AAOK Club Promotes a Culture of Kindness, One Gesture at a Time

By Jeff Louderback

It was a humid summer afternoon, Anne Sheehan recalls—the type of sultry day on which the heat seems to smother you even during a short walk. That is the moment when the retired grandmother saw firsthand just how meaningful the red-and-white business card that promotes a culture of kindness can be.

“I was in the grocery store parking lot and was putting the bags into my car when a young woman approached me and noticed I was finished emptying my cart,” Anne recalled. “She smiled and said, ‘I’ll return your cart to the store for you, if you don’t mind.’

“I was so appreciative because of how hot it was outside, and I handed her a card,” Anne added. “She looked at it, saw the message, smiled and thanked me. That reinforced the positive impact of recognizing kindness, one act at a time. Her gesture of goodwill made a difference on that hot summer day.”

That Anne shared what is seemingly a small gesture of kindness illustrates the meaning behind the Acknowledging Acts of Kindness (AAOK) Club. When you go out of your way to do something nice for someone, or just show appreciation, these choices can inspire someone else to pay it forward.

Natives of New Jersey, Anne and her husband moved to the Centerville area to be near her children, who all graduated from the University of Dayton and settled in the area, and 10 grandchildren.

In March 2019, during a month-long visit to The Villages in central Florida, Anne read an article in a local newspaper about AAOK, which was created by residents Joe Santoro and Lindsay Collier the previous month.

The club’s purpose is to recognize people who have performed an act of kindness. When a member witnesses someone doing something nice, they thank the person and give him or her an AAOK card. It serves as a reminder that an act of kindness doesn’t have to be a grand gesture.

“When we returned home, I contacted them and asked for permission to use their logo and create a chapter here in Dayton,” Anne said. “I started telling family, friends, and neighbors. I set up meetings with schools. I talked to the mayors of Centerville and Dayton. And word started to circulate.”

Word has spread through newspaper and magazine articles, as well as programs in Centerville City Schools. Anne envisions getting businesses and organizations involved, and including the AAOK Club in youth summer camps. She gives cards to postal carriers, physicians, hairstylists and anyone else she meets. Even the act of giving someone a card is meaningful.

“We often don’t take time for those personal thank yous and acts of kindness,” Anne said. “Just think what will happen if there is more kindness in every village, town, and city across the country.”

The AAOK Club card includes a message on the back that reads, “Thank you for your positive attitude and kindness. To promote a culture of kindness in your community, please pass this card on.”

Anne provides AAOK Club cards to anyone who requests them. She pays for the printing and postage. Anne’s goal is to have the cards become highly visible across the Dayton area.

You never know when people just need a gentle reminder that they matter, Anne thinks.

“A few months back, I was at Kroger, and something fell out of my purse while I was walking down an aisle,” Anne said. “A woman picked it up and gave it to me, so I thanked her and gave her a card. Her eyes filled with tears when she read it. She told me that her brother was sick, and she had just left the hospital. Acts of kindness that are seemingly small can be significant to someone.”

The number of AAOK Club cards has grown to 35,000 and counting.

If you’d like to hand out cards, visit www.aaokdayton.org and fill out a request. “The Kindness Lady,” as Anne is now affectionately known, will gladly help you share the message.