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Service Spotlight: Connection Through Compassion

In the midst of an extremely busy few weeks, I got an email from a man named Brendan Caldwell in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s the Chief Operations Officer of Connection Through Compassion, and he wanted to talk nonprofits.

There’s no hesitation when you get an email like that. You don’t think about your ink logged planner or what you’re going to say. I had someone standing in front of me (okay through a screen) who wanted to talk about service, nonprofit work, and kindness and I was excited.

I had the distinct honor of chatting with Brendan a couple months ago and learning more about him and his team. When I asked if I could feature them on The Smile Project’s Service Spotlight blog, I knew it was the perfect fit, but after reading Brendan’s words – and especially the honesty and vulnerability in the “driving force” question brought me to another level of inspiration.

But I’ll let Brendan speak for himself. Without further ado, allow me to introduce Connection Through Compassion (CTC).

Liz: Let’s start in traditional Smile Project fashion. Give me a “Happiness is.”

Brendan: Happiness is the look in a person's eyes when you've touched their heart.

Liz: Tell me about Connection Through Compassion?

Brendan: We are a nonprofit with the mission of normalizing kindness and positivity in our culture, and to create communities around these and related ideals. We want to encourage people to spread kindness every day and make a greater effort to connect with the people around them (friends, family and strangers). One tool we use to encourage this is Kindness Cards - 2.5” x 3” cards with colorful art which you write kind phrases on the back of. We hand these cards out as an organization and in our personal lives. We also do whatever we can to help other people write out cards and guide them through the social activity of handing these cards to others. Integrating writing and handing out Kindness Cards in your daily life does a lot towards opening you up to the lifestyle and perspective change we’re trying to spread.

Liz: What is the driving force behind what you do?

Brendan: For me personally, my life has been immensely enriched by spreading kindness daily. I am so often energized and enriched by interacting with other people. However, I’m also shy. I’ve always had difficulty reaching out to people and connecting with them. Somewhere ingrained in me is this feeling that, by default, my presence in someone else’s space is a burden. This made it more comfortable to stay in my bubble and allow other people to remain in theirs.

Over my life I’ve progressively recognized the true value of connection. I knew I was missing out on the deep, vibrant beauty of witnessing another person’s humanity. Giving a Kindness Card is a maximally unobtrusive way to enter another person’s space. It allows me to create the opportunity for further connection without placing any, real or perceived, burden on them. Sometimes it results in a conversation -- many of which have changed my life for the better. But more often it just sends the simple message that I see them, I see their humanity and I recognize its beauty -- and, more often than not, that’s all I really wanted to say.

I helped found CTC because I realized that another way I could really uplift other people would be by encouraging and assisting them to spread more kindness in their daily life. Giving out Kindness Cards doesn't just help the people around you, it's good for your soul too. Our ultimate mission is to help make this shift happen at a cultural level -- to 'normalize kindness' in our society. We envision a world where kind words and compassionate gestures are exchanged between strangers as naturally as a handshake.

Liz: What does service mean to you?

Brendan: Service, to me, is a intentional effort to make the world better -- in big ways or small ones. I believe that a life spent in service is a lift well spent -- that we help ourselves the most by helping others.

Liz: How can people get involved?

Brendan: The number one way we want people to get involved is by handing out Kindness Cards in their own lives. You can order cards on our website. We also have a bunch of resources on our website to help you get started -- including example phrases to write on the cards and advice on how to make handing out the cards feel more natural.

We're also always looking for volunteers to help us run our organization (marketing, grant writing and event planning are the most needed right now) or to help us at local kindness spreading events (email us at We also, of course, always need donations. Lastly, if you want to follow us on social media (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) and spread the word to your friends and family, we would be very grateful!

Liz: Anything else you’d like to add?

Brendan: Liz is a wonderful human being and we at CTC are flattered to be mentioned on her blog. We wish for her all the love and belly laughs she can stand <3 :P

(Ah, we’re blushing over here at Smile Project HQ)!

Liz: Do you have a favorite quote?

"Kindness costs you nothing, but can be worth everything."

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