Several months ago, when we left North Dakota for Ohio, we moved into a lovely home tucked into a quiet, wooded neighborhood in the city of Athens.

Just before you turn to go up the hill into our subdivision, you pass a little log cabin. On first glance, it’s beautiful. Very shabby-chic. On second glance, it’s a whole lot more shabby than chic.

With no other children in the neighborhood, it wasn’t long before my kids made fast friends with the kids living in that cottage down the hill. Now, instead of having a clean, quiet, orderly household, I have noise. Lots and lots of noise made by lots and lots of kids. Luckily, the most predominant noise is usually laughter.

I don’t know much about life in that little log cabin. Honestly, it’s none of my business, but after overhearing the children who live there talk, I know there are more people under the roof than there are beds. I know the youth football coach comes to pick up the little boy because the woman everyone calls “Grandma” doesn’t have a car. And I know that the kids call themselves “cousins” because it’s easier than explaining how they all ended up in the same house when few of them are related.

Sometimes I hear that their phone is turned off, their TV isn’t working or Grandma is having a yard sale because there is no money for birthday presents, and it makes me sad. Why do I get to live in the lovely house at the top of the hill while they are stuck at the bottom? It doesn’t seem very fair or very kind.

But standing still and being sad doesn’t help anything. So I do what I can.

I have gone from a mom who rarely cooks anything that isn’t in a box to a mom who is constantly at the grocery store loading up on fresh fruits, veggies and protein so I can feed my kids and a few others who happen to be in the house for either lunch or dinner on a daily basis.

I have gone through my kids’ clothes and shoes and given our abundance to our new friends.

I have donated a closet-full of household decor to the garage sale in hopes of fattening the bottom line and raising more birthday present money.

But in the midst of my personal crusade of kindness, I realized something. My acts of kindness don’t even touch the amount of kindness once again being shown to us.

While I was so busy trying to help our new neighbors, I barely noticed how much they were helping us. Those children have surrounded my kids with such nonjudgmental love, fun and laughter. They have introduced my kids to new friends, made them feel like part of the gang and have helped to smooth the transition to a new town.

I wanted to say thank you, so – as uncomfortable as it was – I marched right up to the front door of that little log cabin and asked Grandma if I could buy the children new backpacks and school supplies. I was terrified she would be offended, but I desperately wanted the kids under her care to be able to walk into school with all of the things I knew they wouldn’t be able to afford on their own.

When all was said and done, I had seven kids loaded into the car, a trunk full of notebooks, folders, pens and erasers and a very long cash register receipt. I couldn’t have been happier or felt more blessed to have been able to share our blessings.

We can’t change someone’s lot in life, but we can make their life a lot more enjoyable by leading with kindness. And when we do, it makes our lives a lot more enjoyable, too.

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.