‘Tour of Kindness’ visits Spink County schools
By Shiloh Appel
The Tour of Kindness visited Redfield, Doland and Mellette this month. Started by Justine Kougl, of Busby, Montana, the Tour of Kindness was birthed three years ago out of a desire to see a change in environments where teasing and bullying are common place.
“We started it initially because Quinn, my youngest daughter, was born with Treacher Collins Syndrome and we had been asked several times to go and visit with local schools in classrooms that had read the book ‘Wonder’ or were struggling with acceptance of differences and just overall being nice,” said Kougl. “Then, back in 2018, I went to the New Underwood school, where George Seiler, who is now the superintendent at Redfield, was the superintendent at the time. He had asked if I could come. So Quinn and I went and basically did an assembly with the entire school. We didn’t have a routine or a powerpoint or a curriculum. It was basically open-ended questions. We talked about some of the things that had happened to us since Quinn had been born. What we had learned. Then the news got ahold of it. They came, did some interviews, and it really took off.”
Treacher Collins Syndrome is a condition that affects the development of bones and other tissues of the face and ears. ‘Wonder’ is a novel by R.J. Palacio that tells the story of a young boy with Treacher Collins Syndrome. It is a story that Quinn’s family can relate to. Through the “Tour of Kindness,” Kougl said she hopes to spread the message of empathy.
“This was a story that a lot of people could relate to and it is a story that needed to be told and heard because it is one of the things that we are missing in today’s society. Acceptance. Especially acceptance of those with differences, whether it be a cultural difference or a physical difference, or different capabilities. With Quinn, she had hearing aids and a tracheotomy tube, G-tube. She was learning her language at the age of three. She could say ‘Moo’. She could say ‘Mom’. But she didn’t have a lot of verbiage, so she would use an iPod to communicate a lot,” said Kougl. “That is different for kids.”
Young Quinn passed away unexpectedly on December 17th, 2018. In shock and mourning, the Kougl family debated whether or not to continue with the “Tour of Kindness.”
“We had been speaking for a year and a half at that point,” said Kougl. “We had already put in for our 501c3 and I was really debating what we were going to do. After visiting with a lot of people, we decided that we would do the organization as a nonprofit and we would begin training other speakers. So that is what we are doing now. The goal is by 2028 to have a speaker in each state, speaking with the curriculum of the Tour of Kindness.”
In the basic elementary curriculum for the Tour of Kindness, Kougl talks about saying ‘hello’, to those who are different, using kind words, asking kind questions, and always being a friend.
“We are all different. Nobody is the same. No two people are the same. We don’t think the same. We all have different abilities. That is something I didn’t truly understand until Quinn was born,” said Kougl. “If I get a chance, I like to speak with the parents as well, because I have learned so much in four years. Since I was 30, when Quinn was born, life changed. We were now the family that was getting the looks. We were the family that was getting the whispers. It wasn’t, ‘oh, your kids are so beautiful,’ it was ‘what’s wrong with her? Does her mind work?’ Everyone has a heart. Everyone has feelings. We cannot forget that. And as a society, we do.”
Cougl said she also goes more in-depth with 6-12th grade students.
“I bring in some of those aspects like ‘what happens when you are the one that is used for a meme?’ ‘What happens when it is you that people are teasing and bullying on social media?’ We really have to think about each other and develop that empathy,” said Kougl.
Cougl said she has received many positive responses to the Tour of Kindness through their website, Instagram, letters, and social media messages.
“They will say, ’thank you for coming, our school needed this’, or ‘I needed this, because I was the one not being nice,’” said Kougl. “I love it when I get responses saying, ‘we’ve already noticed a difference.’ ‘A boy in my class, or a girl in my class was having a tough time…now people are reaching out.’ ‘We are using the tools that you are giving us.’ That is super rewarding.”
Along with touring, Kougl has been reaching out in many other ways and ‘giving back.’ On April 4th, Tour of Kindness is teaming up with Syd’s Wish out of Colstrip, Montana to put on a fundraiser with a live band, meal, silent auction and live auction. All funds raised will be donated throughout the year to families in need of medical supplies not covered through their insurance.
“Our family, three years ago, was one of the first recipients from the Syd’s Wish project,” said Kougl. “At that point, Tour of Kindness wasn’t even a thing quite yet. They sponsored half of Quinn’s hearing aide.”
The Tour of Kindness team also partners with the Lunch Box Project in South Dakota, which fills up lunch boxes for kids stuck in the hospital. They started a ‘Just-Keep-Pumping’ project as well, in which they put together cooler bags with tools that mothers would need while pumping in the NICU.
“We have a lot of projects like that that are inspired by other parents that have kids with special needs who have been through different things and see needs. So we just try and meet those,” said Kougl.
To book the Tour of Kindness, visit their website at www.tourofkindness.org, or contact Kougl through Facebook or Instagram.