FARGO — I grew up with a second family. The Balkanskys took me in when I was in eighth grade and they still haven’t let me go.
I traveled with them on vacations and rolled my eyes like a belligerent teenager when they gave me unsolicited advice. Without fail, I always knew they loved me.
I was especially touched by this letter sent in by Barb Grosz, of Aberdeen, S.D., because I can see so much of myself in her young friend, Harley, and I know what a difference their kindness is truly making in her life.
Here’s Barb’s letter:
“Harley came into our lives when she began dating our son almost three years ago. We have two grown sons, ages 21 and 18, so it’s been a breath of fresh air to have a young lady in the house. Her laughter and joy is infectious. She has become a part of our family and like our own daughter.
"Harley is one of the sweetest girls you could ever meet. She is hard-working and independent. She is currently a radiology technology student and a manager at McDonald's. Harley is an inspiration to me and to those around her. Her kindness for others can be seen in her mission work with her church and volunteer work within her community.
"When the kids went off to college this fall, I decided I would send cards to them each week. I quickly learned that it might not have been a big deal for my son, Tanner, to get mail, but it truly meant something to Harley. She would always send me a photo of my card after she received it in her mailbox.
"I also decided that even though I wasn’t a master in the kitchen, I would provide homemade meals for them anytime I could. This has led to boxes being filled each time they come home. This weekend as I packed up the homemade mashed potatoes, turkey, gravy and key lime pie, I decided I would include a little card that says, ‘You Matter.’
"I taped it to the top of the mashed potato container and hid it at the bottom of the box with the other greeting card I sent. Like clockwork, two and a half hours after leaving our house, I received a photo from Harley of my card and the "You Matter" card. It filled my heart with joy to know that such a small gesture had made such a huge impact.
"It doesn’t have to cost millions or take weeks to plan. A simple gesture of taping that card on a container of mashed potatoes made the day of someone I love. That level of kindness just has to be contagious.”
I know from my own experience with the Balkanskys that their words of encouragement and the way they allowed me into their lives shaped my own life. I’m more courageous and confident than I would have been without them.
Whatever you do for a child, even as that child grows into an adult, matters.
Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND, 58107.
Nicole J. Phillips, a former Fargo television anchor, is a speaker, author and host of The Kindness Podcast. She lives in Aberdeen, S.D., with her three children and her husband, Saul Phillips, the head men's basketball coach at Northern State University. You can visit Nicole at nicolejphillips.com.