Jen Banks had the Game Changers team in tears within an hour of really getting to know her. Her quiet strength and shocking honesty strikes at the heart of a superficial world, and challenges the idea that one person can’t make a difference. Jen Banks may be one person, but she certainly is making a difference.
“Make Jen’s Day is something that came to me right before my birthday actually… I believe it was July 18th, I was sitting at home, just hanging out with my baby, and I saw a tweet from Mark Cherrington, he’s an at-risk youth advocate in the city… and he tweeted that he needed a bassinet for a baby. Um, and because my littlest had just gotten out of the bassinet, I happened to have one. So I tweeted him back and I think maybe 20 minutes later, 30 minutes later, he was at my house picking it up.”
“…From there, I was just overrun with emotions. As soon as he was taking the bassinet out to the car, I went into my kitchen and I just started crying. Just the thought of this little barely three week old baby sleeping on the floor because their mom can’t afford it. And, it’s someone in my community. It just broke my heart. It also took me to a fairly dark place in my childhood- we relied quite a bit on food banks and people helping us out, strangers helping us out… it just kind of reminded me of myself being in that situation and my family being in that situation. And I figured that there had to be a better way, I had to do something.”
Jen took this thought, this feeling, and crafted it into a movement that recognized her past and her hopes for the future, and asked those around her through a blog post to do something different for her birthday. “I said, my birthday is coming up so instead of presents, instead of tweets, instead of Facebook status updates, you know, instead of going to social media to wish me happy birthday or instead of going out and buying a present, give back to your community. Give back to charity. Give your time. Just give a little bit of kindness, to help me to give back to the people that helped me as a child.”
Instead of feeling content with having done a good deed, Jen leveraged her social media connections to share her story and encourage others to get involved and spread kindness around them as well. “I sat back and said… maybe I can use this for good, and maybe I can keep this going.”
When Jen went to bed that night, it was with the idea of seeing what would happen if she ‘initiated a flame’ with her request. By the time she woke up the next day, she had over 300 retweets, mentions and shares, and the blog post had been read over 300 times already. It was only 8am, and by 8:30, she was doing an interview with Metro newspaper.
“I think that by 11 o clock, we had our first donation and that was my friend Dana, she donated to the food bank on behalf of Make Jen’s Day in my honor and it kind of just went from there.”
Rarely do people catapult to Jen’s level of kindness and empathy without catalyst’s in their own lives leading them there, which Jen shared a bit about when describing who she’d like to thank for helping her along the path in life that lead her to Make Jen’s day. “I figure that if even one person is less ashamed of coming from an abusive childhood or less ashamed of accepting food from the food bank as a child, then I’ve done my job… I’d like to thank my grade six teachers. All the way through elementary school, there was a box that they put into the school office, and there they said that if any kids wanted to donate something out of their lunches that they didn’t want, they could go and put it in there and it would get to kids that were needy. It went to me and my family. So, I just wanted to thank them for that.”
Those around Jen have gotten involved in the movement, including her daughter. From teaching her child to understand what foods may be in demand at the local food bank, to writing posts about charities she knows and supports, Jen hasn’t stopped Make Jen’s Day at just a bassinet, or just her birthday. “I’ve found that the most profound acts of kindness are the little ones. Not necessarily the big ones, I mean anybody can make a monetary donation to a charity, but time matters more. I know at Basically Babies, you can go down and volunteer every Thursday and they’re always looking for people. The food bank is always looking for people to go down and volunteer. ”
Make Jen’s Day has generated 387 acts of kindness so far. To put that into perspective, that’s about 2 acts a day that may never have happened without Jen’s catalyst for kindness. To find out more about creating ripples of kindness in your community, visit www.makejensday.com or visit Make Jen’s day on Facebook or @makejensday on Twitter.