Catching Joy Marathon: Running for Kindness

August 10, 2021

Maxwell Surprenant (he/him/his) is honored to have received Born This Way Foundation’s Channel Kindness Award in 2017. He serves as Co-Founder of Catching Joy, Inc., a nonprofit that promotes volunteerism and acts of kindness beginning with kids, teens, and families. His short film, “The Impact of Giving Back” won Honorable Mention in the 2015 White House Student Film Festival. Maxwell delivered a TEDxTalk: “Youth’s Power and Passion Can Change the World.”

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Since my earliest memories, I have been leading Catching Joy, Inc., a nonprofit that promotes volunteerism and acts of kindness beginning with kids, teens, and families. I organize hands-on service projects to help share the responsibility and joy of giving.

In March 2020, when Covid-19 hit, the CDC recommended masks and staying 6 feet apart to keep safe. The irony did not escape me: How can we grow closer together while staying physically apart? During this challenging time, I became more aware of mine and others’ vulnerability, but I also discovered resilience, resourcefulness, and the power of community.

When the 2020 Boston Marathon was canceled, I initiated a Catching Joy Marathon: 26 acts of kindness to aid essential workers and people in need during the pandemic. It has since turned into an Ultra Marathon, and I have completed 82 out of 100 miles, and I’m still running strong. I’ve rallied thousands of people – mostly an army of youth – to do good from home. I’ve learned that people want to help, but often just need a vehicle to do it.

In January, I was honored to have been invited by the 2021 Biden Presidential Inauguration Committee to lead a service project for Martin Luther King, Jr. National Day of Service. I launched Operation Sock Drop with the goal of collecting 2021 pairs of socks, the #1 requested clothing item in shelter homes. Every morning we put on clean and cozy socks, and we know how good it makes us feel. But for people living in poverty, socks are a luxury when it should be a basic human right.

In just a few weeks, I surpassed this goal and collected more than 7,000 pairs of socks. I set up collection boxes in my home, schools, local bookstore, and coffee shop. Friends also collected at their homes and workplaces. Socks were shipped to my address from all over the country and the donations have not stopped, it’s an incredible outpouring of warmth and generosity.

During the winter months, I set up an emergency collection for coats, winter clothes, hats, scarves, and gloves/mittens for underserved communities. From my local community, I was able to collect several carloads and make weekly drop-offs either before or after school or on weekends.

One nonprofit leader reported that volunteers were handing out warm clothing to people waiting in line for food in the freezing weather. It’s harsh, but this is the reality for people struggling to make ends meet.

In February, I focused on making valentines for the elderly who may be feeling lonely. I distributed hundreds of heart cards and paper flowers to local nursing homes. I wanted seniors to know that even though they are isolated, they are not alone. I also distributed heart cards filled with gratitude for community helpers including health care workers, first responders, teachers, librarians, and local business owners. Many displayed the hearts on windows and doors to brighten the neighborhood.

As schools reopened late spring, I organized a back-to-school clothing drive for kids and teens living in poverty and crisis. Although we can’t take away students’ traumas, we can provide them with clothing that helps them feel good about themselves and supports their continued learning and growing. Through the summer, I continue to assemble several thousand “blessing bags” filled with toiletries, disposable masks, and homemade heart cards for nonprofits and shelter homes. The supplies come from individuals/ families, schools, and partnering organizations.

These kits help people keep safe and healthy, but also give them a sense of dignity. The heart cards give people an opportunity to share their creativity and care, and add a more personal connection from giver to the recipient.

Here’s my takeaway: We’re all called to help. And in the process of lifting others, we all stay buoyant.

Covid-19 is contagious, but so is empathy, kindness, love, and hope.

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