White Rock resident Debbie Riopel says she played a part in bringing Random Acts of Kindness Week to Canada. Aaron Hinks photo

How a murder led to Random Act of Kindness Week

White Rock woman played part in introducing Random Act of Kindness Week to Canada

Random Act of Kindness Week, which is now celebrated around the globe, was first introduced in Canada after a random act of violence.

Barb Danelesko was murdered in Edmonton in 1994 in the middle of the night while her husband and children were asleep. It was a home invasion gone wrong.

Colleen Ring, a Grade 2 teacher at the time at Edmonton’s Mary Hanley Catholic Elementary (a few blocks away from the murder scene), saw the impact the murder had on the greater community and the students in her classroom, her sister Debbie Riopel, a White Rock resident, told Peace Arch News Wednesday.

While many people responded to the crime by increasing their home security, Ring “chose to respond to a random act of violence with a random act of kindness,” Riopel said of her sister, who still lives in Edmonton.

Riopel said that her sister started a program in her school called Kids for Kindness. Students were rewarded for acts of kindness and were assigned projects that promoted kindness.

Riopel, who was also a school teacher in Alberta at the time, said kids started to positively respond to the curriculum.

“We could see that when you put the emphasis on kindness and positivity, there’s a change in the students. Then, the parents would say there’s a change in the kids when they came home. That, really, kept us going,” she said.

In 1996, Riopel and her sister approached the then-mayor of St. Albert, Anita Ratchinski, to ask for a week to be proclaimed as “Random Acts of Kindness Week,” the first of its kind in Canada.

“The game plan was simply to bring awareness and optimism and action to the public,” Riopel said.

The committee was successful in their effort, and soon after, cities across Canada started to follow suit.

Later that year, Riopel and her sister received a letter from a small kindness movement committee in Japan, inviting the women to attend a conference in Tokyo. The women agreed, and went to five consecutive conferences over the following five years.

“That was a game changer,” Riopel said, adding that the movement started to take on a life of its own in the following years.

Riopel said the World Kindness Movement was founded in Tokyo in 1997. In the following years, Riopel and her husband, Mark Broscheit, travelled to more than 15 countries to film a documentry, highlighting the “goodness of the human spirit.”

“You look at the phrase (Random Act of Kindness), it’s kind of like a permission, in a way. I think that’s how the people of Edmonton took it,” Riopel said.

This year, Riopel, along with the Oneness Gogos, have scheduled a planned act of kindness for the launch of Random Act of Kindness Week Feb. 11.

The Gogos, which is a charity group that raises funds for grandmothers taking care of orphaned children in Africa, will donate books and give thanks to the Write to Read volunteers in South Surrey.

Write to Read, which stores boxes of donated books in five storage units in South Surrey, works to build libraries in remote rural First Nations communities.

Libraries are housed in donated portable trailers, modular buildings and repurposed buildings. Since 2015, the organization has built 10 libraries.

Although the Gogos act of kindness is one that is planned, Riopel offered some suggestions for those who might be curious about what constitutes a random act of kindness.

It can be as simple as holding a door open for someone, or, she suggested, scrolling to your oldest text message and reaching out to that person.

“It’s all about people connecting,” she said.

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