Project aims to spread kindness about
“Find a jar and be inspired.”
That is what Winston-Salem resident Megan North Shuford is hoping local people will do this March, when she launches her Love Jar Project.
“It’s providing an opportunity to share that little spark of joy and that reminder of the real, authentic love and caring that people have to give to each other,” the Knoxville, Tenn. native said of the project. “It’s kind of like this offering to the community that I’m hoping would inspire some sort of brightness or impact in a way that would have positive effects on people and their lives.”
Shuford’s concept is simple. She will fill mason jars with notes of inspiration, trinkets and “fun, whimsical things that might be enjoyable” for people to find. Then she and a team of volunteers will distribute them in public places throughout the city, with notes inviting anyone who encounters the jars to take them as personal gifts. Other jars will be arbitrarily mailed to people Shuford doesn’t know. She refers to her method as “random acts of kindness.”
“I think that’s part of the gift, is the unexpectedness of it,” said Shuford, who is currently in the process of launching her own transformation (life) coaching company. “People can sort of experience that sense of wonder at the fact that every day that we live on this earth, there is an opportunity for something very unexpected and wonderful to happen, be it very small or very large.”
For the past three years, Shuford, who has spent much of her career working for nonprofits, has celebrated her birthday by designating a good cause and asking her friends and loved ones to donate to it. This year, she is celebrating her 36th birthday with the Love Jar Project. Friends say the project is a typical endeavor for Shuford, whose kindness and generosity is well documented.
“It’s very much like her to be talking about these kinds of things and to be creatively finding ways to implement positive change in people’s lives,” said her friend, Kristen Sager. “To me, this is a natural extension of who she is. This is just kind of how she rolls.”
Shuford will also include information about her Web site in the jars, so recipients can share their experiences of finding the jars and interact with other Love Jar recipients. She is hopeful that the project well help bridge the gaps created by differences in race, sex and class and encourage people across the community to communicate with each other.
“I think it really strikes that chord of (people) craving ways to be deeply connected in our community, to folks that we don’t know,” noted the Earlham College (Ind.) alumna. “…It gives people an opportunity to do something from a place of compassion and a place of deep caring that can just continue right through whatever those barriers are that have existed.”
The jars began as a personal endeavor, a tangible sign of Shuford’s love and appreciation for friends and family members. Sager, a clinical counselor at High Point University, was among the early Love Jar recipients, although the gift she received came in a carved wooden box rather than a jar. Still, the sentiment – and the impact – were the same.
“I was moving and going through some life changes and she surprised me with a container of notes and encouragement,” recalled Sager, a Missouri native. “She had rallied some friends and created something really wonderful for me to hold onto and go back to.”
The gesture made a big impression on Sager, one of several local residents who have already signed on to help Shuford disseminate the jars when the project begins.
“I think as simple as it sounds, it just sort of reminded me that I was loved, by her and by the other people she had rallied to contribute,” said Sager, who keeps the box on her coffee table and says she still opens it often. “It served as an ongoing source of encouragement.”
Shuford recently launched a crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo to support the effort and received
an overwhelming response. Within three days, she had surpassed her $850 fundraising goal. To date, the campaign has raised over $2,279, with more than 76 funders supporting the effort. The campaign culminated on Dec. 23, and coincided with the launch of her blog, Dreams Followed, which highlights the triumphs and pitfalls of people who are chasing their dreams.
“The goal of that project is to, I think, inspire people but also to speak truth to the variety of different ways that we live our lives,” she said of Dreams Followed. “It’s kind of a forum and a way to connect what people generally experience when they put themselves out there, when they take that risk.”
The project is close to Shuford’s heart, as she has designated her 36th year as the year when she too will take a chance on following her own dreams and aspirations.
“At times, it feels very nerve racking, but right now it feels wonderful,” she said of stepping out on her own as an entrepreneur. “Regardless of where my life leads, I’m so thankful for this opportunity and this commitment – this time right now – because I think it’s going to affect how I am able to give to my community moving forward.”
Shuford has funders in places as far away as the United Kingdom and the Bahamas, and she has already been contacted by people in other areas who want to start similar efforts in their own communities. She said she is excited about the project’s potential to grow and touch many more lives as time goes on.
“It’s so inspiring to see folks’ generosity and to see what it sparks in them,” she happily declared. “To have it met with so much support from other people gives me hope about the progress that we can make with the community, in small and big ways.”