward? How do you find order in the chaos?
All of these thoughts were running through my head and my eyes began to well up with tears. As I headed back onto the plane, the stewardess sat me in a seat I wasn’t supposed to be in. But, as I believe everything happens for a reason and there was most certainly a reason that I was seated where I was. As I sat down and continued questioning how we stay afloat amidst the devastation and hardships, I turned to my left and there on the wall of the plane were 3 simple words that would change the course of my life. “Life Vest Inside.” Those words spoke to me. While it may be that during any other day, those words would simply be words you would expect to see on a plane, that day those words carried great meaning, they carried my answer. You see, a life vest pops up to the surface no matter how much you push it downward. At the moment the message I took was that a person’s life vest, their ability to stay afloat in a world that sometimes seems to be pulling them downward comes from within. It’s through the kindness that we bestow on others and through the kindness that others bestow on us that we keep each other afloat. We can’t prevent life’s mishaps, obstacles and curve balls from coming our way, but what we most certainly can do is throw someone a life vest, a life line of kindness to help keep them afloat amongst their seas of trouble. So while they may still be surrounded by water on all sides, at least they are staying afloat. KINDNESS is the key. A bit of kindness has the ability to uplift someone and help them continue to push forward in spite of the hardships and pain. Afterall isn’t that what life is really all about; helping to lift others up. Our greatest accomplishments are not the awards and accolades that are bestowed on us, but rather the lives of people who we’ve touched with kindness. The greatest thing about kindness is that it’s so uniquely and wonderfully universal. Everyone, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, culture, gender – everyone believes in kindness and recognizes its importance.
Life Vest Inside was inspired by a sign I saw on an airplane. It became a story I would tell to inspire my students. From that it turned into a journal I would keep, and eventually it turned into a dream that has now become a reality. The truth is, when I look at the acts of kindness cards for the organization and I see the words Life Vest Inside, I smile from ear to ear. Who would have thought back in 2007 that a small sign on a airplane would be responsible for inspiring an entire kindness organization, inspiring a Kindness Revolution! So I tell each of you out there – to open your eyes to the signs that are right in front of you. The world, G-d or whatever it is you want to call it – is speaking to you on a daily basis. Open your ears and your eyes and begin to tune in. You’ll be amazed by what you see – trust me on that one!
When I got back from my trip, I started doing a project with my students to inspire them to recognize just how valuable they are and the effect they can have on the world at large through simple yet powerful acts of kindness cards. I began creating Random acts of kindness cards; each card listing a different act. On the front of the card it stated: “Random act of Kindness” – it would state the act and beneath it, it read: “Please perform the act, pass the card to someone else, lets keep the kindness going”. On the back I placed a quote about kindness. At first these acts were limited to about ten. I had been on a seminar in which I saw these cards laid out on the table. It was an inspirational gimmick to encourage the children to pass kindness along. However, when I saw the card I saw the great potential it had. What if I create more acts and actually distribute these not as a gimmick but for people to truly pass along. Showing people that they indeed have an effect on the world around them: a real life pay it forward, if you will.
And so I went to work. I created about 30 acts and began printing them up and laminating them. It was June and the 8th graders were having their final assembly as elementary students before heading out into a whole new chapter of their lives. It couldn’t be a more perfect setting. And so I created one card per child and spoke to the grade as a whole about the importance of remembering their great potential, especially as they move on to high school, an atmosphere that is known to cripple feelings of self worth. Remember your potential I told them. I handed each child a card and told them to continue to pass them forward and every individual who receives that card and is affected by it will be to their merit because they were brave enough to take the first step.
