Flowers and Kindness Can Cure Almost Anything

It’s been six months since the moving truck pulled out of my driveway in north Fargo and made the 16-hour trek to Athens, Ohio.

Six months. That seems like such a long time. By all outward appearances, we are settled into our new life: my husband’s face is on posters all over town announcing the basketball schedule; my kids have play dates and cross-country practice; I go out for coffee with friends and volunteer at the elementary school; I’ve even hosted a Bible study in my home.

Every box is unpacked, and the pictures are hung on the walls. My home looks like a home. I thought I had everyone fooled, but leave it to a 10-year-old to call you out on the facade.

The other night when I tucked my daughter, Jordan, into bed, she asked me a curious question. She said, “Mom, are you all right?” I told her that I was fine, just a little tired from the day and that it was time to get some sleep, but as I kissed her forehead, I knew that wasn’t what she was asking.

I strive to have the kind of relationship with my children where they are free to say what’s on their minds, so I reopened the can of worms the next morning.

“Jordan, about last night … what did you mean?”

She went on to say that she senses a difference in me. She said I don’t seem as happy and free and light as I was in Fargo. She said the last time she saw me like that was when my best friend from Fargo came to visit in August.

It was a punch to the gut. Tears started leaking from my eyeballs before I could tell them to stop.

As a mom, I think that if the dishes are clean, the laundry is put away and everyone has a note in their lunchbox when they head out the door, then no one will notice if I’m a little out of sorts.

I was in such a rush to unpack boxes and check things off my to-do list that I forgot how moving takes an emotional toll. Or maybe I thought if I just kept busy I wouldn’t have to feel it.

Here’s where the kindness comes in. After Jordan left for school that day, I texted my best friend from Fargo and told her what happened. I shared with her things I hadn’t shared with her or anyone else in a long, long time.

She reminded me that I’m still an important part of her tribe. She said, “You are the part of my tribe that makes me look differently at the world and the people in the world. I want to be a better person because of you.”

She reminded me that I’m still the same person I was even though I go to sleep in a different town and still get lost sometimes on my way to the grocery store. It felt so good to just let down the walls and be honest about what I was feeling.

When was the last time you’ve done that? Totally surrendered and admitted that you don’t have it all together? Our vulnerability is a great gift to others because it creates a safe space for them to be honest, too. That’s the space where kindness lives.

Later that afternoon, as I was sitting in my quiet house, the doorbell rang. Flowers. My girlfriend sent me flowers to remind me that friendship and kindness can cure anything – even homesickness.

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.

Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s Men’s Head Basketball Coach Saul Phillips. Her columns run every Saturday. You can also get a Daily Dose of Inspiration from Nicole at

Angels of Kindness Have One Thing in Common

Did you know angels drive big, black trucks and often tell people they’re from Jamestown? At least that’s the way they are described in a recent letter I received.

Actually, Angels of Kindness drive a lot of different vehicles and live in every town in America (and beyond). Some make a lot of money, some not so much. Some are old, some are young. Some are vibrant and in perfect health, others struggle with their own daily battles.

The one thing these Angels of Kindness have in common is the size of their hearts.

Have you ever seen “How the Grinch Stole Christmas?” When I was kid, I waited anxiously for the day when Whoville would come to life in my living room during its one airing each December on network TV. It debuted in 1966, it still runs every year, and I still watch it.

My kids now own the DVD of the newer Jim Carrey take on the Grinch. Either way, the point is the same. The Grinch went from a heart that was two sizes too small, to one that grew three sizes in one day.

“And what happened, then? Well, in Whoville they say – that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day. And then – the true meaning of Christmas came through, and the Grinch found the strength of TEN Grinches, plus two!” – “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” by Dr. Seuss

That’s kind of the way it is with Angels of Kindness. For some reason, their hearts are just bigger than average. And often, they seem to have the strength of ten angels plus two.

I got a letter from an 85-year-old man who explained how fortunate you feel when your path happens to intersect with one.

“I flew into the Fargo airport the other day and was not met by the person who had offered to pick me up. I waited about 15 minutes and was nearly ready to get into a cab and head home.

“That’s when I met two girls from Jamestown who were waiting to pick up friends. We started talking, and I was telling them my problem.

