Twelve-year-old Josh Stevens was known for his smile and kindness. On Friday, September 5, 2008, his life was tragically cut short in a golf cart accident near his Anthem home. Josh had been home-schooled the previous three years but had an enormous amount of friends at his new school, on local sports teams, and at the family’s church. The boy’s popularity was owed to his thoughtfulness and compassion, a legacy that his family, led by father Drew, manifested into the Josh Stevens Foundation, an organization that recognizes genuine acts of kindness. In a culture marred by school bullying and worse, the foundation’s Be Kind message is spreading like wildfire. After making a huge difference in local schools, often transforming troublemaking kids, the program is now taking off to seven other states, whose teachers, school administrators, counselors, students, and parents hope that the powerful program will have as much of an impact on their students as it has had on ours.

Here, Drew Stevens shares his story:

“From the very minute I was holding Josh and knew he was no longer alive, I knew that our family was going to do something to honor him. In our culture, we don’t talk about death. We just brush it under the rug. We don’t talk about people when they’re gone, and that was unimaginable to me. How could we not talk about Josh? He was amazing.

My family has struggled since his death, but we decided to do something good in this world in Josh’s name, and it wasn’t difficult to determine what that would look like. We knew that Josh’s gift was his kind heart. He was blessed with so many friends. It was easy to like him. He was a nice kid who wasn’t mean or cruel, and if he saw someone getting picked on, he went to their defense. My daughter, Shelbie, told me that a week before we lost him, she called him on his cell phone, and he said, ‘Shelbie, I can’t talk right now. I’m right in the middle of rescuing a nerd.’ That was his thing.

We’d go to the mall, and he’d run ahead and hold the door open for me; my wife, Barbara; his sister; his brother, Sam; and anyone else who was standing there. He’d stand there, sometimes for 10 or 15 minutes, just holding the door. He would also run out to my car and open everyone’s car doors. He’d open the door for his mom and then his brother and sister, and then he’d run around and do it for me.

After Josh died, Barbara said to me, ‘Wouldn’t you feel empty-handed if we went somewhere and saw a kid open a door for a bunch of strangers? We’re just going to walk right by and cry.’ We decided to turn that around and make something good of it, and that’s how the Kindness Card came to be. It’s a card that speaks about the significance of a single act of kindness, regardless of how small it is. It is wrapped with a silicone bracelet that has a Be Kind message on it, and the only way a child can get one is to be caught doing something genuinely kind, not because they were asked to or told to or because they’d get something in return. We’ve given away nearly 90,000 of them to date.

Josh’s school, Bob Miller Middle School, was the first school to reach out to the foundation to express interest in being part of what we were doing to honor our son. We printed up some shirts that said Be Kind on them, and that’s where our shirt campaign began.

The foundation has touched more than 200 schools in Clark County, and now it is spreading to seven additional states as well as other parts of Nevada. We had a teacher move from Las Vegas to Park Rapids, Minnesota, and when she began her new job, she convinced the principal that the Be Kind message was important. She even got the local hospital involved, and they supported the program financially for the first two years to implement the Josh Stevens Foundation and the Be Kind message in every school in Park Rapids.

Our message has spread to Florida by way of the We Care We Share Foundation, which is also helping to implement the message in six schools in New Orleans. There are several schools in Sammamish, Washington, that are on board, so it’s launching there next school year. The Be Kind message has also spread to San Diego, Anchorage, and Bixby, Oklahoma.

I was recently in Dayton, Nevada, and this kid—he was about five-foot-10, 200 pounds, an eighth grader—came up to me and started crying. He said, ‘Mr. Stevens, I wanted to let you know that my life has changed forever and that the bullying at Dayton Intermediate School will stop today.’ I said, ‘How do you know that?’ He said, ‘I’m the guy. I’m the bully, and it’s going to end today. It’s over. It’s done.’ That’s what keeps me going to schools.

A few years ago, we were hoping that the example Josh set by treating others with tremendous passion and kindness would continue to shine and make a difference in schools, and that’s what’s happening. I tell students I talk to that Josh was just an average 12-year-old boy. He wasn’t rich or a big rap star or famous athlete. He was just 12 years old, but look at the difference one kid can make. I talk to the kids about leaving a legacy, and I ask them, ‘How will people remember you? Do you want to be remembered as someone who made a difference in the lives of others—or as someone who was rude and cruel and mean? Your legacy is taking place every day.’

I’d give anything to spend just one minute with Josh so I could kiss him and love him, but I’m so proud of the legacy he has left and how he’s being remembered. The fact that people are using his kind heart as an inspiration is really, really amazing. If he was standing with me at these schools where hundreds of kids are wearing Be Kind T-shirts, I think Josh would be embarrassed, but in a beautiful way.”

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