Imagine hurriedly pacing through the Diag and receiving candy from a smiling student — no strings attached. Or standing alone in an elevator only to be greeted by polite conversation. Better yet, returning to your car to find that someone filled your expired meter for you.

Beth Dykstra
DoRAK members Nima Shah, an LSA junior, and Katie Westrick, an Art and Architecture junior, make inspirational cards for Dance Marathon members in the Michigan Union. (Peter Schottenfels/Daily)
Beth Dykstra
DoRAK uses a variety of methods, from making sandwiches for the homeless to creating candy flowers, to carry out its acts of kindness. (Peter Schottenfels/Daily)

Amidst the daily flurry of classes, appointments and lunch dates, life on campus is often a whirlwind of tasks and obligations by the hour. But members of Do Random Acts of Kindness devote an hour each week to “RAKing” individuals — carrying out random acts of kindness on campus and throughout Ann Arbor.

DoRAK emerged as a spinoff of Circle K in the fall of 2001 but evolved into its own, MSA-recognized group in winter of 2002.

According to LSA senior Amanda Fox, co-chair of DoRAK, the structure of the group “is what makes it so much fun.” The group is composed of five teams, each with six to ten members, led by a captain or pair of co-captains. Each team meets for an hour a week during which the group “decides what RAK they want to carry out and then actually goes out and does it,” Fox explained.

Although one hour per week may appear to be a short amount of time to brighten people’s lives, DoRAK has proven that a great deal can be accomplished in a short period of time. From making “anti-boredom” kits filled with crossword puzzles, jokes, random quotes, mad libs and candy to be handed out in the waiting room of University Health Services, to handing out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to homeless people, DoRAK members take advantage of each hour to help people both on campus and those in surrounding communities.

Examples of RAKs include taping lucky pennies to cards with phrases such as “Heads Up!,” “Make a Wish!” and “A lucky penny a day keeps the bad things away!” and placing them at random places around campus.

The lively, energetic and bighearted nature of the group is largely based on its structure. “This structure provides a lot of flexibility and really puts the creative power in the hands of members who choose what they are going to do, and then they get to go out and actually see their kindness in action,” Fox said.

The structure also provides a relaxed atmosphere. “Because it’s not overly time-consuming, I don’t feel pressured to do RAKs, I just do them because I enjoy it,” co-captain and LSA junior Nima Shah echoed.

Architecture junior Katie Westrick’s favorite RAK is when her RAK team played four square on the Diag. “Everyone walking by immediately got this happy and confused look on their face from the sight, but several people jumped into the game on their way to class or the library. The line would get so long at times but we met a lot of new people, some of whom even ended up joining DoRAK,” said Westrick, who is DoRAK’s fundraising and treasury chair.

An underlining attribute of DoRAK is the wide-ranging impact it has on the community. The chances of a RAKed individual continuing the positivity are enormous with each good deed contributing to the creation of a chain effect of kindness. “Last year in the dorms, we posted comic strips in the bathroom stalls.  After a week or two, we went back in the bathroom and someone else who lived in the hall changed the strips!” Westrick said.  “It was nice to see that someone thought it was so great to do something like that that they wanted to keep it going.”

Another RAK favorite is creating candy flowers from Hershey Hugs and Kisses, red tissue paper, and green pipe cleaners. These Spring treats are then passed out to unsuspecting people around campus. Giving out candy is captain and newsletter committee member Rena Menke’s favorite RAK. “Almost everyone loves candy. When people take the candy and realize there isn’t a catch or that they don’t have to do anything for it they are so thankful and excited,” said Menke, an LSA senior.

In addition to RAKing, DoRAK’s website, www.umich.edu/~dorak, is full of stories about RAK experiences, RAK ideas that people can do on their own and a link to D Good News, a DoRAK newsletter. The newsletter features “RAK-It-Yourself” ideas, personal RAK experience stories, and pictures of RAKs.

Though DoRAK undoubtedly brightens the day of the people being RAKed, the members receive just as much satisfaction and enjoyment from RAKing. “I love DoRAK because it reinforces my belief in the difference that kindness can make. I love working with people who want nothing more than to spread kindness everywhere they go,” Fox said.

Involvement in DoRAK has also changed the outlook of some of its members. “DoRAK has given me an appreciation for the little things that happen in my every day life,” Shah said. “When there are times when I’m feeling stressed out or upset about something, I realize that by smiling or doing something nice for someone else, I end up feeling a little better,” Shah adds.

For Rena Menke, DoRAK has illustrated that kindness can fit into anyone’s schedule, no matter how busy there are. “DoRAK has shown me that a little bit of kindness goes a long way.”

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