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CREATE A WAVE | Michigan artist uses vending machine to encourage kindness

The Kindness Challenge is set up in the main entrance to DeVos Place, and it gives people ideas for how they can spread kindness to others.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — On a cold Friday afternoon, Monroe Avenue is full of activity. Some people are walking. Others are driving. Most of them are just trying to get through the work week so they can finally relax. There's some conversation going on between people who are together, but conversation between strangers seems to be purely out of necessity.

It's easy to feel lonely in the hustle and bustle, especially considering what everyone has been through over the last few years. Artist Andrea Zelenak recognizes that feeling.

"No matter who you are, life is tough. No one grows up with necessarily an easy life," she said.

Now the artist, who's from the Metro Detroit area, is in West Michigan to spread some joy through kindness.

"If somebody says something kind to you, you will remember that for maybe a week, or five years, or the rest of your life. So I really feel like these words are really powerful no matter what you do with it," she said.

Zelenak received a grant to create The Kindness Challenge through World of Winter, which has been going on in downtown Grand Rapids since Jan. 7. It's an idea she thought up awhile ago as the founder of her business, called Inkcourage.

"The idea is that one act of kindness can create a wave of kindness in a community, so I'm really just challenging people to do one small act of kindness in order to create this bigger wave," she said.

Participants can select an easy, medium or hard challenge. The difficulty levels are color coded. 

"You kind of know what you're getting into. You won't know exactly what you're getting, but you'll have a rough idea," Zelenak said.

"There's also ones that say they're family friendly, or group activities, just so if you are coming with young children, then you know which ones to grab."

Zelenak says demand for The Kindness Challenge has been greater than she expected. She thought she'd be making one trip to Grand Rapids per week to refill the vending machine, but so many people are participating that she's actually had to come two to three times a week. 

As of this writing, more than 1,000 challenges have been accepted and Zelenak's Kindness Challenge has even inspired others to create their own take on the concept.

"One person's doing it for their neighborhood. I know someone mentioned that this has been going around in their preschool. Different things like that. So yeah, I've gotten a lot of great feedback," she said.

The Kindness Challenge will remain outside DeVos Place throughout the duration of World of Winter, which ends on March 6.

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