Compassionate Initiatives

Compassionate Initiatives Grassroots Wisdom Book by Charter for Compassion

The Charter for Compassion has hundreds of compassionate initiatives.  We use the word initiatives because it implies that there is work starting on taking on projects that need attention.  For example, it could be a group in San Pedro, Mexico, who are helping to fix up homes and make them safer and more liveable.  It could be a group in Pune, India that is helping farmers learn new organic farming methods, or another team in St. Augustine, FL, the USA that is taking on the creation of a compassion walk through a park with local artists.

There is also a reason we use the word communities.  It is an all-encompassing word that implies a group of people living together in the same place. We have compassionate initiatives that are small villages, towns, and neighborhoods.  There are even mega-cities that are initiatives as well as countries like Australia and Botswana. In the U.S. and Canada, there are regions and townships that are working together to consider how they can spread compassion.

In this chapter of Grassroots Wisdom, we are sharing the good news of what some of our compassionate initiatives are doing or projects they have accomplished.  Just like all stories being shared in this book, they are yours for taking, adapting, recreating, and putting your own twist on them.  Some of them are enormous projects that can take years and others to accomplish and others are timely and require fast action.  The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter where in the world the project has occurred with some creativity and local fortitude it can be replicated in your own area.

Finally, there are community projects in other chapters that can also make their way into your local communities.  Grassroots Wisdom is a book that intends on growing so come back often for ideas.

Index for Compassionate Initiatives

Page 1 - Thursday Night Community Dinners - Nelsonville, OH, USA

Page 2 - 10,436 Expressions of Compassion - Appleton and La Crosse, WI, USA

Page 3 - CompassionCon Festival - Atlanta, GA, USA

Page 4 - Community to the Rescue - Minneapolis, MN, USA

Page 5 - Human Library Project - Charter for Compassion Australia

Page 6 - Libraries of Things - Grosse Pointe, MI

Page 7 - Sikh Volunteers Australia

Page 8 - Watermelons with a Wonderful History

Page 9 - Rethinking Community Engagement in Northern Ireland


Thursday Night Community Dinners - Nelsonville, Ohio, USA

Charter for compassion

There is plenty to do, for each one of us, working on our own hearts, changing our own attitudes, in our own neighborhoods. ~Dorothy Day

Nelsonville, Ohio is a small town nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in southwestern Ohio, USA. There are less than 6,000 residents, which in some global cities might constitute a city block. The point of this story is not necessarily the location, the size of the town or the fact that many folks here love listening to country music. It is the undeniable fact that Nelsonville runs on heart energy. A few years back one of the residents, Dottie Fromal, inspired by the spirit and actions of the founder of the Catholic Workers Movement, Dorothy Day, decided she would start a community dinner.  She enlisted the help of 12 students and together they prepared a basic spaghetti dinner for the community. Word of the dinner spread. Dottie felt it was important that kids should sit down to have a meal with others once a week. The first Thursday about 25 kids came. The second week, the number more than doubled, and, soon it tripled, and before you knew it, kids were bringing parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Thursday nights grew to 350 people. Dinners included people sharing things for which they were thankful: a new tire, good grades, and one grandma announced how grateful she was to have received a new pair of dentures. The dinners started before COVID and continued during the pandemic as meals were carefully prepared and delivered to people's homes.

Something started to happen in Nelsonville with these dinners. People were more generous and kinder to one another. They learned they liked to sing together after dinner. Sometimes the sheriff would drop by and found himself answering important questions, the governor heard about Nelsonville’s Thursday night dinners and dropped by a few times, helped serve food and even mopped up the floor once.

As the dinners grew more people got involved in providing space, and offered to help pay for the groceries when they saw Dottie in the supermarket picking up food for the next dinner. Thursday nights became times when people raised town issues and sought solutions. When the election board decided to change a polling location that was unreasonably far for most people, the Thursday night group walked the distance, recorded it, and showed their result to the Elections Board who moved the location to a more accessible place.

The moral of the story is that we can all learn a lesson from Nelsonville and become a little more like them. We can share meals, planned or impromptu, exchange books, bring a little something from your garden if you are lucky enough to have one. Remember it is not the location, you could be in a high rise building in Mumbai or in a row of town houses in the Netherlands. It's not the size of the number of people involved, or the type of music shared. It's not hard to be like Nelsonville. You just need one Dottie Fromal to get it started.


10,436 Expressions of Compassion - Appleton, WI, USA

What does the word compassion mean to you? If you had to draw a picture of it, could you? In Appleton a unique collaborative project is taking shape, challenging through the merger of the sciences, arts, and letters the ways in which we consider compassion and what it means to be human.

