Tag Archives: great kindness challenge

Lots of joy at the Kids for Peace School of Kenya!

Children’s Storytelling in Video: Kids for Peace School of Kenya

Lots of joy at the Kids for Peace School of Kenya!

Lots of joy at the Kids for Peace School of Kenya!

I took a short hiatus from kid’s books to focus on another form of children’s storytelling that fills my heart: video. I’m so excited to share my latest project about the Kids for Peace School of Kenya, which was 100% funded BY KIDS! Video has been such a powerful way to get kids inspired to act from their hearts. I just love it.

I shot my first video in Kenya last year and absolutely fell in love with the form. This year I’ve come to enjoy incorporating everything I know about story and structure. And there is nothing better than reliving these joyful experiences during the editing process!

I’ll continue to write kids’ books, as I love those, too, and am working on a picture manuscript this fall. But, I’m so happy to have opportunities to get videos like this one into schools through The Great Kindness Challenge by Kids for Peace. Nothing fulfills me more than being a part of a movement that empowers kids to be their true, compassionate, benevolent selves. Enjoy!

Jared and sister Destiny collect food for Got Your Back San Diego.

Children on Autism Spectrum Overturn Commonly Held Misconceptions about the Disorder through Kindness

I would love to see this month honor those on the spectrum rather than focus exclusively on their challenges. All humans have challenges, and all humans have gifts. The autistic population has been portrayed inaccurately and one-dimensionally for too long. While we all need to identify our challenges in order to overcome them, if we fixate on them, we form an inaccurate perception of who we really are. Let’s round out this discussion, so our kids grow up with a healthy perspective of their wholeness, autistic or otherwise.

I wrote this last year, but am sharing again because I think this boy, Jared, is an amazing example of a person who celebrates his wholeness, and uses his gifts to make a positive impact in the world:

Kids for Peace, a global nonprofit and creator of the international Great Kindness Challenge, honors volunteers with autism for Autism Awareness Day (April 2, 2015).

Carlsbad, CA – April 2, 2015

Jared and sister Destiny collect food for Got Your Back San Diego.

Ten-year-old Jared and his sister Destiny collect donations for food assistance program Got Your Back San Diego.

Ten-year-old Jared from Pacific Rim Elementary in Carlsbad, CA, organized a class food drive for the food assistance program Got Your Back San Diego during The Great Kindness Challenge this year. Common misconceptions about autism, a highly variable spectrum disorder, could lead people to believe that Jared’s autism would prohibit such an achievement. However, Jared’s profound sense of fairness and justice, which experts attribute to some forms of autism, were precisely the traits that motivated him. “There are kids suffering [from hunger] on the weekends when they could be having fun with their friends and family. As a country, we can’t accept this,” says Jared. “We must help!”

Jared’s mother, Bridget Smith states, “New research on autism suggests that autistic people may actually feel emotion more deeply than other people, and knowing Jared, that makes a lot of sense to me. He has a deep sense of justice about social problems like immigration and homelessness, and is always trying to come up with creative ways to solve problems.”

Kids for Peace has inspired more than 2,000,000 children to get in touch with their compassion as a leadership skill, through participation in the 2015 Great Kindness Challenge in January. This free annual week-long school event calls on all students to perform 50 suggested kind acts to contribute to the greater good. For children on the autism spectrum, however, the challenge can empower them to shine as leaders in ways people may not expect.

Emma Lesko reads SUPER LEXI, a chapter book about a second-grade girl with autism spectrum disorder.

Children’s author Emma Lesko experiences a strong sense of justice and deep empathy for others with her autism spectrum disorder.

And it’s not just the kids who are benefiting. Emma Lesko, autistic children’s author and volunteer on The Great Kindness Challenge planning team, echoes Smith’s sentiment. “A common belief is that people on the spectrum lack the ability to take another’s perspective or to empathize. That has not been my experience,” she says. “In fact, my empathy is so overwhelming that I often become paralyzed by it. Working on The Great Kindness Challenge has given me the opportunity and tools to transform that paralysis into action.”

Jared experienced a similar empowerment. Not only did he take the lead on inspiring his classmates to donate food to combat hunger in his community, he also learned a little more about social acts of kindness from The Great Kindness Challenge checklist. “Things like saying ‘good morning’ to other kids, or giving a friend a high-five, don’t come easily to Jared,” says his mother. “Sometimes he doesn’t even feel comfortable acknowledging when other kids say ‘hi’ to him or offer him a high-five. Still, he completed pretty much every activity on the kindness checklist.”

Says Lesko, “The autism spectrum is very broad, so we must not generalize autistic abilities. We can say, however, that every child on the spectrum has value. Autistic activist Temple Grandin once said, ‘There must be a lot more focus on what a child can do instead of what he cannot do.’ In my opinion, The Great Kindness Challenge provides a path for many kids on the spectrum to do just that. Obsessive interests can lead to passion, rigidity can lead to perseverance, and intolerance to injustice can lead to changing the world.”

