AMHERST — Beginning on Feb. 29, Amherst launched its first-ever Kindness Campaign to create a culture of compassion, generosity and goodwill throughout the community. The campaign’s slogan, “Be Kind. It’s Good for Your Mind,” befits the range of activities, including a series of lectures on mental health, sharing stories of kindness and a food and diaper drive.

The slogan was inspired by research highlighting the health benefits of practicing kindness, including stress reduction. The campaign is hosting a six-part speaker series that began on March 6 and will focus on fostering mental wellness in the community. Some of the topics covered will be supporting those with depression or self-harm thoughts and cultivating mindfulness. The speakers will be in the large activity room at Bangs Community Center, located at 70 Boltwood Walk.

“We had planned to do the series to respond to what we were hearing from community members about the need to address mental health more explicitly in the town and to provide forums for people to come together and talk about issues such as suicide, stress and depression openly and without stigma,” said Kiko Malin, public health director for the town of Amherst. “I think the sessions that we are offering about suicide are really important since we know that rates of suicide have been on the rise since the COVID pandemic and with all the pressures that people are feeling in the world today, including the influence of social media on young people in particular.”

Malin added that the results of the recent Prevention Needs Assessment Survey that the SPIFFY Coalition conducts in the schools in the region highlighted the increased stress and anxiety levels young people are experiencing.

“At least one of the trainings in our series aims to provide support to parents whose children may be struggling with these kinds of issues, and we hope to do more mental wellness trainings specifically for youth in the future,” said Malin.

The campaign’s food and diaper drive, which will benefit the Amherst Survival Center and Early Education Center at Crocker Farm Elementary School, will accept donations of non-perishable food items and size 5 and 6 diapers. Donation boxes can be found at the Amherst Police Department, Central Fire Station, North Amherst Library, Town Hall and Bangs Community Center.

The campaign is organized by the town’s public health and recreation departments and came about after discussions during the Winterfest event earlier in the winter.

“The workshop was about managing the winter blues and included an open conversation among the participants about things that they do to boost their mood and feel better,” explained Malin. “The conversation then turned to the importance of community belonging for mental wellness and that both giving and receiving kindness benefits one’s mental health. The Outreach Director for the town’s recreation department, Becky Demling, then proposed the idea of a kindness campaign, and she and I decided that we would work together across our respective departments to implement it.”

The campaign kicked off on Feb. 29 with free parking downtown and will conclude with a community cleanup day.

“We thought it would be fitting to end the campaign with a community cleanup day, which emphasizes service to the community and also brings people together to bond and build relationship as they are engaged in positive activities for the town,” said Malin.

The kindness campaign’s overarching goals of spreading kindness and bringing the community together are ones that many people in today’s world need.

“There is so much that is out of our control. If each of us commits to making even small changes it can have a compounding effect that can spark change in our community and help to foster wellness for everyone,” said Malin. “I hope the kindness campaign will send a message of positivity and hope and will influence people to reach out and make a difference in the lives of those around them.”

To share a story of kindness, be inspired by others’ stories or who find more information about the campaign, visit engageamherst.org/be-kind-it-is-good-for-your-mind.