You can't escape the memes that flash on your friends' social media accounts. Some of them are short, while others are lengthy, but they all boil down to two little words: Be kind.
It's become a new – albeit strange – mantra in today's society in which we have to keep reminding each other to be nice to others.
After all, it's really a lesson that children are taught starting in preschool.
That's probably why it was surprising to me when I heard the lyrics to the new Black Eyed Peas song, “Be Nice,” whose chorus tells the listener to “Be different/Be nice.” Have we come to a point that being kind makes us different?
It would appear then that someone like Julie Applegate is really different.
Applegate believes it doesn't take much – even if you don't have much – to spread kindness.
So hoping to do a little good in the community, the middle girl of a family of three boys and five girls decided to enlist the help of her family to begin the Racine Acts of Kindness.
Racine is Applegate's maiden name, and the family created its own spin of the national Random Acts of Kindness movement by replacing the word random with Racine. However, it's still the same concept. The family members make an effort to do things that don't involve money, or very little money, to brighten someone else's day.
There are 10 family members who are part of the group and they meet every three months to plan what they can do, share ideas and talk about things that they have done. The group has been doing it 10 years.
Most of the RAKs have been done individually, but there have been group efforts. Applegate talks about how the group helped a family whose father was going through medical issues and how they provided paper goods and detergent to a single mother around the holidays.
Out of the eight Racine children, six of them are part of the group, Applegate says. The others are children of the siblings, including Applegate's 25-year-old daughter. The ages range from 60s to those in their 20s.
And distance doesn't seem to matter. While the family is originally from Fort Wayne, there are members of the group from Indianapolis, Michigan and Roanoke who come to meet as a group.
Applegate, 59, who retired last year, is responsible for the idea but doesn't know what inspired it. “... We all did various volunteer activities,” she says, “I thought it would be fun to get us all together and just spread some kindness.”
Some of the things Applegate has done includes putting a flower in a vase and giving it to a neighbor; putting $1 in a library book so that the next person who checks it out gets $1; and stopping at a bus stop to give a McDonald's worker $20.
There are simple things, too, like giving compliments. “You think things in your head, but say them out loud,” Applegate says.
Applegate says the family “grew up in a family who didn't have a lot. Dad was a milkman and mom was a stay-at-a-home mom. We worked from young ages to have anything. We always had jobs. We always worked. We were ... raised pretty poor.”
Mark Racine, Applegate's brother, says the family doesn't want to take credit for stuff. “It's not something we want anything in return,” the 68-year-old Fort Wayne resident says.
When asked why he does it, Mark Racine advises anyone to just read the first section of the newspaper. “There's so many bad things going on,” he says, “the world needs a little good in it. That's really my angle to it.”
Part of Mark Racine's good are things like paying for someone else's breakfast at a restaurant, sending cards to people who are not doing so well and helping his neighbor who has prostate cancer take care of his property.
“Something happens and it makes you think about other people,” he says.
And that's really the overall message of any kind of RAK – thinking of others.
Applegate hopes the next generation will take the family's lead and spread some kindness – even if it's just a little.
“It just makes the world better,” she says.
Terri Richardson writes about area residents and happenings that affect their lives in this column that publishes every other week. Email her at email@example.com or call 461-8304.