Story: Shanna Polignone
Two years ago, the Vassallo family of Holmdel faced the unthinkable. Their oldest son, Dylan, died by suicide at age 17. Although nothing will ever completely fill the emptiness, Dylan’s father, Dennis, discovered an inspiring way to honor his son’s legacy. Dennis spent many hours reflecting on his son’s life and it dawned on him that Dylan embodied kindness. Taking inspiration from the Ice Bucket Challenge, he decided to create The Kindness Challenge. The Vassallo family knew the spread of kindness would have been embraced by Dylan. In his young life, Dylan had volunteered for many organizations and charities, selflessly giving wherever he saw a need. Students Helping Honduras, Family Promise, De La Salle Blackfeet School in Montana and Lunch Break in Red Bank were just some of the places that benefited from Dylan’s giving nature.
“Dylan would find a hole and plug it,” his father Dennis explained. The Kindness Challenge has Dylan’s giving spirit at the heart of it. What began as a Facebook page intended for a few family members and friends, has become a movement encouraging others to do something kind every day. The challenge is now spreading across the globe. The Facebook page was created on January 31, 2017 and by press time had close to 80,000 members. The number of members continues to grow every day. Dennis was awed to discover that just 24 hours after starting the page there were 650 members, and in the week that followed, the number began to double almost daily. The page took on a life of its own, giving people across the globe what they were craving: positivity. “I was about to delete Facebook, before I found The Kindness Challenge” is the frequent comment found while scrolling through the page. Dennis described the page as a place where people can get a “cup of something positive.” The stories shared are heartwarming. Dennis gave his view.
“We are trained to see the negative. Members of the page are encouraged to share kind gestures they have made themselves, kindness they were shown by another or any kindness they witnessed. The members lift each other up and share support. Its sole purpose is to ‘share kindness only, free of charge.”
The kindness can be as simple as giving an encouraging word or looking in on a neighbor. When it comes to sharing our own acts of kindness, we often keep them to ourselves, feeling as though sharing may be viewed as bragging. But Dennis encourages members to share. Sharing may spark an idea or create a call to action for another. Dennis recalled a quote, “People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.” Through the page, friendships have been made and people known for negativity have been redirected to a more positive use of their energy.
Encouragement is being shared and caring has risen. It is giving people a warm and welcoming place to go. “If it’s made a difference to one person, then the page has done its job,” said Dennis. The Kindness Challenge is Dylan’s energy continuing to touch lives. Dylan had a loving heart and a willingness to give where giving was needed. Dylan made a difference in his life and The Kindness Challenge is visible proof he is continuing to do so.