Editor’s Note: Bothell, Washington, was selected as one of Reader’s Digest’s Nicest Places in America. Meet the winner, find out how the finalists were selected, and hear from our chief judge, Robin Roberts.
First, somebody showed up with a bunch of balloons. Then a cake. Then a big Happy Birthday banner that was stretched across the parking lot next to the Beca’s Brew coffee stand. And people just kept showing up, dozens in all. It was a party—just as Beca Nistrian had envisioned for her pal Will Tinkham. May 10 was Tinkham’s birthday, and she wanted to surprise him.
Tinkham, 32, was born with developmental disabilities and loves people. Nistrian, 30, the spunky owner of the stand in this fast-growing Seattle outpost of 45,000, thought he was wonderful—and a business asset. So she proposed an arrangement: If Tinkham showed up every day for an hour or two and chatted with the customers at her drive-through window, she’d give him a free drink. Pretty soon, an hour or two turned into the whole day. Nistrian gave him a raise and more responsibilities.
“It’s great,” Tinkham told KOMO News. “I have fun being here and have a great day, and she pays me a lot of money!”
Nistrian actually thinks she’s getting the better end of the deal. “He finds the smallest things to be happy about, and I’m over here stressed about minute things. He finds joy in everything.”
Not everybody appreciated Tinkham’s special brand of enthusiasm. Nistrian noticed that some people would ignore him when he’d say hello. “One customer was extremely disrespectful,” she says. She gave him his order for free and asked him to please never come back.
Nistrian was so upset that she posted a sort of ode to Tinkham on a community blog. She also mentioned his approaching birthday. Without any more planning or prompting, neighbors showed up to celebrate with Tinkham on his big day, and he greeted everyone with a hug and a smile. Among the crowd: four police officers, who gave him a ride in a police cruiser—siren on, of course. “This is AWESOME!” Tinkham kept repeating.
Nistrian was so inspired by all the spontaneous good spirit that she proposed that Bothell establish every May 10 as Cup of Kindness Day. The city agreed, and it even issued a proclamation that declared Tinkham to be “an exceptional conversationalist with a kind, joyous soul.” On the first Cup of Kindness Day, Beca closed her shop and delivered cookies to police officers, firefighters, teachers, day care center workers and others “who serve other people, but not for the money,” she said. She had asked customers to drop off cookies and got so many they filled her car and it took her all day to deliver them. It didn’t take long for others to join in on the acts of kindness. A church gave a group of single moms massages, flowers, and other gifts, and the local trampoline park let kids jump for free.
You don’t have to wait a year though to see folks being nice in Bothell. Although the small city is growing, with tech jobs moving in and wineries cropping up in the fertile area soil, it still feels like a small town. Jason Dunbar, who lives on the outskirts of Bothell, wanted to help the homeless people in the area, so he and his father-in-law rigged an RV into a mobile shower. They also handed out donated clothing and toiletries, along with a free lunch for anybody who showed up.
“We get an amazing amount of stuff. We give away a hundred pairs of socks a week,” he says. “We’ve got one guy who gives us a thousand pairs of socks a year.” Local firefighters install smoke alarms free for residents. The local veterinary clinic vaccinates pets at no charge and microchips them for just $5.
“If you are ever in need of something, Bothell has you covered,” says one of the people who nominated the town, Joanna Elder. “The community really rallies around people.”
Of course, if you want a cup of coffee in Bothell, just header over to Beca’s. You know your drink will come with something extra-special: kindness.