The inspiration behind the Appleton Compassion Project came about when Trout Museum of Art executive director Tim Riley saw a "Brain to Five" series presentation on the science of compassion by UW-Madison neuroscientist and Wisconsin Academy Fellow Dr. Richard Davidson. Supported in part by the Wisconsin Academy and hosted by the Appleton Education Foundation and UW-Madison's Waisman Center, Davidson's presentation highlighted research indicating those who exhibit compassionate behavior are generally happier people. What's more, Davidson's research shows that compassion can be learned—and practiced—as a skill. In this way, "a little more joy might be within everyone's reach," says Davidson.

Davidson's words sparked an idea in Riley, who envisioned a way to facilitate the understanding and perhaps enhance the practice of the rather complex emotion in a large and creative swathe of the community: children. In the fall of 2010 Riley and Jim Heiks, the visual arts coordinator for the Appleton Area School District began the ambitious Appleton Compassion Project by distributing six-by-six-inch art panels to all 10,436 Appleton Area School District (AASD) K-12 art students with an invitation to draw or paint their concept of compassion. Every student also was asked to write a brief statement about his or her work.

The science behind Davidson's research suggests that this sort of contemplation is good for our brains, contributing to better neuroplasticity, which is how brains grow. "Davidson's research on the brain—while admittedly a daunting subject to many of us—has shown that a scientific method is a useful tool in building an argument for compassion, too," says Riley.

In neighboring La Crosse, WI, the school district took on a similar Compassion Project with students creating over 6,000 tiles that eventually became a series of traveling exhibits.

Back in Appleton, Lawrence University art students took on the challenge of creating compassion by creating a dozen, newly cast, custom-made manhole covers for a local street. Now pedestrians in downtown Appleton can look at the sidewalk to remind them of compassion.

See Barbara Kaufmann's comprehensive article on the Compassion Project.


CompassionCon Festival - Atlanta, GA, USA

Atlanta CompassionCon is a Springtime three-day, multi-city event throughout Georgia, centering on the viral nature of compassion when communities prioritize common humanity and interdependence. CompassionCon develops awareness, education, and action around compassion for self, others, and the earth. The outdoor festival in the city’s Grant Park includes music and art, wellness activities, food trucks, a kids zone, and mobile health care units. Admission is free to the public.

Day 1 of the Festival: On your own - We invite you to honor your entire personhood by practicing self-compassion. We will have partner-hosted events throughout the city and online. Care for your mind through an awareness meditation. Listen to your body through an online yoga class. Walk a local labyrinth to hear your spirit.

Day 2 of the Festival: With us - We will come together for a fun festival outdoors in the park. There will be theater, partner booths, food trucks, activities for children, and story-telling time. This is a time for you to connect with organizations that center compassion in their work and with like-minded people who want more kindness in the world. This is how we build our interconnectedness as a community and amplify the voice of compassion throughout the city.

Day 3 of the Festival: On your own - We will show our compassion for the earth by connecting with nature. Our partners will distribute a list of hikes, parks, and nature trails in the area. You can plant a tree, volunteer with an organization, or visit a local park you have not visited before and share your experience with us on social media.

Learn more about CompassionCon and the work of Compassionate Atlanta here.


Community to the Rescue - Minneapolis, MN, USA

After being threatened with eviction, a retiree was able to buy the house she had rented for two decades after a quarter-million dollars were raised by the community on her behalf.

Known for having a heart of gold and a pair of green thumbs, Linda Taylor was a beloved neighbor in her Minneapolis community.

After arriving in the area 19 years ago as a volunteer to help the homeless and needy, she began renting a small house on 10th avenue and East 36th street in the Powderhorn Park district. There, the 70-year-old retiree became a “bright star” of the neighborhood.

It seemed though that bright star would be severely darkened, perhaps permanently, when her landlord decided to sell the property and gave her until the end of January to evict.

Word gets around tight communities, and after she told one neighbor, the greater part of Powderhorn rallied around her, striking a deal with the landlord that if he would give “Miss Linda” until the end of June, they would raise the money to buy the house.

There was no one-size-fits-all approach to the fundraising efforts. Inflation is at a 40-year high driven by previous monetary inflation reaching broader sectors of the economy, while gas just crossed a national average of $5.00 a gallon, yet even in such difficult times, folks were able to open hearts, minds, and wallets, to make the project a reality.


See additional sources at:

Good News Network


Human Library Project - Charter for Compassion Australia