For 7 years, this local site has brought random acts of kindness to Sault Ste. Marie

November 20, 2019

Once a month, Jasmyn Rowley gets to surprise someone in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada.

Well, at this point, a lot of people know what’s coming once they see Rowley, who’s in her seventh year delivering random acts of kindness to her community.

But she’s still at it. And so far, she’s delivered 154 random acts of kindness.

Rowley once brought horses to visit a woman in hospice who wanted to see a horse one more time. She brought a device to help a little girl with cerebral palsy walk for the first time alongside her twin sister. She brought a wheelchair ramp to the home of someone who needed it. She also shows up sometimes with pizzas, flowers, free car washes, gift cards and just in time to pay for the weekly groceries.

It’s not hard news, she said, but a chance to tell stories that still matter.

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Rowley first started surprising people in her hometown with the random acts of kindness video series when she was a reporter with Local2. That site merged with SooToday, and now, Rowley is the director of communications and community engagement for Village Media, which owns SooToday and 11 other hyperlocal sites.

The monthly video series started as a way to surprise deserving community members. Now, it’s grown to include an annual “12 Days of Christmas” edition.

After the first year, local businesses reached out and wanted to take part, Rowley said. And for the last few years, the Christmas acts have been almost totally funded by a local business person who has stayed anonymous.

But Rowley doesn’t think the flowers or pizzas or car washes are what get people so excited.

“I think really, recognition is the most important thing that we’re giving people,” she said.

The deadline’s just closed for people to nominate worthy recipients of the holiday program. Rowley and a selection committee try to match nominees with gifts that would be meaningful to them.

“It’s very hard to choose, obviously,” she said. “Really, truly, everyone has a story.”

Businesses and people who partner with SooToday get a shoutout in the videos and online. But all that money or the in-kind donations go directly to the recipient, Rowley said.

The videos also have display ads, and they’re among the site’s most popular original video content. The holiday grocery store videos get tens of thousands of views, Rowley said, and the video of the little girl walking for the first time has gotten more than 340,000 views.

Rowley’s seen one act of kindness lead to more.

Last year, she jumped in line at Joe’s No Frills grocery store and offered to buy groceries for several people.

One woman started crying.

“You’ve made my day,” she said.

“Alright,” Rowley replied. “So you’ll do something nice and pay it forward?”

“I certainly will,” the woman said. “I’m a server and I will buy someone’s dinner tonight.”

The next day, someone posted in a local mom’s Facebook group that a server at a restaurant bought their dinner after getting a random act of kindness.

Then that woman wanted to pay it forward, and soon a comment chain flowed with ideas for how she and others could do nice things for their neighbors.

In the United States, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette publishes random acts of kindness stories submitted by the community. And the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Minneapolis Star Tribune have sections dedicated to good news.

In Sault Ste. Marie, Rowley said she thinks the program has become part of the newsroom’s identity. Local news connects people to their community, she said. It informs them about their schools and local politics, “but on a deeper level, it connects you with your neighbor.”

Kristen Hare covers the transformation of local news for Poynter.org. She can be reached at khare@poynter.org or on Twitter at @kristenhare