When tragedy strikes, the natural, easy and human response might be to wallow and sulk in pain. April Steward, however, took the pain of her mother’s, Kathy Lynn’s, death in 2016 and turned it into something positive to help her through the grieving process.
Last year, Steward founded Kathy Lynn’s Kindness Project to honor her mother’s philanthropic legacy by giving back to deserving people in the community. Roughly every three months, Steward recognizes a group of selfless people and rewards them with small and meaningful gifts to show her appreciation for what they do.
Instead of letting her mother’s generosity die with her, Steward has kept her memory and spirit alive by donating her time, money and resources to deserving strangers.
“You can choose to sit in a dark room and cry, or you can go out and you can do something to make it better. I have found for me, helping others, it takes my mind to a different place. I’m in a much better place when I do stuff like this,” Steward said.
With Kathy Lynn’s Kindness Project, Steward is carrying on her mother’s unselfish, self-sacrificing and compassionate legacy. According to Steward, Kathy Lynn tried to instill these traits in her at an early age by encouraging her to help out when she could.
“She loved giving. She was the most giving person in the world,” Steward said.
In her last project of the year, Steward is giving back to a group of people who are not thanked enough and are often forgotten during the holiday season.
In partnership with Operation Gratitude, Steward is putting together a small collection of essential items for care packages that will be sent to troops overseas just before the holiday season. The small goody bags will contain products that troops often need, like pencils, hand warmers and Chapstick.
In an effort to show troops that they are not forgotten while they are away during the holidays, Steward will also include personal, handmade items. Volunteers have offered to make and donate scarves, beanies, letters, pictures and paintings, among other things.
“We’re going to have some people write letters and draw pictures. And I’m a preschool teacher, so I’ll probably have some of my students draw them some pictures. We’ll write some notes. This is stuff they need, but that handmade stuff, the handwritten notes, the prayer rocks, those are the types of things that they’re going to be like, ‘Oh wow,’” Steward said.
But she is not doing this on her own. For this project, Steward is working with Independence Through Grace, a drop-in enrichment program for adults with developmental disabilities. According to Catherine Waldon, a representative for the organization, participants will help place labels on the bags.
“We are thrilled that our servicemen and -women will receive the care packages and are happy to serve a small part on the ‘assembly line.’ We hope this sweet gesture will bring a smile to our troops and help them to feel closer to home. Our participants will pray over the care packages and those who will be opening them,” Waldon said.
Steward thinks that these care packages will encourage them to keep going and make it back home to see their families.
Steward also hopes Kathy Lynn’s Kindness Project’s contribution to the care package will help people realize that Bakersfield residents are caring and thoughtful. She wants to eliminate the misconception that Bakersfield, especially Oildale, is incapable of giving.
“People say we’re poor, you know, it’s dirty, and all these things. I really want it to be known that Bakersfield people, they have a lot of heart, they have a lot of giving. They’re very generous,” Steward said. ￼