Some people need to be shown how to be nice.
Be they adults or be they children, 9-year-old Selah Powe believes returning animus with benevolence not only eases animosity but leads to congeniality.
“Sometimes people don’t know how to be nice, and that’s really sad for them,” Selah said, sitting in an oversized chair in her Charlottesville living room. “You don’t know what happened in their lives that made them like that. Being mean back to them isn’t going to make it better.”
Selah is making it a point in her young life to be nice in the hopes of being an example to others.
“Some people don’t know how to be friends, and some just need to be reminded,” she said.
It’s not always easy. Last Fourth of July, her mother was trying to eke the family car out of a parking space as a crowd of fireworks spectators swarmed past them. The car’s movement upset some pedestrians who yelled at her mother and slapped the car window next to Selah’s face.
“It scared me and they were angry and I felt like I wanted to jump out of the car and run supersonic and go ‘boosh-boosh-boosh’ on them,” she said making striking motions with her hands. “But I told myself I didn’t want get in trouble. I didn’t really want to hurt anybody. And then I felt sad for them. Maybe something in their lives made them mean and me being rude and angry isn’t going to help them, either. I just want the world to be a nicer place.”
Part of her thinking came from learning to make friends. When the family moved to the area five years ago, Selah knew no one. She decided the best way to solve that problem was to say hello first.
“On my first day of school at my old school, I didn’t have any friends and didn’t know anybody, so I just asked if they wanted to be friends,” recalled Selah, who now attends Greenbrier Elementary. “A lot of kids said yes and we became friends. So now, when I go out at recess or to play, and there are some kids there, I’ll ask them if they want to be friends. I like having a lot of friends.”
“Sometimes it’s like having a 30-year-old inside a 9-year-old,” laughed her mother, Ouida Powe. “Sometimes she teaches me things. She had one classmate who would hit her and she told me that she was taking care of it. She was teaching the classmate how to be a friend. That’s pretty amazing to me.”
“We try to teach her to be thoughtful and respectful of others, but we also told her that she has the right to defend herself,” said her father, Derick Powe. “She knew that, but she chose a different path. She’s amazing.”
With her parents, Selah has created a website with the intent of taking her way of thinking into the community. The site, anamazingkidco.com, focuses on being kind and providing events to put kindness into practice.
In January, the website kicked off Kindness Campaign 2020, an effort to “establish kindness as a normal way to interact.” The first event was an ice cream party for veterans, a reprise of an effort that followed an amazing Christmas Day 2017 and a feeling of being blessed.
“To be honest, Christmas that year was sort of embarrassing,” Ouida Powe said. “There were so many gifts that it was over the top. We don’t do Christmas like that, but it seemed like everyone was being kind that year.”
Neighbors gave presents. Church members and out-of-state family sent presents.
“There were just so many that we didn’t want her to lose sight of how lucky she was,” her mother recalled. “We asked if there was something she would like to do for others because she was so fortunate, and she came up with the idea of an ice cream party for veterans.”
Ouida Powe was a bit surprised.
“I hate to admit it, but I didn’t talk much about respect for veterans with Selah and she didn’t know that we have a history of family members being in the military,” her mother said. “Her grandfather was in the Navy and fought in Vietnam. She didn’t know that her uncle was a Marine and fought in Afghanistan. And none of us knew at the time her sister would soon join the Army.”
“I said I wanted to do something for the people who served our country,” Selah recalled. “I wanted to have an ice cream party because I love ice cream and sprinkles because they’re fun.”
“When she came up with the idea, I started helping her with it because I didn’t want her idea to die on the vine,” her mother said. “Tony LaBua at Chaps Ice Cream on the Downtown Mall really helped a lot. He’s a sweet man.”
Although they were unable to repeat the party last year due to medical issues and family plans, they were back it at this year.
“It was fun,” Selah said. “Vets and ice cream, with sprinkles! I liked it.”
The campaign continued. In February, Selah led her school, her mother’s work and dad’s job, as well as church and family, to contribute toiletries and necessities for the homeless.
“We tried to get things they need, like towels, paper towels, toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant and things like that,” Selah said. “Those are things everyone needs and some people can’t buy them.”
As part of the Kindness Campaign, on March 22, Selah and her parents will join up with the organizers of the Step Up for Down Syndrome event at Blue Toad Cidery, in Nelson County, to provide craft activities for families and encourage people to be involved.
“I don’t know why I feel like this, I guess it’s just kind of me. I’m just being myself and being all tra-la-la and everything,” Selah said of her belief in the spirit of kindness. “When you’re nice to people, they end up being nice to you. They’re nice, too, they just don’t always know it.”