The Hope Garden is located at Deering and Bedford across from the Law school. Photo courtesy of Sam Perry

Random acts of kindness can be the smallest thing, such as paying it forward at the coffee shop, or complimenting someone on their outfits, or even larger as planting a garden and picking up garbage on the beach. At USM, three new acts of kindness projects have been created this Fall semester. On the Gorham campus a Little Free Library will be placed by the bus stop, while in Portland a tulip garden has been planted and another Little Free Library has been added next to a buddy bench. 

While these acts are student driven and made by groups, the project is derived from course LOS/SBS 301: Group dynamics with professor Tara Coste. This course is a service learning project based class that encourages students to create a project of giving back and doing good for their community. The class is made up from nontraditional and traditional students, and is offered online this semester and is taught in every session: Fall, Winter, Spring and Summer. Coste, originally from Chicago, has been living in Maine for over 25 years. 

Coste’s inspiration for this project is the nonprofit organization “Random Acts,” which is a global organization that encourages kind actions to spread love in the world. According to the Random Acts website, the start of this project was in 2010 when creator Misha Collins wanted to raise funds for Haiti after the earthquake, and since then has been involved in various international projects of sharing kindness with the world. 

In order to combine the random acts projects and the USM campuses, Coste asked Sam Perry for help. A recent graduate from USM, originally from Connecticut, and now is a graduate assistant (GA) for the university, Perry also is a part time member of the facilities team for the Gorham campus. This combination of the GA and facilities, he could assist the projects and be in charge of the installations for the course and students. 

This Fall, there are a total of three groups and four projects. The projects include the hope garden (Tricia Flanders, Nick Greco, Alek Grimes, Brie Houser and Rebecca Sammon), the Buddy Bench, two Little Free Library (Felicia Allen, Dyllan Hinton, Abby Milewski and Anne Norris) and a clean our beaches, trails and parks team (Edith Bosshart, Jane Martell and Andrew Willoughby). 

The Hope Garden stems from the Yellow Tulip Project which is about breaking the stigma of mental health and illness. Stated on the website, founder of the organization Julia Hansen explains that yellow tulips are planted as a way to, “represents happiness and hope. They also remind Julia of her two best friends who she lost to suicide. The tulip was one friend’s favorite flower and yellow was the other’s favorite color.” 

This garden is located on the corner of Bedford and Deering across from the law building in Portland. Also located in this garden is a buddy bench. In a National News article, they explained a buddy bench to be, “ a safe space where children who are feeling troubled or lonely can sit, indicating they are looking for someone to play with or talk to. These buddy benches are typically part of a broader school strategy to promote positive mental health and cultivate an openness to seeking help.” Encouraging others to sit and acknowledge they are looking for someone to check in or be their friends. 

Within the same group of people who are creating the buddy bench, they also made two Little Free Library for both campuses. These libraries will offer a mix of books geared towards college students, as an effort to implement a take a book leave a book. The mission for the Little Free Library is, “in every community and a book for every reader. We believe all people are empowered when the opportunity to discover a personally relevant book to read is not limited by time, space, or privilege” 

Anne Norris from the Little Free Library group and buddy bench project shares, “the group’s decision making process would be collaborative, sporadic, energized, and thought provoking. We each had an idea of what we wanted to achieve through this project, and we were eventually able to combine those goals into a project that could potentially reach a wide audience.” Sharing how they wanted to create a physical impact on the campus but also an intellectual impact of providing and sharing books. 

Norris also shares a favorite aspect of the project so far has been the collboationg of the group dynamic and the volunteering aspect, “I’ve never been closely involved in a project of this nature before, and I’ve found it to be so fulfilling. It’s taught me a lot about not only my personal capabilities, but also what people are capable of when they enthusiastically and productively share their ideas, goals, and resources and execute them together to produce something tangible.”

Originally from Milton, Massachusetts Norris is a nontraditional student, “ I originally went to UMaine Orono for early childhood education, then transferred to EMCC to get my associates degree in human services, then again transferred to USM and am now working towards my bachelor’s degree in social and behavioral sciences.” She shares how her education path has meshed well in this class allowing her to have great gratitude and appreciation for this project.  

The last project is about cleaning up and taking care of the environment, by having students go and clean up local parks, beaches and trails. Coste explains how this class is filled with students giving back and how over the years thousands of hours are dedicated to community service and volunteering in the community. “Since the course is nontraditional and can be done remotely, not all of the projects are done in Maine, since not all the students are in Maine,” Coste said.. 

While these are the current projects, this class has cultivated many other projects as well. Perry shares the projects that have been done since March of 2020, have been from sewed masks, handwritten thank you cards to teachings in Portland and birthday cards for homeless children, and had food donations and school supplies to South Africa. 

The installation of the Portland little library will be on Tuesday, Nov. 23 at 11 a.m., while the Gorham date is still to be determined, will occur in the later afternoon around 1 p.m. or 2 p.m. However, the buddy bench and hope garden are ready to be appreciated. USM also has a local chapter of Random Acts.


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