After distributing the cards I realized I accidentally printed 8 extra cards, or so I thought. As I pulled into my driveway that very hot June day, I noticed a group of men and women working outside of my house, cleaning the streets (I assumed they were doing some kind of community service hours). I recognized the opportunity to spread kindness and give kindly. I ran into my house, got a pitcher of water, a couple bottles of soda some ice and cups. I walked over to them and asked them if they would like a drink. They looked at me as if to say, “What’s the catch?” But there was no catch; simply a kindness from one stranger to another. They were taken aback and appreciative. We began conversing for about ten minutes or so. They asked me if I wanted something in return and I explained that I’m just passing it on. As I excused myself and walked back into my house, I had the biggest smile on my face and the warmest feeling in my heart. As I started taking my books out of my bag, I came across the envelope with the extra cards. Suddenly it came to me. I quickly counted the cards left in the envelope – EIGHT! I ran to the window and began counting the people outside. “Five, six, seven – EIGHT! Of course! How could it be otherwise? I anxiously took the cards in my hand and ran back outside. I walked up to them and told them that there actually was something they could do for me. I began explaining to them that I have been speaking to my students about the importance of kindness and I described the project I was working on with them. I then took out the cards and asked them if they would be willing to accept a card. I would never know if they would or would not complete it, but that didn’t matter. They all agreed and I began passing them out, each card carrying on it a different message. Suddenly one of the men stopped in his tracks. He grasped the card tightly and began yelling, “How did you know to give this card to me? How did you know to give this card to me?” From his expression and the tear that began running down his cheek, I realized the card must have hit a nerve. The others froze, eyes fixated on him as he explained that he had been thinking about calling his parents for the past few weeks; it was ten years since he spoke to them last. As I looked down at his card I saw the reason for his tears, “Call your parents to tell them how much you love them.” One thing is for sure – I will never forget that gentleman and his story is forever embedded in my mind. The power of kindness – indescribable.
About a year or so down the road, towards the end of the year I began having a discussion with my 8th grade students about their dreams. I showed them a music video by Nickleback, If Today Were Your Last Day. All I can say about that video is – breathtaking. The words, thoughts, ideas all represent a big part of what I believe. The video ended with a quote by Margaret Meade: “A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Many people will tell you the importance of having dreams for yourself, but more importantly than the dream, is the courage to pursue it in spite of the struggles and obstacles that most certainly arise. I explained to the children the importance of dreaming, remembering their dreams as they mature, and never allowing anyone discourage them with such words as “can’t” “impossible” and such. I asked each student to go home and write down their dream for the future. I compiled their dreams along with many other thoughts and words they had written over the two years I was privileged to have them as students in a class journal. As we grow older in this world, something happens to that innocence of dreaming as though your dream has already come true. We become so afraid of failure, rejection, that we stop dreaming, stop believing, stop striving for what we once longed for. I too wrote a dream. I began thinking about the Acts of Kindness cards I distribute to my students in school and suddenly the idea hit me. Imagine if I created thousands of cards and I along with a group of people would set out to the city handing out cards in every corner. It was not long after that I found myself cutting, laminating, and cutting once again 8,000 cards with the help of a few dedicated people all in three days time. I made a pamphlet describing my mission to infuse the world with love and affixed a card to each pamphlet and distributed them within my community.
It was not long after that the next great idea came to mind. What will motivate the person receiving the card to truly pass it forward? Suddenly it came to me: tracking numbers. What if each card was to have its own tracking number. When a person logs onto the website they simply enter their tracking number and on screen will appear the name or user ID of each person that had the card prior to them as well as a story that a previous card carrier may have submitted about the experience they had receiving the card or passing it forward. Once the user passes it on, they will receive an email each time their card is being tracked, giving them the opportunity to see where their card has traveled. Across state? Across country? To a relative, a loved one, a stranger? Who knows! But the possibilities are endless. Suddenly, people can see first hand the impact their kindness had on others down the road. What an amazing way to see just how powerful we truly are. I said to myself, THIS is “Life Vest Inside”
And so I began my quest – creating Life Vest Inside from the bottom up. I purchased the domain name and began developing the concept and philosophy of the organization.
I went back to school that year and began discussing and developing ideas with my very own students. I planned to build the website over that year, but as we know man plans and G-d laughs. I had some unfortunate incidences with developers that truly took advantage of me, by taking money and not delivering on their promises. I didn’t know how I was going to get the idea off the ground, but I knew why I needed to get it off the ground and I think that is key for anyone trying to start something. It’s not about how you are going to do it, it’s about why you are doing it!
