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April 21, 2014

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Random Acts — Paying it forward

Charity seeks to make lives better with a perfect storm of kindness

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Editor’s note: This story and related content first appeared at lasvegasmagazine.com. Click here to see the full package of stories.

For 14 kids belonging to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Las Vegas, this year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race became something they’ll share for the rest of their lives. It’s not every day a child gets to walk around the track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in front of roaring crowds, watch the race from the stands while wearing headsets that broadcast the drivers’ verbal communication and get up close and personal with pit crews. But that’s what happened as a result of the actions of Random Acts, an organization founded by Misha Collins, one of the stars of television series Supernatural, and fostered by altruistic supporters around the world who propagate the pay-it-forward philosophy.

For Cinde Monsam, director of Random Acts, the path to getting involved was somewhat random itself. “My daughters and I started watching Supernatural and actually came in as [Collins’] Castiel character was becoming more of a regular on the show. I thought it was witty and funny and well-written,” says Monsam by phone from her North Carolina home. While the show was a hit with her daughters demographic, it also made reference to films she knew such as Poltergeist and used ’70s rock music in its soundtrack. “We kind of got hooked.”

She and her daughters had become casual fans of Supernatural not long before Monsam began a study of Twitter whose ultimate focus was inspired by a debate over whether Jensen Ackles, who plays primary series character Dean Winchester, maintained his own Twitter account. For her Twitter study, she began following four actors from the series. “My research was going to be from a business perspective, but changed to that of the perspectives of four people who have similar jobs, different interests and use Twitter,” says Monsam. It turned out Ackles didn’t have a Twitter account, but Collins did. “Misha was just a little off the wall. Stuff just came out of left field, and either made you laugh or made you think, or made you raise an eyebrow.”

One tweet that got her attention announced that Random Acts was looking for a director. Monsam was attracted to the model for the charity. “There are so many people that need assistance in this world; you can’t deny that,” she says. “There are people that could use other’s help all the time. What this charity basically says is every individual walking on this planet can be impactful to someone else, can pay attention and recognize that there are people that need a kind word, or simply recognition that they’re struggling, and that each individual can participate in kindness toward another. You don’t have to do anything spectacular. You don’t have to buy anything. It doesn’t require a donation.”

By December 2011, Monsam was director of an organization that had no office or base of operations. It did have volunteers around the globe, and it did have Collins. A company named Creation Entertainment hosts official Supernatural conventions across the country and the dedicated fan base that attends helped get Castiel promoted from reoccurring character to regular cast member. They have referred to Collins as “Overlord” on social media, and he has returned the affection by referring to them as “Minions.”

Sometimes a perfect storm of kindness is the result of Collins’ convention appearances coinciding with Random Acts events, such as this year’s March 10 Annual Melee of Kindness [AMOK], which in turn coincides with an event such as the Kobalt Tools 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race in Las Vegas. “We started at 7 in the morning at Boys and Girls club,” says Monsam of the day at the Speedway. “Many of the kids were shy and took a little while to warm up to us. We asked them to show us the club and what they do there; that really helped. Most of these kids’ homes are led by single parents working more than one job. The opportunity to attend a NASCAR event doesn’t even hit their radar,” but Monsam says the excitement hit them once they got on the bus and began “chatting up a storm.” Collins bonded with the kids, the young NASCAR experts in the group revealed themselves and Monsam met one young man whose story about how the Boys and Girls Clubs affected his life positively melted her heart.

Once at the track, the kids were called to the stage introduced and then allowed to lead the walk carrying the Random Acts banner around the track. “They carried the banner whole way,” says Monsam. “The part that really touched me is you want to open them up to all the possibilities in the world. You want to show them all you can show them, and say you can do any of this if you want to – these are kids who aren’t exposed to as many of the possibilities as other kids. I never wanted the experience to end.”

Or course, AMOK is a global event, with people performing good deeds around the world. One group delivered pet food to needy families who were only able to get help from other sources for their human members. Others held neighborhood book collections, made treats for animal shelters, handed out encouraging cards to strangers, scattered coins for people to find and brought cheer to hospitals. Random Acts also sponsors events like Endure4Kindness, where people engage in an activity for 24 hours while donations are pledged. It also holds the Semi-Annual Awards for Random Acts, which among many of the winners in 2012 recognized medical students in the United Arab Emirates. They raised funds in their hospital to purchase a motorcycle for a local children’s teacher they’d heard of, who relied only on voluntary donations to teach families in two towns. Prior to their good deed, he commuted by bicycle in harsh weather, unable to afford better transportation. The SAARA award not only acknowledges the winners’ acts of kindness, but also rewards them with a donation to a charity of their choosing.

Random Acts has cultivated a relationship with local people who endured the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. The first year Random Acts shipped money and tools for a school that taught construction, and in 2011, Collins and a contingent of Random Acts supporters went to Haiti for the first time to help out at places like the Jacmel Children’s Center. “We are planning for this to be our last officially sanctioned, organized trip to Haiti,” says Monsam, who has been to the impoverished Caribbean country twice. “It doesn’t mean that our volunteers won’t continue to support the programs or there won’t be trips to Haiti, it’s just we’re not planning on them being organized through Random Acts because the Jacmel Children’s Center’s construction will be completed.”

Random Acts’ work is far from being completed, though. “We facilitate acts of kindness, and we perform them ourselves,” says Monsam. “We can help people with ideas, help get them connected to nonprofits in their area that are doing work similar to what they want to do, and we can fund acts. If you want to perform an act of kindness for another person or group, you submit an idea to us that says ‘This is what I’d like to do.’ You give us a budget that says ‘This is how much I think it’s going to cost.’ After reviewing and accepting it, we send you money, you perform your act, you send us back evidence that the act was completed. We have a tier system starting at the lower end, so the next time if you want to do a bigger act we have another higher tier. That’s how it works for volunteers across the globe, so anyone can get involved with our support helping and funding, to back them.

“Every human being has a hope or a dream,” she continues. “And our organization wants to tell people to just go for it. There are people here that care whether you make it or not. We are your cheerleading squad. Your personal, absolutely 100-percent-behind-you cheerleading squad. Well, as long as you’re playing for Random Acts’ team conquering with kindness… of course.”

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