An annual tradition now in its 20th consecutive year, Kindness Week will begin Monday in Calaveras County and it is not arriving a moment too soon.
The county has been rocked this week in the aftermath of a tragic murder-suicide in which a Forest Meadows man took the lives of his two teenaged children, who attended Bret Harte High School, as well as his own.
"Small towns like we have here are connected," said Kindness Week founder and committee leader Jim Bergantz, of Murphys. "The ripples of kindness may help to heal, I hope."
In most regards, Kindness Week will continue as it always has. The concept is simple. More than 10,000 blue ribbons will be distributed, beginning primarily in the county's schools. They get passed on from one person to another as acts of kindness are performed. The givers sign their names on the back and hopefully the list fills with signatures, Bergantz said.
Students at Michelson Elementary School in Murphys will "paint" the town blue with ribbons tied in front of downtown merchants. The Calaveras County Board of Supervisors is set Tuesday to declare Kindness Week in effect through Feb. 17 and give an official reminder that the county serves as a "kindness zone" year-round.
Calaveras Unified School District Superintendent Mark Campbell ordered extra ribbons to adorn school buses that traverse the northern county.
Mark Twain Elementary School District students in Angels Camp and Copperopolis have written "Kindness Hero" essays. Contest winners will read their works Feb. 19 at an Angels Camp City Council meeting at Bret Harte High School.
Bergantz said he is still trying to navigate the ropes of officialdom in an effort to get yellow street signs posted on seven entrance roads into the county. Already made up, they would welcome visitors and let them know they are entering a "kindness zone," he said.
"It is unique. I think we're the only 'kindness zone' in California," he said. "But there's no trademark on kindness. I'd love to see Tuolumne County be one. I'd love to see Amador County be one. Heck, I'd love to see California be one."
The kindness ribbons have been known to cross county lines. Bergantz said his wife, Judy, once saw one pinned on a tourist who received it in Murphys before coming down to her workplace, Nelson's Columbia Candy Kitchen. He gave some ribbons away to Central Valley customers of his greenhouse sales business recently and explained their purpose.
At Bret Harte, counselor Sherri Sedler said Kindness Week can only serve to enhance what has been an outpouring of "love, support and gratitude" among a shaken but resolved student body.
Sedler said planning of specific events related to the commemoration have had to take a backseat to dealing with the loss. She said she will likely be meeting with leadership class students today to talk about the campus expression of Kindness Week.
Bergantz said he doesn't know how best to incorporate the memory of the three family members lost in suchtragic circumstances but offered some ideas. As NBC television personality Ann Curry suggested a commitment toward 26 acts of kindness in honor of the number of victims in December's Newtown, Conn., tragedy, perhaps a modest three may be appropriate in Calaveras.
Perhaps that is just what the youngest victim, 14-year-old Macaila Marshall, would have wanted. In reaction to the Newtown massacre, the empathetic freshman girl posted to her Instagram account: "My heart is so broken, my prayers go out to the families that lost a family member, also to the teachers."
"I want kindness to be a topic of discussion, to talk about kindness in the community and in the family," Bergantz said. "It's important to be there for people in our community … we need to be kind to one another, especially when they're hurting."