Great question! I wanted to create something that would show people the way I experience kindness and the fluid motion of how it can pass so easily from person to person. I began thinking of what I could do to illustrate that and I realized why not film it! After all I always loved film and boy did I miss it! I had a couple of months to make it happen because I knew that once September came along I would be going back to school. I reached out to one of my friends, Luis Armada from college who had was my Director of Photography in the past. We reconnected and I told him my idea. He was excited to work on the project and we began putting things into place. I sat down and began recording kindness experiences I had personally been through, moments in my life that left an imprint on my life. Suddenly the script came to life. I had in front of me tens of stories. I put each story on a post it note and stuck it to the wall in my house and began piecing it together and creating a storyline from the various stories. It was amazing how beautifully it all came together. The first week of August I put out a casting call on Craigs List and on Backstage. I went to chaperone a camp trip to LA and by the time I came back a week after, I had tons and tons of headshots. From auditions to shoot was exactly two weeks! Craziest two weeks ever. I lived and breathed film! It had been 7 years since I was involved in film production and I was extremely nervous, after all I was investing a tremendous amount of money into the shoot. My family and everyone who knew me thought I was crazy! “What do you think your film is going to really do?” they would tell me. Discouraging words followed me throughout the process, but I blocked it out. I had a mission and I was going to get there regardless of the pressure I was getting to call it quits. We had 2 rehearsals and then finally came the day of the shoot. There is so much to tell, but I can go on and on forever. Bottom line, I knew that we were starting something wonderful that day and so did all of the actors involved. Each one of the actors was so perfectly suited for the part and I can’t tell you how close we all got over such a short period of time. One of the actresses is currently working full time with Life Vest Inside.
Check Out Kindness Boomerang Video (over 10 Million Views on YouTube) here,
Yup, it was!! When I look back it still amazes me that we managed to pull that off. Remember, I hadn’t been involved in film in 7 years so this was my first attempt back into the film world. I was extremely nervous for the shoot, and I had invested a lot of my money in it – so I wanted to make sure that it would convey the message I was hoping to convey. It took lots of preparation. Luis, my DP, and myself had visited the location several times and did run throughs with a regular camera to insure that we would be able to do it with a stedicam. I knew it would be challenging but I also knew that in order to truly convey the beauty of kindness it was essential for it to be shot in one take.
During the two weeks of intense post production, I had pulled more than 3 all nighters and barely slept at all! I was running on a crazy energy, the energy of kindness!
I shot the film on September 1st 2010 and remember I was going back to teaching only a few days after the shoot. I was a full time teacher and I knew I wouldn’t be able to do much throughout the year, but I figured I would use that year as a time to prepare the legal documents for the organization to establish it as a 501c3 non profit organization.
After I saw what we had shot that day I knew that I was holding something powerful in my hands and I began questioning where did I want to go from here. Did I believe in it enough to go all in? I loved teaching and I don’t think anyone ever thought I would consider leaving my job as a teacher. Would I take a leave of absence, would I try to work on the organization while I was teaching, what would I do? I had no clue! But I knew that if I believed enough in it, I had to give it my all. That January I finally made the decision to tell the school that I would be taking a leave of absence. I would dedicate my time and money over the course of the upcoming year putting everything into it and I would see where it would take me.
I knew nothing about the non profit world, regarding management but when you put your mind to something you’ll figure it out. I had to let go of the fear and take a leap of faith.
It was now October 2011 and I still hadn’t put the video online. I knew nothing about social media or how people would even see the video. My website and the foundations of the organization were still being developed and I was confronting so many obstacles.
Finally I decided that I would post the video on YouTube and figured that maybe the film would inspire someone, perhaps someone would stumble on it, but I could no longer hold on to it because of my perfectionist nature to only release something when it’s perfect. I learned there is no such thing as perfect. You do what you can and learn from mistakes.
Who would have thought that millions of people would stumble on it and be inspired in ways I can’t begin to explain. I remember watching the numbers climb and recently found a journal entry I wrote when the video was approaching the 100,000 mark. I couldn’t believe it had reached so many people and the truth of the matter is I didn’t even realize how difficult something like that truly was. Within a month from then, it hit the millions and the Kindness Boomerang spread far and wide. I remember staying up all night responding to every single comment written on YouTube. I loved reading the comments, the good the bad and the inbetween. How it happened, I will never know! When I heard that Kindness Boomerang was named the number 1 feel good YouTube film of the holiday season, that was when I was just in utter shock. Looking back, I still can’t believe it!
The fact that it spread so naturally is a great sign for the future of the world. It’s a sign that the world is ready for change and kindness is the catalyst to bringing that sort of change. The thing I loved the most, was having people from all different backgrounds and religions connecting on a common ground.
WOW! So originally I had an entirely different song in mind. There were about 2 songs I was originally thinking of, both songs that I LOVE tremendously!
