The Nicest Place in California: Anaheim
NICEST PLACES IN AMERICA 2019 FINALIST
"City of Kindness"
It isn’t every city where someone can be elected mayor by running on the slogan, “Make Kindness Contagious.”
After the tragic death of six-year-old Natasha Jaievsky in a car accident, her father discovered her drawings and writings about a wish for a world filled with kindness. At a loss as to what to do amid this tragedy, he decided to honor her memory by hanging up signs reading “Make Kindness Contagious” all over Anaheim.
That tiny act, sparked by the wishes of an innocent girl, ended up having an enormous impact.
Tom Tait, a former city councilman who nominated Anaheim, tells Reader’s Digest that he saw the signs and wanted to figure out where they came from. He eventually tracked down Edward Jaievsky, Natasha’s father, and learned the tragic story. It inspired him to run for mayor with “Make Kindness Contagious” as his campaign slogan. It might sound overly simple, but there was a big idea behind it: If the city made “kindness” one of its pillars, life in Anaheim would actually get better for everyone.
And here’s the crazy thing: It worked.
Tait served as mayor from 2010 to 2018, and nearly ten years later, the “City of Kindness” has become famous for its ethos of smiles and caring—so famous that the Dalai Lama chose to spend his 80th birthday in the town.
All Anaheim schools now have a Serve-a-Thon every Martin Luther King Day. Instead of taking the school holiday off, teachers, administrators, and hundreds of students come together to do projects such as planting trees or singing songs at a senior citizens center.
“It’s really fun,” says fifth-grader Kenley Herrera, who participated in a neighborhood cleanup. “It’s just the thought of making people happier.”
She and her friends made posters with uplifting messages like “May You Have Love in Your Heart” to carry as they picked up trash for nearly two miles, all the way from her elementary school to Anaheim High.
“Kindness has just become integrated into who we are,” says Ephrain Paniagua, principal of Lincoln Elementary. “If someone doesn’t act that way, you know they aren’t from here.”
Before her tragic death, a six-year-old girl in Anaheim named Natasha Jaievsky had a dream; to make kindness contagious. Her dream eventually came true. Kindness became more than a concept, it became deeply embedded in our city’s culture.
In 2004, I had served ten years on the City Council for Anaheim, California. I was about to be termed out and had no intention to continue a career in politics. One afternoon on my way home from work, I noticed homemade signs throughout the city. Make Kindness Contagious was all they said. There was something about this message that uplifted me, and the more I passed them on my commute, the more curious I grew in regards to what they represented.
I later learned these signs were a tribute to a six-year-old girl named Natasha Jaievsky. Her father hung these signs as a tribute to his daughter who had died in a tragic accident. After her death, he found drawings and writings throughout her room expressing her desire for a kinder world. I met with Dr. Jaievsky, and he explained to me that, in medicine, you can either treat the symptoms or stimulate the body to heal from within holistically. He believed the same could apply to a city. A city could be stimulated to heal from within. That has something to do with kindness, he told me. This idea of a city healing holistically by everybody being a little kinder inspired me to eventually reenter the political arena, and in the year 2010 I ran for Mayor of Anaheim, California. My political platform was simple. It was kindness.
As a city we officially changed Anaheim’s motto to “The City of Kindness.” The seed for creating a culture of kindness had been planted by Natasha and was nurtured by the people of Anaheim. As mayor, I was only a vessel to help carry on the movement.
As with any major metropolitan city, Anaheim has faced its share of problems. The summer of 2012 was a low point, including several officer-involved shootings. This caused protests and a riot in the city. The anger that had been bubbling beneath the surface for years finally erupted. Our city responded in many kind ways, but it was the kids who eventually led the way. To help make Anaheim a kinder city, the educators of the Anaheim Elementary School District challenged students to perform a million acts of kindness. The kids not only met this challenge, they surpassed it. Anaheim‚Äôs Kindness Initiative attracted the attention of Lama Tenzin Dhoden, the peace emissary for His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama. His Holiness invited me to meet with him at his home in India to speak with him about kindness. He then came to Anaheim to visit with the people who helped make Anaheim a kinder city and to celebrate his 80th birthday.
Since this turning point in our city’s history, the people of Anaheim have made kindness an important part of the culture. The elementary school kids are still performing their acts of kindness, trying to reach a billion countywide! And the high school kids have begun a Martin Luther King Day tradition. Instead of staying home on their day off, thousands of the high schoolers get together every year to dedicate this special day as a day of service by being kind. For example, at the local parks, the students do a mass cleanup and plant trees. In the senior citizen centers, they visit the elderly and some perform and sing for them. They also assembled and send care packages to soldiers in combat.
Although I am no longer mayor of Anaheim, the endeavor to make kindness contagious continues. I would like to nominate Anaheim as the Nicest City in America. When people think of Anaheim, they may think of Mickey Mouse and our baseball team, the Angels or the hockey team, the Ducks. Although these are all great components, it‚’s the people of Anaheim who make our city not only the home of the Happiest Place on Earth, but more importantly, The City of Kindness.