Making Kindness Contagious for a Lifetime


The National Conversation Then and Now: Making Kindness Contagious for a Lifetime


By Barbara C. Unell, Co-Founder of Kindest Kansas Citian

July 14, 2020


“It’s only with the heart that one can see rightly…

what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

~Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Synergy’s Kindness is Contagious initiative began as a burst of a dream in my heart and a vision in my head of what could be possible. After seeing the words “Kindness is Contagious…Catch it!” on a poster, I excitedly hopped in my car, drove to my children’s elementary school registration for that year, 1990, to show that “sign” to my children’s elementary school counselor, Jacque DeJesus. My vision? A school-based initiative that would teach children the very behaviors that you, we, each of us, want all children to use every day at home and at school—apologizing, caring, empathy, praise, forgiving and listening. They are at the heart of being a Kindest Kansas Citian...that reside in the heart of each of us. That momentous brainstorming session between Jacque and me blossomed into the Kindest Kansas Citian Essay Contest and the Awards Banquet whose 30th birthday is today. And the rest, as they say, is history!

Indeed, today I have tears in my eyes as I write these words, just thinking about how deeply I wished then, and have worked every day since, alongside so many dedicated healthcare and other professionals and volunteers, to help make it true that EVERY child has a relationship with even just one person who teaches him or her how to live kindly through that person’s role modeling this way of life.

It is, and science has proven it so, the most important thing a child and adult can do for each other. 

It’s impossible to not be moved by the timeless nature of this initiative—the hundreds of thousands of essays by now two generations of children of all ages are embedded in my memory over the past 30 years—because they show us without question what children need, what we all need—the difference that a Kindest Kansas Citian makes in our lives.  The hopeful, happy Kindest Kansas Citian initiative is celebrating 30 years of commitment and dedication to creating a kinder world by:

of a simple gift of kindness given by an adult to a child

kindness, respect and compassion by communicating what that kindness

means to them

the Kindness is Contagious initiative for the past 30 years in Kansas City

relationships between adults and children, based on an adult giving

the gift of kindness to a child.

As the great activist Congressman John Lewis has written “… this is not just for this moment or for this day or for next week or next year. But a way of life”. 

Kindness is what I wish for as a way of life celebrated by honoring these students and their Kindest Kansas Citians. It’s what all of the hundreds of professionals and volunteers who have created Kindest Kansas Citian events, read essays and spread the message of trust and caring empathy, praise, forgiving and listening wish for, too.

With this rich history as our bedrock, I look forward to celebrating with Synergy the everyday kindnesses of Kansas Citians that will assuredly make life meaningful and healthy for the giver and the receiver for generations to come! 

Barbara C. Unell Biographical Sketch

June 2020

A devoted mother and adoring grandmother, Barbara Unell has been an author, publisher, educator and social entrepreneur for over 40 years, passionately translating behavioral, social and neuroscience research into practical pathways leading to the greater good in health, learning and behavior. To that end, she has co-authored 17 books, including  Discipline Without Shouting and Spanking, which has sold over a million copies worldwide; How to Discipline Your Six to Twelve Year Old Without Losing Your Mind; 20 Teachable Virtues; The 8 Seasons of Parenthood; and Discipline with Love and Limits, all with Jerry L. Wyckoff, Ph. D. She has also been a columnist for The Kansas City Star; writer/host of the nationally syndicated radio feature, “Kid’s Stuff”; community partner of “The Baby Buffer” online parenting project of the Kansas chapter of The American Academy of Pediatrics; and co-founder and editor of national and regional magazines and newsletters, including TWINS Magazine, Caring Parent, and Kansas City Parent.

A proud graduate of The University of Texas at Austin, Barbara has appeared on numerous national and local radio and television programs cheerleading for the mission of her books, as well as the national and regional character education and social-emotional health programs she co-founded, including: “Kindness is Contagious…Catch It!”; the award-winning “Sunflower Ambassador” program; and “Uncle Dan’s Report Card. In 2000, she founded the national nonprofit organization, Back in the Swing, which launched the first clinical breast cancer survivorship center in the United States at the University of Kansas Cancer Center in 2006. She and Judith Fertig co-authored the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) award-winning lifestyle cookbook, The Back in the Swing Cookbook: Recipes for Eating and Living Well Every Day after Breast Cancer, in 2012.

In 2016, together with Bob Unell, her husband of more than 40 years, and Dr. Wyckoff, Barbara co-founded the national nonprofit organization, The Raised with Love and Limits Foundation, focusing on filling the gap in parenting skills of nurses, pediatricians, teachers and social workers and those they care for, to improve and protect the mental, physical and emotional health of children every day. As a contributor to the new national movement of healthy parenting in primary care, the Foundation is on the front line in prevention and reversing the effects of toxic stress and adverse childhood experiences and supporting caring, protective adults with the 2019 launch of the innovative clinic-delivered, parent skill-building tool kit, Behavior Checker; the new completely revised edition of Discipline with Love and Limits; and the companion, groundbreaking online education course, Parenting is Healthcare. Learn more at: https://rll.behaviorchecker.org/