Local nonprofit Ability Awareness Project combats bullying and promotes compassion for all.
By Tanya A. Yacina
Kindness is a virtue and, unfortunately, one that not everyone easily cultivates. After her son experienced horrible levels of harassment during his time in the local school system, Shadi Pourkashef—who goes simply by Anami—made it her mission to combat bullying and promote kindness amongst students, educators and parents. Then, in 2012, she founded the nonprofit Ability Awareness Project to elevate her efforts.
“I ended up moving my child to a different district [just] to … save him,” Anami says of her son, who has since graduated. “And, in the meantime, I researched ways to educate people about this problem. There are a lot of do’s and don’ts, and there was a major disconnect between what schools are doing to handle bullying and what actually works.”
Anami says children can be taught at an early age about kindness, but that only a small percentage of teachers will intervene in bullying when they see it happening. On top of that, according to stopbullying.gov, a federal website set up by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 20% of students over the age of 12 experience bullying. Because of this, it’s important to teach all adults and children—even the bullies—about why choosing kindness is a better option
Since forming, the Ability Awareness Project has developed 10 presentations for parents, teachers and students, all of which provide anti-bullying education and promote the power of kindness. Anami says the presentations, which, depending on the age of the audience, can be depicted with or without puppets, have reached at least 10,000 children—possibly many more, since presentations were also streamed online during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“What brings unity and kindness is not labeling people. Our community outreach program is about … choosing to be kind to people at any age,” Anami explains. “When we teach families about kindness, the children will also learn to be kind at home, which will then follow them outside of the home.”
Once her work had been in motion for several years, Anami was invited to join other leaders to collaborate on making an even larger impact on schools and communities. Ability Awareness Project became a founding member of World Kindness USA in 2018 and she became a goodwill ambassador for the city of Laguna Beach on behalf of the organization; Amani is now the group’s secretary general.
The city has hosted an annual Day of Kindness event each year since, complete with live music and meditation as well as activities that promote human connection. In 2020, the celebration, held at The Promenade on Forest, featured a Kindness Wall that is still on display today, giving locals and visitors a chance to get involved and spread affection in an interactive way.
Affection & Awareness
These special programs make it easier than ever to spread kindness in Laguna.
Ability Awareness Project founder Shadi Pourkashef (who goes by Anami) estimates that the project and World Kindness USA together reach at least 20,000 people online per week. Many Laguna Beach residents have also opted to participate by placing Choose to be Kind signs in their yards and creating kindness cards. On Nov. 12, the city will once again celebrate World Kindness Day with music, meditation, the Kindness Wall, connection activities and annual kindness awards. The end of the event is highlighted with a luminaria vigil of children who have died by suicide due to bullying. This year marks a milestone for World Kindness USA as well: “2022 is the 25th year of The World Kindness Movement,” Anami notes.
Learning to Be Nice
Ability Awareness Project has developed 25 kindness programs to pair perfectly with the number of weeks in the school year. The programs continue the momentum of the initial kindness presentation, and keep students and teachers focused upon creating an inclusive, caring culture. “No one else is doing this and bullying is still happening, so there’s still a great need to be filled,” Anami says, adding that she’s been approached by schools and organizations throughout the United States and internationally. “We’re always looking for new board members and volunteers to commit their time to this movement.”
Surprising as it may be, Anami says that one out of five senior citizens experiences bullying at senior centers. Confident that it’s never too late to learn how to be kind, Ability Awareness Project developed a presentation focused on promoting inclusivity, compassion and acceptance of all abilities, races, religions and sexual orientations amongst seniors. “We all have to learn what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to promoting kindness,” she says. “… You’re never too old to think it’s cool to be kind. We have presentations for all ages—including adults and seniors—… and can customize presentations for any unique audience, too.”