UC Berkeley professor to award $1,000 to a winner each month for acts of kindness

A UC Berkeley Haas School of Business professor has launched a special initiative aimed at promoting, celebrating, and rewarding acts of kindness in his community. 

It’s called the Chris Kindness Award and was established by longtime Haas professor Alan Ross with the goal of recognizing one person every month for their kindness. Ross will then pay that person a $1,000 prize. 

He's funding the project himself and has received help from volunteers who have been setting up the website and working to get the word out. 

He said many people have offered to donate toward the initiative, but he's declined saying, "It's something I really wanted to do as a way to give back."

The award project was named after a beloved preschool teacher, Chris Walton, who died from cancer several years ago. Walton taught Ross’s children at the JCC East Bay preschool in Berkeley, and was remembered by the professor as the greatest teacher he had ever known, someone "who believed in the power of kindness and practiced it every day."

UC Berkeley Haas School of Business professor Alan Ross has launched the Chris Kindness Award, giving away $1,000 to a winner each month. 

Chris Walton was a teacher at the JCC East Bay's preschool in Berkeley. His kindness and thoughtfulness inspired UC Berkeley Hass School of Business professor Alan Ross to launch a kindness campaign. 

The professor said that he regularly volunteered in Walton’s classroom and witnessed how the teacher instilled in his young students "a strong sense of community, charity, and care."  

Ross said he wanted to find a way to honor the preschool teacher, keep his spirit of kindness alive, and inspire others through that spirit. 

The Chris Kindness Award was named after Chris Walton a teacher at JCC East Bay’s preschool in Berkeley.  (Chris Kindness Award)

"Chris may not have reduced the carbon footprint of a Fortune 500 company or changed the labor practices in factories halfway around the world," Ross shared, "but he taught my children to care for the earth through the school’s small garden, or about life cycles by caring for caterpillars until their release as a butterfly, and how to play with each other patiently and respectfully. The effect he had on the community is undeniable and will be sorely missed."

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The popular business school professor, who has taught at Haas for 32 years, said that the idea of the kindness project was one that he had been thinking about for years. He noted that as a professor, he's been fortunate to have been surrounded by kindness throughout his career, calling his students "amazing." 

The idea for the initiative got sidelined though, when the pandemic started. But then one day, he was out for a walk in the Berkeley Hills when he came upon a young girl whose demonstration of kindness moved him to action. 

"This young girl had set up a cookie stand, and they were free, and it just touched my heart. And I said, 'I've got to do this award,'" Ross shared with KTVU, adding that he was inspired by the child and wanted to celebrate those kinds of people who simply acted out of the kindness of their heart. 

He also said that he hoped to use this project to combat the negative headlines and news of violence that people were constantly being bombarded by. 

"You know what? There is so much good news out there. We need to focus a little on it. Maybe if we stop and slow down a little bit and appreciate the kindness that we receive, it will be more meaningful," Ross said. 

As part of his campaign, the public was invited to play a big role by nominating candidates and then voting for a winner. The nominee does have to live, work or attend school in Berkeley.

At the end of each month, the votes will be tallied, and a winner will be chosen. The recipient of the inaugural kindness award was set to be named next month. 

"It begins by raising your awareness – being on the lookout for acts of kindness," the initiative's website said.

Those acts can be something as simple as helping a sick neighbor or assisting in finding a lost pet, organizers said. Or maybe it’s a nurse, teacher, or a delivery person who's gone above and beyond the call of duty to be helpful. 

And in an effort to inspire others to engage in acts of kindness, the winner’s story will be featured on the Chris Kindness Award’s website and social media platforms.

The website has also been highlighting those who have been nominated for the award. They ranged from parents to a Starbucks barista. They also included teachers and friends. 

One person submitted a nominee saying, "Ms. Strange was my senior year AP stats teacher. She taught with a mindset of nothing but love and kindness for others. I learned about statistics but also learned how important being kind was."

Gabriel A. was nominated by a friend who said, "He makes homemade tacos every Sunday for the homeless people in Berkeley… He has inspired many other students to join his taco Sunday initiative." 

That idea of inspiring others was a big goal of the Chris Kindness Award, as Ross noted that every act of care and thoughtfulness can make a difference and inspire others to act.

"No act of kindness is too small – even everyday acts can have ripple effects that are just as impactful as huge acts of kindness," organizers said.

Ross said that he hoped the idea would catch on in surrounding cities and others might adopt the kindness campaign.

"We believe kindness can change the world around us," project leaders stressed, as Ross added, "These awards will deepen our appreciation for acts of kindness in our community. Chris would have loved it."