The Call, by Regina Spektor and True Colors, by Cyndi Lauper. I would listen to them on repeat in my car and they spoke to me in such a tremendous way. Plus, they had been songs that I had introduced to my students and they had such a sentimental meaning to me. One of my students had made me a CD and one random night after doing some volunteer work, I went into my car, put on the CD and One Day came on. I had heard the song in the past and always loved it, but I never really listened to the words. That night the words spoke to me in a very special way. It was ultimately the lyrics and the beautiful uplifting beat that made me choose that song. The one thing I wanted to stay away from regarding the film was make people watch it and feel guilty that they don’t get more involved. I wanted people to walk away from watching the film with a smile on their face, happiness in their heart, a bounce in their step and the belief that kindness is something that they most certainly can do!
I’ll never forget the day we filmed! We had a big boombox playing the song and the entire Red bank area was blasting with the sound of One Day. The music set the pace for the entire film and I knew that we chose the perfect song.
Kindness Boomerang by far!!! It has reached more people than I can begin to imagine and what it has done is open a discussion about the possibility of building a kinder more unified world. The amounts of comments that pour in on a daily basis through youtube, facebook, twitter, emails, etc – it’s amazing! People have taken down their walls, opened up and shared their stories, their lives, their hopes and dreams with me. By far the favorite part of my day is answering comments and connecting with people. Kindness Boomerang launched the organization and brought it to the forefront. While that was an extremely positive thing, it was also difficult because I was the sole person behind the organization and it was so difficult to manage so much being thrown at me all at once. I didn’t have the foundations to handle so much, but one thing’s for certain I learned so much over these past two years and have grown tremendously!
Probably one of the second greatest achievement up to date was being accepted to speak at TED 2013. I still can’t believe that I was on such a prestigious stage.
That’s definitely a tough question to answer, because each day brings with it new opportunities and things have been moving at lightening speed! My days are jammed packed and very often a day can feel like a week! My mornings begin with sending out a daily task to the Kindness Ambassadors. Kindness Ambassadors receive a daily task that generally takes between 2-3 minutes to complete and serves as a cool reminder that kindness is something everyone can do. A big part of the day is spent on social media, connecting with people answering comments, be it on Facebook, YouTube, twitter, and the hundreds of emails that pile in a day. Sometimes it can get really overwhelming and I’m often times forced to reevaluate on a regular basis so that I manage my time properly. Over these past two months my main focus has been geared towards the crowdfunder because it’s so essential that it is successful for the continuation and success of the organization. Up until now, I have been funding the organization from my savings during my years teaching, so it’s obviously been really difficult.
Generally, I don’t have one solo job that’s how it works in the startup phase of any organization or company. I do a bunch of a lot of things. Be it from working on the website, connecting with schools regarding the educational curriculum, developing material for the next LVI films, meetings upon meetings, the list goes on and on.
For example, right now I’m on a plane heading to Hong Kong for the World Kindness Conference.
There are tons of things that I do! There is one specific routine that I have in the morning. It’s a time when I pray, reconnect and focus on gratitude. Take time out to say thank you and appreciate what you do have is a very important part of the day. To be honest, when things get so busy you can lose yourself in all of it and forget to take time out to do that.
Some of the other things that I do is interact on a daily basis with the Life Vest Inside community and connect with individual people who share their stories, their hopes and dreams. Giving back and responding to them brings me the greatest sense of joy.
1000% First off it is so important to take time within your day, step back and recognize the things you should be grateful for. Although things may go wrong within our day to day lives, there is so much blessing in our lives, so much to be thankful for. By focusing on the good that we have in our lives, we actually draw more good into our lives. The more grateful we are, the more the world will send us things to be grateful for. It’s easy to see the negative, but we need to train ourselves to see the beauty within the world, the beauty within our lives and the the beauty within others. By doing so, we will begin to see that there is much beauty waiting to be discovered.
Can there be kindness without love? Kindness and Love are one in the same – so NO! The most important thing that people forget is that they need first to love themselves, really and truly love themselves. the biggest problem we have as a society is that we don’t recognize our value. And so if we don’t recognize our value, how do we expect to recognize the value in others. People value themselves based on what society sometimes makes us perceive is the root of our value. But our real value isn’t based on the amount of money we have, the amount of followers we have, or how outwardly beautiful we may be, but rather by the amount of people whose lives we’ve touched, whose life stories we’ve changed. THAT is the essence of our true value. Kindness is the greatest tool out there to help a person recognize their potential and worth. Because when a person engages in an act of kindness, they are filled with such a sense of happiness. At that moment they catch a glimpse of how powerful they truly are. They can say, “Wow, I made that person smile! I effected that person’s life in a positive way!” It empowers people to see that you they are is GREAT! They need not try and be someone else, but rather be proud of what they to offer. Every person is important, every person is unique and significant in their own way. Love yourself, so that you can love others and the way to love yourself is simply through engaging in acts of kindness!
