Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Nika & the giving tree December 28, 2020

A welcoming message banners the Division Street entrance to the Northfield Public Library.

RECENTLY, I NEEDED to replenish my stash of library books. That meant a trip to the Northfield Public Library 20 minutes away. The Faribault library remains closed to in-person visits due to COVID-19. I’m the type of reader who needs to browse shelves, hold a book and read its summary before deciding whether to check it out.

Plus, Northfield, COVID or not, always rates as a delightful community to visit.

“Rocky the Giving Tree” against the backdrop of the Northfield library.

As soon as Randy and I pulled up to the Northfield library, I noticed a small tree draped with winter scarves near the base of the library hill. But first things first. Books.

I found four, one of which I started and finished that very day. Yes, sometimes books are that good.

Inside the library, a portion of a poem by Northfield Poet Laureate Rob Hardy. This seems to fit well The Giving Tree.

Once I’d gathered those books and snapped two photos inside the library, I focused my attention on the tree. The Gratitude Tree, now renamed The Giving Tree. Previously I photographed gratitude notes here, among the branches.

The library tree is serving as a host site for The Giving Tree and similar projects.
Empty clothespins indicate scarves already taken from a tree once sporting many more items of winter wear.
A tag on each item explains the project.

But this time, hand-knit scarves hung among the branches, each with a note attached indicating these are part of the 100 Kind Deeds Day Project. Need a scarf or other winter wear (I spotted a single hat)? Take one.

Handknit with love…and draped in The Giving Tree.
In the background sits the historic Archer House, severely damaged in a recent fire and its future unknown.
The scarves are almost like an art story.

As I photographed the collection, I wondered about the backstory. After researching online, I discovered this is the endeavor of 10-year-old Nika Hirsch of Northfield, founder of This Life Rocks. Annually for the past four years, Nika has invited the Northfield community to accomplish 100 kind acts in 24 hours. This year she dropped toys off at a hospital, picked up trash in a park and gathered donations for The Giving Tree.

Just across the street from The Giving Tree/library are the lovely historic buildings of downtown Northfield.

But there’s more. Remember that name, This Life Rocks? Well, this all started a few years back after Nika was diagnosed with selective mutism, a disorder often linked to social anxiety resulting in difficulty speaking with most people. With therapy, hard work, the love and support of her family and others, and a project—painting encouraging messages on rocks to leave in public places—Nika has accomplished much. The rock painting allowed her to communicate in a non-verbal way.

The beautiful Northfield Public Library serves as host site and backdrop for The Giving Tree.

Watching videos of Nika, I am amazed at how much she’s overcome, how confident and strong in the face of challenges. Nika truly inspires. She makes this world a much better place with her hands-on care, with her positive attitude, with her motto to live life with enthusiasm. And with her kindness.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


What a little cash & a little kindness are doing in North Dakota April 30, 2016

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My creative graphic illustrating Kindness Cash.

My creative graphic illustrating Kindness Cash.

HOW WOULD YOU like to find $20 cash?

In our neighboring state to the west, Starion Financial has dropped 650 Kindness Cash wallets containing $20 each in eight North Dakota communities. The project celebrates Pay It Forward Day on April 28.

Now, if you do your math, that’s $13,000 left lying around in places like grocery stores, parks, hotels…

The idea is to use that money to do something good. And the finders are, according to Starion’s website. Organizations like a cancer support group, a domestic violence center and a humane society have already benefited from this project.

Others are enjoying treats from appreciative co-workers. Those are all great choices.

But the story that touches me most is that of Olivia, who found a Kindness wallet under a rock in a South Fargo park. Little Olivia is giving the money to someone at her school.

Likewise in Bismarck, someone found a Kindness wallet, added $80, and left it for two lucky women to find at the Comfort Inn.

I love sharing stories like this that uplift and restore my faith in the goodness of others. (h/t Fargo Forum)

TELL ME, HAVE YOU ever been the recipient of such a random act of kindness? Or have you engaged in a Pay It Forward project like this?

I’d like to hear about creative projects that encourage people to Pay It Forward, to be kind to one another.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling