CARBONDALE — A project at Southern Illinois University Carbondale aims to encourage more gratitude and random acts of kindness on campus and in the community.
At SIU’s Craft Shop, volunteers can make clay tokens of appreciation, which they can then pass along to people who have done good deeds.
A “Random Tokens of Kindness” workshop — part of SIU’s Salukis in Unity program — will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday in the Craft Shop, which is located in the basement of the SIU Student Center.
The Craft Shop first established the project in 2012 after the death of art student Nate Morrow.
“He was a student worker, and he was there one day and gone the next. It was such a shock. We were trying to figure out what we could do,” said Craft Shop Coordinator Ron Dunkel.
Around the same time, Dunkel was seeing a lot of violence around the country and the SIU campus.
“We wanted to reward kind acts, because all the bad acts seemed to get all the publicity. So it was our feel-good, daisy-chain, pass-along Random Token of Kindness,” he said.
Over time, the coins have evolved — they were initially cast in all shapes and sizes, but now they’re a little more uniform.
“Since 2012, we have made thousands and thousands of them,” Dunkel said. “They’re on campus. Students do volunteer hours for classes or for sororities or for honors programs, and we invite them to help make these and distribute them. So we’ve got a natural flow of worker bees who come down and make these in the dozens at a time.”
The work is done in several stages. First, volunteers portion out wet clay and stamp the coins. After the tokens have dried, volunteers smooth them out and “give them a little manicure,” Dunkel said. The coins are fired once and then stained, glazed and fired again.
“We give them out to people who want to reward kind acts. It’s just a little something that says, ‘You did something nice for me.’ … And (the receiver of the token) is supposed to pass it on to someone else, and keep it flowing,” Dunkel said.
He said students give tokens away to friends, strangers and people they might see every day but not know very well, like dining hall workers.
“I personally think it’s made an effect on the SIU campus. When we first started this, we were seeing some really severe violence on campus, and I haven’t seen that same pattern. We had kids that were just fighting for fighting’s sake, and I haven’t seen much of that. I think it’s toned back. Maybe I can’t take credit for that, but … when people do these and make them and take them, everybody’s smiling,” Dunkel said.
He described the project as “a social initiative to create good behavior.” And it works that way not just for the receiver, but for the giver, too; sometimes keeping an eye out for random acts of kindness takes work, Dunkel said.
“We’re naturally programmed to think about things to worry about, and danger, and we’re slow to think about things that are good, that are happy and around us. If you come in and make them, take time to think about things you’re grateful for, people that you’re grateful for and the acts that you’re grateful for,” he said.
Saturday’s workshop is open to the public. Donations are requested to offset the cost of materials.
“We tell people when they’re making (the tokens), ‘This is not a factory. You’re artists today. We want you to make gifts for people. You want to think about quality, not quantity. We want them to be smooth and something that feels good in your pocket,’” Dunkel said.