Speaking at TED was a crazy experience, but the journey getting there was an even crazier experience. It was my dream to speak on the TED stage and have the opportunity to share the universal message of kindness on a global platform. Nervous is an understatement. While I’ve spoken many times before, after all I was a teacher for 7 years, nothing could have prepared me for TED. TED gave me the great opportunity to solidify even further the mission I have for the organization and think realistically and innovatively about how I can insure that I will be successful in implementing my ideas. After TED, I found myself to be much more strategic with the steps I was taking to get from point A to point B. A few months down the road, after getting word that one of the people who heard me speak nominated me for the TED prize. I decided to fill out the application myself. I think it was probably one of the longest and hardest applications I have ever had to fill out. Although I didn’t make it to the next round, I am extremely happy that I pushed myself to apply. It took me the course of a month to complete the application, but during that process I began developing my ideas and even further and in a way I most likely would have never developed them had it not been for the application. Sure, it would have been a dream come true to receive an opportunity to be handed a million dollars to make Life Vest Inside’s global educational initiative come into fruition, but through the process of thinking about my game plan, I began setting in motion other ways that I can and will turn the wish and the dream into reality.
Did my life change drastically? No, but my thought process most certainly changed and that’s a HUGE step in the right direction. I had the great pleasure of meeting some true change makers in the world at the TED conference and some of them are now a part of my life story; for that I will be forever grateful! I look forward for my talk to be posted and I encourage readers who are excited to hear it, to email TED and let them know of your interest.
Check out Orly’s Talk (Kindness and consequence) during TED Talent Search here.
I know deep in my heart that this is the reason I’m here in this world – to bring people together, to help people see that our differences are truly the source of our beauty and that if only we embraced one another instead of fighting against each other we can achieve so much more than we can ever imagine.
At the same time, I know in my heart of hearts that if I’m successful with anything I’m doing it’s simply because G-d is allowing me to. I can’t explain how Life Vest Inside grew so rapdily other than saying that G-d had His hand in it.
While there are so many positive remarks and feedback coming my way, I deal with a tremendous amount of negativity. However, I know in my heart that it’s because what we are trying to do here will ultimately be a game changer in this world. And you the same strength of negativity is fighting against it. By good will prevail. The negative comments only fuel me on further. Yes they hurt especially when they come from the people who love you most, but what we are doing here is revolutionary and so its only natural to be confronted with those trying to stop it.
We recently launched the first ever crowdfunding campaign for Life Vest Inside through Indiegogo to raise funds to bring Life Vest Inside to phase 2. Up until now I have been funding the organization on my savings from teaching, but being that I haven’t worked for two years, those funds are unfortunately rapidly depleting. This marks my first attempt to ask the Life Vest Inside community and the world at large for funding so that we can continue to inspire, educate and do what we’re doing. The funds raised will be going towards 3 things: Education, Media, and Technology.
- Education: Over the past year LVI has developed an Educational Kindness Curriculum that aligns with the Common Core State Standards and Blooms Taxonomy for Language Arts bringing kindness, compassion and empathy into the classroom. Made up of one unit of study, it has been developed, as of now, for grades K-5. Over the next year we will develop further units for Literacy and extend the units to grades 6-12. Our goal: to expand to all areas of study. After all, why not incorporate values and character development into subjects like English, Math, History, and Science? Teaching our youth and ourselves that it truly is Cool to be Kind!
- Media: Kindness Boomerang spread like wildfire and captured the hearts of millions! We are excited to make our next film -DREAMER, empowering people to embrace the dreamer within themselves!
- Technology: This is one of the coolest thing we are working on! We are developing a social network for kindness that invites users to inspire and be inspired by acts of kindness being committed across the globe, showing that one act of kindness creates a ripple effect of goodness in its wake. One of the cool aspects of the app is that it’s going to work with our Acts of Kindness cards and will allow people to track their cards as they pass from one person to the next!
The campaign ends on August 27th and we need as much help as possible to help us reach our $75,000 goal! (Update: This campaign was successful and is over now.) It’s not about how much you give, but rather about contributing something to show your support for kindness! The way I see, if people can join together to war against others, why not show the world that we can just as easily and more powerfully join together to inspire, unite, empower and create a kinder world!