About Kids for Peace and The Great Kindness Challenge
Kids for Peace is a global 501 (c)(3) nonprofit that provides a platform for young people to actively engage in socially conscious leadership, community service, arts, environmental stewardship and global friendship. The Great Kindness Challenge is an initiative that encourages schools to devote one week each school year to performing as many acts of kindness as possible using a checklist of 50 suggestions. The next Great Kindness Challenge takes place on January 25-29, 2016. For more information, to register your school, or to download the checklist visit The Great Kindness Challenge website.

The Great Kindness Challenge is made possible by the generosity of presenting sponsor Dignity Health and supporting sponsors: ExaMobile, The Code Crew, ViaSat, SDG&E, NRG, KIND Snacks, and McGraw-Hill Education.

About Emma Lesko
Emma Lesko is the author of the children’s chapter book series SUPER LEXI (ages 6-9). She is an advocate for diversity and inclusion in children’s literature, and offers writing workshops to lower elementary students. Emma has several years of experience teaching English and Spanish to children of varied developmental abilities in the United States, Brazil and Spain. For more information, visit http://www.EmmaLesko.com

Jill McManigal, Co-Founder and Exec. Director of Kids for Peace
office 760.730.3320
cell 760.846.0608


We Have the Land for the New Kids for Peace School of Kenya!

12552533_10153191245146268_650571767318529252_nLast May, I went to Kenya with Kids for Peace to shoot video of a young child, Magi, to be shown in schools during this year’s Great Kindness Challenge to raise money for a pre-primary school in Magi’s village, Mikei. We had an epic year at The Great Kindness Challenge with over 5,000,000 participating students! The donations from these students has allowed Kids for Peace to purchase the land, and we are only just beginning.

This whole project has been one of my favorite of my adult life, from introducing me to a new favorite form of storytelling (video shooting and editing), to allowing me the chance to get to know the warm and joyful people of Mikei, and for showing me the magnitude of good that people can do when they unite for a common cause.

I cannot wait to return to Kenya this summer to shoot the follow-up footage of Mikei’s new school to share with you and all of the children who helped raise the money. In the meantime, if you’ve not yet seen Magi’s story, check out the video here!

Carlsbad's superintendent and two principals kicked off The Great Kindness Challenge by jumping out of an airplane!

Over 5 MILLION Kids Participate in The Great Kindness Challenge!


Carlsbad’s superintendent and two principals kicked off The Great Kindness Challenge by jumping out of an airplane!

Last week, The Great Kindness Challenge spread joy and kindness through schools all over the world in a huge way. Over 5 MILLION kids participated, breaking last year’s record of 2 million. The Great Kindness Challenge is a movement that encourages schools to devote one week each school year to performing as many acts of kindness as possible using a checklist of 50 suggestions.

The energy around it is indescribable, with anyone from mayors to fire departments jumping in on the fun. This year, Carlsbad’s superintendent, Suzette Lovely, and two founding school principals, Chad Lund and Richard Tubbs, kicked the challenge of by jumping out of an airplane.

I feel so fortunate to have spent the week shooting video at the founding schools in the Carlsbad Unified School District on behalf of The Great Kindness Challenge founding nonprofit, Kids for Peace. Video shooting and editing is quickly becoming a new favorite form of storytelling for me, especially in this context. I simply could not look at my computer screen without smiling the entire time I edited this project.

Working with Kids for Peace and The Great Kindness Challenge has empowered me to grow into the person I wanted to be. With so much injustice in the world, I went through a period in which it was hard not to be overwhelmed. I didn’t even know where to start. The amazing Kids for Peace team allowed me room to find my place, and to empower kids and mobilize kids with similar passions.

It is so amazing to see kids access their natural strengths and use them for the greater good. Check out the video for a dose of joy!!!

Kids for Peace, creators of The Great Kindness Challenge, is a global nonprofit that provides a platform for kids to actively engage in socially conscious leadership, community service, arts, environmental stewardship, and global friendship.

The Great Kindness Challenge Is Two Weeks Away!

CYccHgDWQAA2La4.jpg-largeAs a children’s author, the primary goal of my work is to celebrate neurodiversity by empowering kids to use their superpowers for the greater good. One of the most exciting ways I have been able to do that is through my work with the Kids for Peace Great Kindness Challenge.

The Great Kindness Challenge is a HUGE kindness initiative (over 4 million students!) that inspires kids to do as many kind acts as possible during the last week in January. It is amazing to see the effects of this program on school climate. Teachers report that the very cultures of their schools undergo profound, lasting shifts toward benevolence. The environments become much safer for our kids, where everyone is allowed to shine in their own way.

