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Meet Jeanine Rountree and Michelle Duong of Operation Be Kind in Garden Grove

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jeanine Rountree and Michelle Duong.

Jeanine and Michelle, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Operation Be Kind started in early March of 2017. After attending the taping of Ellen DeGeneres Christmas show in December of 2016, I was INSPIRED to pay it forward with acts of kindness of my own. Shortly two weeks after the taping, my close friend James was diagnosed on Christmas day with terminal pancreatic cancer. His courageous battle with the disease MOVED me and made me question my own existence on this earth. This feeling of searching for a purpose in life lead me to sign up for a homeless event with the OC Burrito Project in downtown Santa Ana. I helped prepare over 100 burritos and afterward, we walked over into the homeless encampment. I was pretty nervous and scared as I have never been up close to any homeless community. But what I found when I was passing out the burritos was…they are human beings just like ME. I was completely HUMBLED by this experience. I came home that night and told my four years old daughter Marley that we need to be kind to everyone. We don’t know what people are going through and how they ended up on the streets but we just need to be kind. The very next day, I woke up and told her my daughter that we are going to make care bags for the homeless and we are going to call it Operation Be Kind. My goal was to make 50 care bags for the homeless. I posted on my Facebook page what I was doing and listed all the items I needed to make our Kind Bags.

Within one hour, all my items were fulfilled and we ended up making 100 Kind Bags filled with toiletry items and food. All the volunteers, including children and parents, would gather at my house to pack the Kind bags and write notes of encouragement and inspiration to put in each bag. I returned back to OC Burrito Project to pass out our Kind bags along with the burritos. The second month, I set a goal to do 100 Kind Bags. Again I posted on my personal Facebook page. The same thing happened, all my items were fulfilled within hours and we surpassed my goal and ended up with 200 Kind Bags for the homeless. By the 3rd month, my friend James was receiving chemotherapy treatment and a light bulb went off. I decided to make him a Chemo Kind Bag and fill it with items that will bring him comfort during his treatments. This idea inspired me to pick different causes to support as a way to teach my daughter and other children about the many needs we have in our community and the many ways we can spread kindness to people in need. By the 4th month, a good friend who works at the Arthritis Foundation saw what I was doing and asked me to help with camp bags for children with arthritis. That month I learned about the many struggles children and adults with arthritis face daily.

At this point, a good friend of mine, who has experience in the non-profit world, encouraged me to form my own non-profit. I was hesitant and afraid as I had no knowledge of the non-profit world. With her guidance, I filed for non-profit status and was approved two months later. There was no turning back now as kindness does not sleep nor rest. After six months of doing monthly missions to support different causes such as homelessness, cancer, children with arthritis, single pregnant women, families with AIDS/HIV and underprivileged children, we held our first fundraiser in my backyard and raised $14,000. Sounds completely crazy now when I look back but like I said…Kindness does not sleep nor rest. In the 2.5 years that we have been in operation, we have passed out 17,000 Kind Bags to our community near and far. Our mission is to teach and inspire our youth to be kind and compassionate to everyone especially those in need.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
With any non-profit, fundraising is always a struggle for us. We have been fortunate enough to have many family and friends support us in the last 2.5 years but we have exhausted those avenues. We need the support of local businesses and corporate funding to help us continue our missions. As our non-profit grows, so do our monthly missions. We definitely will need to hire additional help in the near future to help run the day to day tasks.

Please tell us about Operation Be Kind.
We want to be the reason someone smiles today. Through our monthly missions, we have provided much needed essential items such as food, clothing, sleeping bags, school supplies and in some cases, our kind words mean more than the contents of the bag. I am most proud of the group of women who help me run Operation Be Kind and the many lives we have touched. I am also proud of the youth volunteers who started out with me since day one and now have gone on to form Operation Be Kind Clubs within their high schools. They have continued to carry on the works of Operation Be Kind.

What sets OBK apart from other nonprofits is the ability to focus on different causes throughout the year. We do not focus on one cause. As long as we are spreading kindness and can bring a smile to a person that is in a difficult situation.

Whats your favorite Mission?
We have so many great missions that are dear to our hearts. Many of our missions are inspired by my board members and their personal struggles. I have two cancer survivors on my team, one member has a brother who is homeless and on the street, one member was a single pregnant teen, another member has a special needs child, and many members who have lost loved ones to cancer. But the one mission that stands out for me this year was fulfilling a seven years old little boy’s last wish to ride on a firetruck. We met Joshy through our Kind Box program for children with cancer. With help from my friend, Linda Nguyen, from OC Drive and Mayor Steve Jones from the city of Garden Grove, we were able to fulfill Joshy’s last wish on his bucket list. Joshy was made honorary fireman and got to see his favorite superhero Batman come pick him up on a fire truck. Not one single dry eye at this event. We are sad to have lost Joshy a few weeks ago. He’s no longer suffering and is playing in heaven amongst all the angels.

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