Paying it forward

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Gutreuter family turns tragedy into ‘Random Acts of Kindness’

For six years, Oct. 15 was a date that one Noblesville family despised seeing on the calendar. It was on that day in 2005 that Wen and Brian Gutreuter lost their 2-year-old daughter, Emily Grace, when she died in her sleep.

“I got to a point I was so tired of shutting down emotionally, not on purpose, but it just happened on Oct. 15,” said Wen. “I decided I had to do something different. What could I do to turn the tragedy into something positive, a blessing not just for us but as many people as possible?”

The family created Emily’s Grace – Random Acts of Kindness in 2012 as a way to celebrate her life and alleviate their broken hearts.

“Our daughter, Emily Grace, passed away at a way too young age. To celebrate the beauty of her life, we started Random Acts of Kindness Day. The response to this has been breathtaking,” Wen said. “We want this to become a part of daily life. If we each look for an opportunity to help and bless someone, every day, imagine the beautiful things that can happen.”

Wen said the inaugural Random of Acts Kindness Day was a grassroots effort. The family got together with friends and purchased food and groceries for others when they were out.

“It was little acts,” Wen said.

The entire experience hasn’t been all blessings though. On Sept. 10, 2013, just a month away from their second year of kindness acts, the Gutreuter residence caught fire and caused a loss of the house and two cars. Friends and community organizations and members provided the Gutreuters with donations to help them make it through, which only increased their resolve to help others.

“We had to continue kindness, especially now,” Wen said. “The family packed up 30 sack lunches and went to a downtown Indianapolis park and handed them out to homeless people along with new socks and water.”

The trend also began reaching more people starting in the second year. While the first was primarily contained to Noblesville and Hamilton County, there were coordinators in Shelby, Henry, Madison, Marion and Howard counties.

“There were a lot of different random acts of kindness,” said Wen. “People get intimidated because they think it always involves money. It absolutely doesn’t if it is a limited resource.”

This year evolved into a week of random acts and spread farther across Indiana. Randy A. Howard, Hoosiers with Heart founder and CEO, said events were scheduled in six counties with thousands of participants doing random acts of kindness throughout Central Indiana.

“No matter how big or small, a random act of kindness can change a person’s day and put a smile on their face,” Howard said.

“In 2015, we hope that we have representatives in each county in the state,” Wen said. “It’s taken on a life of its own, which I think is pretty darn cool.”

Wen said the acts of kindness have assisted her in the grieving process.

“I just dreaded Oct. 15. The last two years I look at the approach of Oct. 15 with anticipation and not dread – and that’s huge,” Wen said. “It replaces the emotion with many events and other people to focus on.”

Wen said the acts have rubbed off on her two youngest children, Katie Joy, 10, and Noah, 7. When the family was dining at Cracker Barrel in Shelbyville after an event, one of the volunteers had extra flowers in their car that were given to women diners.

“They had no fear, no shyness. It was cool to see them in action telling them the flowers were in memory of their sister,” Wen said.

The children said they enjoy making others smile.

“It was fun when we passed out sack lunches,” said Noah.

“It feels good to know you are helping other people and to see their reaction and how happy they are,” Katie said. “It makes you feel good inside.”

Wen said the family rarely interacts with those they assist.

“We have no idea,” she said. “We don’t know who we are doing a random act for and we don’t know who they will pay it forward to.”


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