#THOUGHTFUL
Don Tolly

November 27, 2019

Written by Rachel McCoy | Photography by Emily Baumann and submitted

CHARACTER TRAIT: Thoughtful

DEFINITION: Showing consideration for the needs of other people

Dude, be kind. It’s way more powerful than you might even realize.

This is Don Tolly’s message in its simplest form. (The outcomes are anything but simple).

Tolly, an American Family Insurance agent, is the local champion and visionary of a kindness movement that’s been sweeping St. Joseph for several years. As part of the Kindness Revolution™, a national initiative impacting schools, communities and businesses, Tolly’s local kindness project has grown rapidly and touched thousands of lives.

In fact, he is the official local champion for the Kindness Revolution. Originally founded by Ed Horrell as a book with the same title, the concept took off across the U.S. in 2007. The Kindness Revolution™ is a national not for profit organization, based in Tennessee, with an expanding community presence and list of local champions for the cause. Once Tolly connected with Horrell, he was hooked. He felt it was one way he could make a positive impact in St. Joseph.

More like several thousand positive impacts.

He regularly speaks to school children and teachers at kindness assemblies. He’s shared his story with businesses as part of their corporate culture. And he brings his message to area nonprofit organizations to rally their teams, volunteers and their participants. Because kindness really is powerful stuff.

But enough about Tolly. Actually, he wouldn’t want the attention for the work he is spearheading. The formula goes more like this: Tolly finds out someone has been kind to another person, and he tracks that person down to present an award of appreciation. This includes Tolly popping in at events, schools and places of business to surprise a recipient. Sometimes, he just hits the streets with his team and does things like delivering cupcakes to people.

He explains that most of the time, people are quite surprised to be recognized for just being kind to another human. But as part of The Kindness Revolution™, Tolly’s awards, talks and even his rubber kindness bracelets – enjoyed by children and adults – are elevating acts of kindness to the level they deserve. They’re giving legs (and open arms) to phrases like Pay it Forward and Cool 2 B Kind.

Word is getting out. A St. Joseph News Press article featured Tolly during the earlier stages of the initiative. An official Kindness Revolution blog article highlighted him as an example of how to incorporate a powerful mission into both business and life – and by doing so, Tolly is making changes across the insurance industry. According to the article, Tolly says: “‘It’s all about promoting kindness when all we hear about is the negative stuff.’”

His community engagement and activities on Facebook are keeping in step with those of the national Kindness Revolution™. A casual scroll through Tolly’s page shows numerous local photos related to acts of kindness as well as inspiring quotes. On a national level, the Kindness Revolution™ reaches more than 100,000 people with tips and posts weekly, including recognizing students, employees, teachers and volunteers across the U.S. A radio spot reaches nearly 500 stations to highlight the power of acts of kindness.

Tolly also demonstrates that getting involved with like-minded community initiatives is important and impactful. He is a sponsor of Project Safe Family, an initiative led by local news channel KQ2. The project helps families implement plans around areas like child safety, crime prevention, anti-bullying, drug and alcohol awareness and suicide prevention. For each area, the Project Safe Family website offers a list of tips, videos and valuable resource links. Social media for Project Safe Family helps connect local and regional initiatives in a stream of ongoing conversation. Recently, Tolly’s working on a new Facebook group called the Kindness Group. “We are talking about things we can do make our communities kinder and have some huge plans going forward,” he says. Then Tolly, in typical humble fashion, says “‘The reason I support The Kindness Revolution is because there’s nothing wrong with being kind.’”

And actually, there’s everything right.

#REFRESHING

What started 160 years ago has returned in a new way. Ask hundreds of customers and visitors, and they’ll say it’s right on time.

#SELF-BELIEF

Not only does the SBTDC help hundreds of small business owners capitalize on their dreams, it is a great example of how government agencies, higher education, and nonprofit organizations can work together for the greater good.

#FRIENDLY

Across the city, every day, adults are helping clear a path for youth to reach more opportunities. They are sharing their mentoring skills, life lessons and ultimately, their friendship, through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. And it looks like hanging out at the local burger joint. Taking a walk. Joining other “matches” at the park for crafting with a lot of laughs.

#INTEGRITY

For decades, families across America invited Walter Cronkite into their living rooms every evening, trusting he would bring national and world events into focus. With his deep voice and warm demeanor, Walter Cronkite delivered the news of the day — good and bad — with unfaltering dignity and integrity.

#ENERGETIC

You’re going to hear a lot of “I love downtown” from St. Joseph residents and guests. Downtown is coming alive block by block, with awesome surprises at every turn.