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One kindness leads to a life that's changed.

Byline: The Register-Guard

When Ed Osworth of Lowell read Thursday's column about Sheldon High's new Random Acts of Kindness Club - and how being nice got the students kicked out of a mall and questioned by the police - he was taken back to Grants Pass on a rainy Christmas Eve 1997.

Osworth, now 57, had lived the good life in the San Francisco area. He helped launch a lucrative business, got into real estate, became rich, drove a Mercedes.

Then it all unraveled. He went bankrupt. Got divorced. Gained 100 pounds. And lost hope.

"I was sitting in a beat-up old car. The windows were fogged up. I felt like the ultimate failure. And then a woman walked by, smiled and said, `Merry Christmas.'"

Her random act of kindness, he says, changed his life.

"I hated Christmas. Hated my life. I was all about hate, hate, hate. And all of the sudden, her attitude just hit me: Why should I be feeling like this on what should be the most joyous night of the year? I didn't used to be like this when I was young. What had happened to me?"

He dared, for the first time, to examine his life. And dared to change. "I'd been ignoring the moonlight. I hadn't been going out and having any fun. I hadn't been giving away things to strangers who needed them."

But the woman's words turned him around. He started smiling. Thinking of others. Lost 80 pounds. Moved north to a house on Dexter Lake. Even wrote a book about happiness.

In fact, he's donating 70 copies of "Unstoppable Joy: A Happier You in 12 Simple Steps" to Sheldon's club. "I wanted to let them know that what they're doing is necessary," he says. "What they're doing is 100 percent right."

But, some will say, isn't this have-a-nice-day stuff a bit on the trivial side? "I don't think any act of kindness is trivial," he says, "because I've seen instances where it's turned around an entire life."

Like his own.

Not everyone is as inspired by the students, who were prevented, by security officers, from handing out candy-attached "You're Awesome" cards to shoppers at Valley River Center and were reported to the police as suspected burglars after they offered to rake a woman's lawn.

"The kids are on an ego trip," ranted one anonymous caller to me.

But others see the students as trying to be lights in what's become a dark world. Eugene poet Ingrid Wendt, a former Senior Fulbright Professor and winner of the Oregon Book Award, applauded their efforts to make a difference.

"I'll never understand why some people don't like to be the recipients of kindness," she wrote. "Blessings on all these young people who believe they can make a difference, one person at a time, one spirit lifted at a time, making each life glow."

One reader is donating $1,000 to their cause. "My adviser pulled me out of class to tell me the news," says Kelsey Hertel, who founded the club. "I started crying, she started crying. This is awesome."

Word spread around school, then to parents of club members. "This affirmed that they were on the right track," says Kathy Young, whose son, Alex, is the club's "governor of generosity." "They had been pretty discouraged."

Moorefield sees practical benefits, too. "The kids have been spending their own money on this stuff. Now they can, say, buy hot chocolate to give away - with the club's money."

Already, Hertel says, ideas are rolling in from club members about how to use it: randomly paying for people's meals in restaurants, flower giveaways, cards for police officers and firefighters. And more.

"That's how you're going to change the world," says Osworth, the man who credits a random act of kindness with changing his life. "One person, one smile at a time."

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Title Annotation:City/Region Columnist
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 7, 2008
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