A little kindness can go a long way. That's the lesson teacher Adam Randall had in mind when he gave his fourth-graders a special assignment. He had no idea how far his "Kindness Project" would eventually go.

Randall, a teacher at Vintage Hills Elementary in Pleasanton, California, tries to instill in his students the importance of giving back to the community, and that's what drove the class Kindness Project. Randall asked each of his students to consider a cause they were passionate about and then find a way to create some kindness in that area. The students began their assignment in September and wrapped up in January with a presentation to the class about what they'd learned along the way.

As the students got to work, Randall realized he was witnessing something special. The kids developed inspiring missions that touched people across the world, and what really struck Randall was the reach of their projects. "It really took me by surprise," he said.

From raising money for leukemia research to helping families in the Philippines to collecting donations to feed the homeless, the children explored needs across the globe and and figured out how they could make a difference. Randall watched the projects unfold and was amazed. Throughout the project, the students checked in with one another in class and through weekly blog posts. Students solicited help from adults, recruited siblings and friends from other grades and found many clever ways to make a difference. But two students in particular demonstrated an incredible lesson for all of them: if you put good out into the world, it expands in ways you couldn't have imagined.

Little kids helping little critters

Dexter poses with the signs he made to help the Valley Humane Society. Dexter Harkness poses with the signs he made to help the Valley Humane Society. (Photo: Caroline Golon)

Like several other students, Grace Dykstra and Dexter Harkness were inspired to focus on helping homeless animals at Valley Humane Society (VHS) in Pleasanton. Both passionate animal lovers, the students knew their efforts could help make a difference — they just didn't know quite how much.

Working with Valley Human's humane educator, Emily Taylor, the kids developed their plans and put them in motion. Grace chose to help the cats at the VHS "Kitty City." First, she enlisted friends and her sister to help her clean up the outside area, raking up 11 bags of leaves. Next, Grace built special shelving so the Kitty City cats could play and exercise. "Since I'm only 9, I needed my neighbor Phil Duncan's skill for building things," Grace explained. Grace set up a GoFundMe account to raise money for the materials. She sanded and stained the shelves and, with the help of Phil and his son Billy, installed them. "I feel like I have made a big difference," said Grace. "I am grateful, proud and excited!"

Dexter focused on raising money and supplies for the organization, selling refreshments and collecting items for the VHS wish list. He was savvy at marketing his events, and it paid off. He encouraged the community to donate things in their homes that they no longer needed, like newspapers, old yoga mats and even plastic medication bottles, which VHS uses to make DIY kitten toys. "I have two pets of my own, and I care about them a lot," said Dexter. "I wondered about animals without a home or food or shelter, so I decided to help VHS."

A little extra help

Grace Dykstra (top left) and Dexter Harkness (top right) receive a check from the Petco Foundation for their hard work for the Valley Humane Society. Grace Dykstra (back left) and Dexter Harkness (back right) receive a check from the Petco Foundation for their dedicated efforts to help the Valley Humane Society. (Photo: Caroline Golon)

As their projects were winding down, the two students learned about a national program that recognizes kids doing good things to help animals. The Pawsitive Impact Kids program features one child each month on its site. The honoree is invited to designate his or her favorite animal welfare organization to receive a $1,000 grant from the Petco Foundation and hundreds of pounds of cat litter from World's Best Cat Litter.

The kids jumped at the chance to build on what they'd already done for Valley Humane, so they submitted their stories and waited. They were thrilled to learn that they both had been selected as Pawsitive Impact Kids for their hard work. As a result, Valley Humane received $2,000 in grants from the Petco Foundation and 300 pounds of World’s Best Cat Litter on top of the money and goods the children had already raised for the organization.

This special bonus helped Randall reinforce his lesson to all of his students who worked hard for many important causes. Efforts large and small can make a difference. "Any type of lesson that can teach a kid that what they do matters is a great success," he said. "These kids did some pretty incredible things."

This story was written and shared by Caroline Golon, the founder of High Paws Media, which focuses on pets and family lifestyles.

Fourth-graders' project showers local humane society in kindness
The success of two elementary school volunteer projects earned a shelter a donation from the Petco Foundation.