So I would encourage everyone to take part in the Kindness Revolution and contribute to the campaign!
WorldWide Dance for Kindness:
This event absolutely rocks! Last year we hosted our first annual WorldWide Kindness Freeze Mob/Flash Mob event in honor of World Kindness Day (November 13th). The purpose of World Kindness Day is to look beyond ourselves, beyond the boundaries of our country, beyond our culture, our race, our religion; and realize we are citizens of the world. In November 2012, our first Dance for Kindness Event had over 3,500 participants, in 30 locations, spanning across 15 countries including Mexico, India, Russia, Australia, Singapore, Chile, Canada, and over 10 locations in the United States. It was amazing to see people come together in such a powerful way to unite under the banner of kindness. For 3 minutes participants froze in a kindness position, giving viewers the unique opportunity to see time STOP for kindness. After 3 minutes, the participants sprang to life for an amazing flash mob dance. Acts of kindness cards in each countries language was distributed and a great sense of unity and togetherness was felt by all participating and witnessing the event. Our flagship dance site was located in the heart of Times Square at midday and included over 150 dancers with over 3000 spectators plus signage on the American Eagle Billboard.
I am so excited for the 2nd annual Worldwide Dance for Kindness and I encourage anyone who is interested in being a group leader in their area to reach out! Last years event was fully run by Group Leaders who had connected with me through social media!
Run for Kindness Disney Princess Half Marathon
Team LVI will participate in the Disney’s Princess Half Marathon for a weekend of inspiration, unity and excitement. The Run for Kindness Weekend brings people of all ages together to participate in a magical event designed just for them focusing on attributes we all possess: kindness, courage, determination, perseverance, and strength. Our premier event will be the Disney Princess Half Marathon in Orlando, Florida (February 2014). The Run for Kindness Event includes weekend long kindness workshops and activities plus participation in the half marathon. I encourage anyone interested to book their spot TODAY – there are only a limited amount of slots.
Requirements to participate:
- Runners (within the US) are required to raise $2,000 which covers the runners hotel, airfare, food, event gear, entrance for Disney parks, and much more
- Runners (outside the US) are required to raise a minimum of $2,400 (based on location, amount can differentiate. Email email@example.com to inquire further).
- Want to be involved but can’t run? Want to attend and show support for a loved one running? Join us as a Cheerleader and experience the magic of kindness!
To learn more or register, visit our site or click here
Life Vest Inside Kindness Curriculum: I am currently working on implementing our current Life Vest Inside Kindness Curriculum in K-5 schools and expanding our Life Vest Inside (LVI) Educational Curriculum to 6-12th grade. Currently, the LVI Kindness Curriculum is designed for teachers and students from Kindergarten through 5th grade. Designed by expert literacy professors in the field, and reviewed by over 200 educational stakeholders, piloted in at least 20 schools, the current curriculum is the only one of its kind that is aligned with the Common Core State Standards and Bloom’s Taxonomy to elicit critical thinking skills foundationally built on kindness (Findings from the data analysis are available for review if interested).
Kindness Mission Day: Currently this event only takes place in NYC but we hope to expand once the organization has greater manpower.The Life Vest Inside team heads out with a group of volunteers in NYC engaging in acts of kindness and building human connection.
The event helps people 1) become kindness-aware; 2) make a difference in people’s lives; 3) grow empowered to unlock your potential; 4) become kindness-catalysts; 5) increase human creativity; and 6) build self-value and self-love.
How can Y & S community, youngsters contribute to this? Can they also volunteer in some way?
The Kindness Ambassador program is most certainly the best way to get involved in the organization. What is it? Well, it started off as a program directly associated with the crowdfunding campaign. People signed up and agreed to dedicate 2-3 minutes of their day, each day for the duration of the campaign to help promote the mission of Life Vest Inside and encourage people to contribute to the campaign so that we can continue our amazing work!
I thought I would get about 100 people over the course of the month prior to the campaign. I was pleasantly surprised when the numbers hit 100 over the first few days. By the time the campaign started we had almost 2000 global Ambassadors and I had the opportunity of getting to know the ambassadors on a whole new level! The Ambassadors receive daily tasks that range from a number of things (but the tasks generally take between 2-3 minutes to complete, showing that kindness can be implemented into your everyday life). Bonds and friendships began to develop and the truth is that connecting with Kindness Ambassadors is one of the highlights of my day!
