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A challenge that’s contagious

Keith Williams talks about the 37 Days of Kindness challenge at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JOE MCSORLEY

by Susan Fotovich McCabe
Special to The Leaven

TILWELL — Keith Williams’ greatest wish for the members of his family has always been that they would reunite in heaven after a long, healthy life.

That was before his 12-year-old son Henry died unexpectedly last May.

Henry, who was in 7th grade at Aubrey Bend Middle School, is now the inspiration behind the Stilwell family’s initiative and challenge called 37 Days of Kindness.

“After Henry passed, we started getting cards and letters from people who told us all the things he did that were quite phenomenal,” said Williams.

“We heard that he used to take tests in the office with another girl,” he added, “and he would always hold the door open for her.”

“Another parent told us that Henry made friends with her son who has autism and would tell him stories and jokes when they were together,” Williams continued. “She said those were her son’s favorite days at school.

“We were blown away with the things our son was doing for others.”

What started out as Williams’ personal challenge — to be kind like Henry — became an initiative designed to inspire others to perform random acts of kindness in their own daily lives.

It blossomed from there.

Today, a Facebook page and website are dedicated to 37 Days of Kindness, and bracelets freely distributed from the site serve as reminders to be kind.

Williams and his wife Cheryl also spread the message by speaking regularly at local churches and schools.

Last fall, he spoke to students at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park. They were touched by Henry’s story.

“Keith reminded me that acts of kindness don’t need to be complex,” said Aquinas senior Devin Diggs.

“Sometimes, it’s the simple acts that impact people the most,” he added. “His stories about his son inspired me to take on more simple acts of kindness.”

In February, Williams spoke at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood.

The Williams family never guessed their challenge would be so widely accepted.

Williams originally planned to order 100 wristbands. He was talked into ordering 5,000.

At last count, they have distributed over 10,000 wristbands and there are people taking Henry’s Challenge in all 50 states and 12 other countries.

The challenge’s success leaves the Williams family inspired.

“Henry was full of spirit, joy and a super kid to be around,” said Williams. “We were blessed to be Henry’s parents and to be good stewards of his spirit now.”

To participate in the challenge, go online to: and request a free wristband that will serve as a reminder to offer acts of kindness for 37 days.

About the author

The Leaven

The Leaven is the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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