“Kindness is the ability to know what the right thing to do is and having the courage to do it!” – RAKtivist.
You may be searching your brain, trying to think if you know who or what RAKtivist is. To help, a RAKtivist, or Random Acts of Kindness activist, is someone who does onto others because it is right. Someone who chooses to leave an impression of love, connection, and unconditional acceptance of another.
That’s what shines from a new venture Ariah Schugat, 28, started in the Ann Arbor community, providing phone charging kits for those in need. Schugat began thinking about this project during her own encounter of being unsheltered in Washtenaw County throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. In March, when Governor Whitmer’s shelter-in-place order went into effect, spaces for those experiencing homelessness were much harder to come by, limiting the outlets available.
“It’s something people don’t often think of,” reports Schugat, reminiscing about the difficulties she experienced. “When places like the library close, or cafes, there’s nowhere to charge your [electronics].”
Phones are an essential tool for getting out of homelessness. Between calls with agencies, internet searches, personal safety, and other logistical needs, having a dead battery could mean the difference between getting into an apartment and staying on the street.
With the help of startup funds from an anonymous community donor, Schugat began planning the kits that she now hands out when she’s not working. Each kit contains a multi-pronged charging cord, a battery pack, alcohol wipes, headphones, and at times a phone that can be used for wireless internet. The goal is that someone could use the pack until the battery is dead, return it to a designated location and receive another. Everything is sanitized once returned. It’s then recharged, and put back out for pickup. The locations currently prepped for this process include the MISSION Day Shelter and the SAWC Delonis Center.
SAWC staff member, Jamila Huff, came to be a part of this project through Schugat’s outreach. Huff is assisting Schugat in building the success of this project by getting out the word and coordinating the exchange of kits at Delonis.
“[Ariah] called the front desk one day and gave me the rundown. I immediately thought it was a great idea,” reports Huff. “If you miss that phone call, that’s it. It could be impossible to get back through, or you’ll have to leave a voicemail.”
The connection to housing resources is important, but as the pandemic continues on, more aspects of our society move to the virtual world. Things like online court hearings, healthcare access, and mental health care are gaining popularity, so lack of access to the internet is limiting. As such, Schugat’s addition has already gained good traction.
“I got one of [Ariah’s] phone kits a few days ago. It has helped when in a pinch,” states community member Adam Harris. Harris provided his phone kit for the above picture and notes that he’s almost ready to turn it in for a new one. “It’s a cool idea.”
Ariah’s project is not only cool, but a shining example of true community connection.
Schugat’s enterprise, Kyndness Tech, is built off one basic principle: human kindness.
“Human kindness is a gift we don’t often give anymore, but it’s what got me out of the shelter.”
It was an encounter with a stranger that ultimately changed Schugat’s path. While offering to assist someone with their broken bike chain, Shugat made the connection that ultimately led to her becoming housed.
After meeting her friend and now project partner, Michelle, Shugat is in a space where she can give back. Schugat and her team do not profit off of this venture, but she notes the benefit for her mental health.
Social psychologists have studied the effects of performing random acts of kindness. A study done in 2009, showed that those who completed such acts or acts of novelty had a drastically increased sense of life satisfaction, decreased feelings of depression and anxiety, and an improved sense of self.
Humans are social and caring creatures, built to evolve through connection. In our modern society, we are often so caught up in the day to day that we individualize and fail to find one another. However, kindness holds its origins in kinship, the building of community. It isn’t just an action, but an interpersonal skill, perhaps one we should be all looking to incorporate more of in our daily lives.
When asked why she wants to help people, Schugat simply states, “‘Y’ not?”