International Dot Day: Connecting the Dots with Creativity and Kindness

September 29, 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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One dot can make a difference, and this mighty idea is spreading around the world.

The dot reference comes from The Dot  (Candlewick, 2003), a picture book created by children’s author and illustrator Peter H. Reynolds. The book tells the fictional story of a young girl named Vashti who does not have confidence in her creative ability. Her teacher encourages her to draw a dot—  something she can do—and then put her signature on her paper. In turn, Vashti pays it forward and empowers another young artist.

Inspired by The Dot, Terry Shay, an elementary school teacher from Iowa, founded International Dot Day—honored on September 15—a movement to celebrate creativity, courage, and collaboration. First established in 2009, International Dot Day has now become a global event with more than 21 million participants representing 196 countries.

I joined Dot Day Festivities at The Blue Bunny Bookstore, an independent bookshop owned by Reynolds, in Dedham, Massachusetts. As part of the event, I organized a *Catching Joy Book Drive and led kids in decorating bookmarks to go along with the donations. I believe it’s important to “connect the dots” and share the joy of reading and book ownership with underserved communities. Reading raises awareness and empathy, and books like The Dot can spark ideas that catch fire.

I had the opportunity to talk to Reynolds about International Dot Day, and how The Dot’s simple and powerful message can help us get through challenging times.

“After last year’s school lockdown, which curtailed celebrations in 2020, there was a lot of pent up creative energy around the world which helped to accelerate the 2021 celebration. It has been a tough 18 months, especially for educators,” Reynolds said. “They needed a recharge and International Dot Day delivered a big boost of color, energy and fun for all ages.”

Indeed, creativity brings us joy, and it’s also the channel for all kinds of positive change.

“You can come up with solutions that perhaps no one had come up with before,” Reynolds said. “You can dream big and discover a way to help the world, or you can think of smaller ways, like how to help your town or city, school or neighborhood. It can also be things you can do at home to help make things better, like making sure your family gathers at the table for a healthy meal – with cell phones off!”

The Dot demonstrates two other transformative forces, empathy and kindness, which have a ripple effect.

“Kindness is empathy. If our “kindness radar” is on, we can help find those who need help,” Reynolds said. “Governments. national and local, try to help with the needs of society, but in my experience, civic groups get a lot done. They know their local communities and create networks of caring citizens who get things done. Some communities have more civic-energy than others, but often it just takes ONE person to get the ball rolling!”

Lastly, International Dot Day fosters optimism and hope, and Reynolds gets behind youth leadership and service.

“Just look around! Greta Thunberg has become a champion for the environment. Fellow change-makers are examples not only for youth, but for us grown ups too!” Reynolds said. “I encourage everyone to think of how they can use their talents, energy and time to make their mark. Together, we can move this world to a better place.”

*Catching Joy, Inc., is my own nonprofit that promotes volunteerism and acts of kindness beginning with kids, teens, and families. 

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