Things progressed further and we began having Google On Air Hangouts and a dialogue was created! Currently, I just started a Facebook group for Kindness Ambassadors where ambassadors can share inspiring stories, thoughts, ideas and most importantly get to know one another and be a support system for other Kindness Ambassadors.
Where is it going from here?
Great question! The campaign ends next week, but after seeing the success of the Ambassador program, I am looking forward to see what it will grow into. I encourage those who are interested to sign up to be a Kindness Ambassador by clicking HERE. You can read a bit more about it and sign up!
Volunteer opportunities are also definitely available! The main thing we are looking for currently are interns, willing to come on board and learn all there is to learn about Life Vest Inside so they can assist us in expanding. One of the most important things we have running currently is our crowdfunding campaign to raise funds necessary so that we can continue to stay afloat. Spreading the word and encouraging people to partake would help us out tremendously.
To get more involved, volunteer, or apply for an internship email firstname.lastname@example.org
First and foremost – YOU MATTER! Remember that and repeat it to yourself regardless of what others may tell you and regardless of how you may feel about yourself from time to time. One of the most important tools you’ll need to succeed and most importantly to be happy in life, is to recognize your value and your worth. If you stop and look at all of the social issues plaguing society today; bullying, peer pressure, depression, substance abuse, suicide, violence – at the core and heart of the matter lies a lack of self-worth. People have forgotten to value themselves for what’s true and have instead sought for validation from things that will never give them true validation. You’re worth isn’t dependent upon how much money you make, how many friends or followers you have, or the kind of car you drive. But, rather by the people whose lives you’ve touched; you’re small, simple acts of kindness are the things that truly matter. Your impact on the life of another is something that can never be taken from you. So open your eyes and seek opportunities to give a lending hand, to throw someone a life vest, a life line of kindness because we all know just how important kindness is in our lives.
Being involved in performing acts of kindness is one of the greatest tools for helping a person recognize their self-worth. Think about it! When you perform an act of kindness, how uplifted and amazing do you feel?! The reason for that is because you begin to catch a glimpse of your true value, of what you have the potential to bring to the life of another. When you value yourself, you will naturally recognize the value in others and realize that each person is significant, another piece of the puzzle. Taking it a step further, the more you value yourself, the better equipped you are to make proper healthier and smarter decisions in your life. So practice kindness on a daily basis. Actually, don’t just practice kindness, live it, see the world through kind eyes and you will happy every day of your life! Is it easy? No! Is it worth it? 100%.
Secondly, NEVER ever give up! Believe in yourself and in your potential and you will go farther than you ever dreamed of. Don’t stop dreaming and don’t allow others to discourage from pursuing your dreams. Remember that it’s ok to fail; failure is the true key to success. Yes, if you never try, you’ll never fail. But, if you never try, you’ll never succeed either. It’s worth the risk and as long as you get back up and try again, you’ll never be a failure.
Whatever career you decide to embark on, be sure to love it! If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. Getting to where you want to be may take time, but if you persevere you WILL get there! Trust me, anyone that has made it has contemplated giving up thousands of times, but perseverance is what got them to the end.
Last thing, when you choose a path in your life it’s not about asking how you’re going to get there, but answering the question of why you want to get there! Unwavering passion and dedication for what you decide to do, will take you very far! It’s not something that can be taught, but only felt!
I’ll end with my favorite poem that guided me through a great deal of my life:
If you think you can do it, you can.
If you think you do not, you don’t.
If you’d like to win but think you can’t,
It’s almost a cinch you won’t.
If you think you’ll lose – you’re lost.
For out in this world we find,
Success begins with a fellow’s will
It’s all in a state of mind.
Life’s battles don’t always go to the strongest or fastest man.
But sooner or later the man who wins is the one who thinks he can.
You can connect with Life Vest Inside in lots of ways:
You can also sign up to be a Kindness Ambassador! I absolutely LOVE this program. Basically once you sign up, you receive a daily task that takes no more than 2-3 minutes to complete. It’s a simple acts of kindness or possibly a task to help promote the organization, but because it is such a simple task it helps remind us that kindness is important and can be incorporated into our everyday lives!
Google hangout for Kindness Ambassadors: I host on air Google hangout where you get the chance to ask me any questions you like, plus we focus on various topics each session. You can complete this form to be
Thank You so much for taking time to share this with Y & S tribe, we wish you success in your pursuits 🙂