As an adult on the autism spectrum, last year I was so moved by how powerful and brave some children on the spectrum were during the challenge, that I felt moved to celebrate them by featuring them in an article. They took some of those tired, untrue stereotypes regarding autistic empathy and turned them upside down by letting their beautiful empathy propel them into action.

I absolutely loved seeing this opportunity for kids to be safe enough to let their altruism shine. In many cities, they were supported not only by their schools, but by their police forces, firefighters, mayors, and in some cases, state senators.

It’s a powerful, powerful movement. It’s entirely free, very easy to implement, and is absolutely the direction in which I love to see our culture shift. I am so proud to sponsor it.

If you are interested in participating in The Great Kindness Challenge at your school or in the community, do check it out!


My Work Is Featured in the Huffington Post!


I am so excited to be featured in the Huffington Post! I poured my heart into this interview, in the hopes of spreading the message I want all kids to hear: “You are unique for a reason. If society is not valuing your authentic self, that’s society’s dysfunction, not yours. Find your voice, find your power, and fulfill your purpose.”

Click here to read the full interview!


A New Form of Storytelling in Kenya!

Magzi quickly discovered that selfies are hilarious.

Magzi quickly discovered that selfies are hilarious.

I have so many exciting things to share, but perhaps the most exciting for me is my recent trip to Kenya. I had the pleasure of going there with Kids for Peace, who is donating a pre-primary school to the village of Mikei with the help of the kids who will participate in the 2016 Great Kindness Challenge.*

Though she's goofing off in this picture, it's common in Magzi's village to for kids to carry large buckets of water on their heads.

Though she’s goofing off in this picture, it’s common in Magzi’s village for kids to carry large buckets of water on their heads.

As a storyteller, I was particularly thrilled with my assignment: to film a day-in-the-life of a wonderful, funny and joyful 10-year-old girl, Magzi. The purpose of the video will be to share her story with kids across the world so they can donate coins for her school during The Great Kindness Challenge in January. Last year, over 2,000,000 students participated, and that number is growing. Magzi’s current school moves from vacant building-to-building, and has few desks and text books. I am confident that Magzi and her 160 classmates will have a beautiful new school with books and furniture and many of the other things on her wish list by next summer.

The best part of this project is giving Magzi a platform to use her voice and to be heard. I am a passionate believer in the necessity of exposing kids to diverse stories so they may expand their worldview and cultivate empathy. I would never write Magzi’s story; it is hers and hers alone. All she needs is the audience, and I am doing my best to remain a silent facilitator.

This is my first video of this kind, and I am truly hoping that I can create it in a way that captures the beauty of Mikei, and the radiance of the children who live there. They made it as easy a possible. The footage is gorgeous, and I cannot wait to share it!

Magzi and her friends in their current school yard.

Magzi and her friends in their current school yard.






*The Kindness Challenge is a movement that encourages schools to devote one week each school year to performing as many acts of kindness as possible using a checklist of 50 suggestions. It’s free, fun, and transformational. Sign up your school here!


Huffington Post – You Are Unique For a Reason: An Interview with Author and Advocate Emma Lesko

Susan Cain’s Quiet Revolution – An Interview with Emma

Kids for Peace, Great Kindness Challenge: Children on Autism Spectrum Overturn Commonly Held Myths about the Disorder through Kindness

Geek Club Books: Emma Lesko, an Advocate for Diversity and Inclusion in Children’s Literature


Breaking the Guinness World Record!

988536_370160893170949_6905993202682843652_nLast week I went to LA with the Kids for Peace Great Kindness Challenge team to help break the Guinness World Record for the largest handprint collage. During last year’s Great Kindness Challenge, over 140,000 kids submitted handprints beautifully decorated with messages of peace and kindness.

Before I found these wonderful people, I spent so much time agonizing over how unkind and unfair our society was, but I didn’t DO much about it. Writing kids’ books to address injustices was my first step, but I wanted to do something more. These people put kindness in motion. They are such an inspiration. They have helped me convert my frustration into action.

So many people pulled together to break this record, and it was truly heartwarming to see. Tons of kids from nearby schools came to help. Starbucks sent coffee and team members. Kind Snacks sent team members and kind bars. Dignity Health was kind enough to open up their Heart Center for the collage, and many of their team members helped hang up hands. Kids for Peace volunteers worked tirelessly. It was such a beautiful display of everything the Great Kindness Challenge stands for.

With such a huge mass of hands, every now and then I forgot that this whole thing started on an individual level. That each handprint was on a child’s desk at some point. And with their own little hands, individual kids colored and glittered and composed poetry or words of wisdom.  As I was glue-sticking hundreds of hands to the walls, I would pause every now and then, and read their creations. The beauty overwhelmed me.

In the end, over 104,000 handprints made it up on those walls. This definitely surpasses the previous record, and if all goes well, it will be official sometime in the next few weeks. But regardless of how the judging goes, I think this community has made a powerful point: Kindness is an action, and if we all put kindness in motion together, we can accomplish anything.