“My cellphone was dead, but the girls helped me get enough charge on my phone to find my friend’s number in my contacts and attempt to call him. Unfortunately, he didn’t answer.

“The people the Jamestown girls were waiting for arrived, but before they walked away, the girls asked where I lived. I told them I was in south Fargo, quite a ways south of I-94.

“They put my luggage in the back of their vehicle and took me home. This was really out of their way, but they insisted on driving me.

“What an act of kindness! I didn’t get their names to thank them, but the girls were driving the largest black pickup I had ever seen in my life. If anyone should recognize who they are, I sure hope they will congratulate them on what they did.”

There are no special qualifications or training required to become an official Angel of Kindness. You just have to be willing to show the size of your heart when someone in need crosses your path.

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND, 58107.

Choose Kindness Under Pressure

Do you want to know the problem with making kindness your mission in life? You actually have to be kind. All the time.

The other day, my husband and I were having problems communicating. Since it was more of a technology issue than a marital issue, we headed into the cellphone store to straighten it out.Saul’s not big into reading the fine print of contracts (or listening as others are explaining the fine print), so a few months prior, he had agreed to a cell plan that neither of us really wanted or needed. What can I say? The guy is really good with basketball stuff; he leaves the rest to me.

We marched into the store a bit out of sorts. We were both kind of mad about the situation but not quite sure on whom our fury should land.

We had planned to demand to speak to the manager, but it turned out we never had to. She greeted us at the door.

I try on a daily basis to swallow my darker emotions and choose kindness, but sometimes it’s hard. That said, instead of pointing fingers at this manager or any of her employees, I just tried desperately to explain our conundrum in the hopes she could make it all better.

She did.

As we were finishing the final paperwork, she looked at me and said, “So, what do you do?”

“I’m a writer,” I said.

“Oh! What do you write?”

And this is when I was so thankful I had chosen not to enter the store on the attack.

“Um. I write about kindness.”

She asked where she could read my column, so I gave her the website. Not only did she read it, she actually sent me a story that reminded me why it’s important to treat everyone we meet tenderly. Because when we’re done with our “day job,” we each still have to deal with the joys and sorrows of real life.

Here’s Valerie’s letter:

“I was really touched by your recent column.

“My grandmother is not doing well. Recently, while in the emergency room, a man came around and was picking up the trash in each room. I smiled at the man and asked him how his day was going. We made small talk about the work day and when he started to leave, I told him to have a good evening. He thanked me.

“About an hour later, I noticed the man passing by the room again. He came back into our room and told me that out of 18 rooms, I was the only person who spoke to him. He said I didn’t just talk to him, but I smiled at him and asked him how he was doing. He thanked me again and said, ‘God bless.’

“I wanted to jump out of my seat because I saw kindness displayed and just felt good. Have we as a society became so consumed with ourselves that we can’t even say hello to a man who is working to change our trash cans? I hope not and promise to continue to display acts of kindness!”

Valerie, thank you so much for sharing your story. That “jump out of my seat” feeling is exactly the reason I started writing this column three years ago.

Thank you, also, for helping this husband-wife team improve our communication!

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND, 58107.

Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s Men’s Head Basketball Coach Saul Phillips. Her columns run every Saturday. You can also get a Daily Dose of Inspiration from Nicole at

Overwhelming Kindness Requires No Thank You

I had a friend once whose little boy was diagnosed with cancer. During that dark journey, the family was forced to rely on community support in almost every aspect of their lives. Medical bills, car payments, child care and homework delivery were all handled by a team of people who just wanted to help.

I watched that little boy slowly deteriorate and then gradually regain his life, but what I remember most is one particular conversation with his mom.

She told me she felt guilty over the outpouring of kindness because she worried she could never repay all of those people. She said even the thought of expressing her thanks to that many people was exhausting.

I got a letter from a woman named Marilyn Ouart who can probably relate to my friend’s feelings of being overwhelmed by kindness. Life got unexpectedly hard for Marilyn several years ago, but the amount of kindness she has seen since then continues to lift her up and give her family strength.

“In January 2008 my husband, Rusty, was deployed to Iraq. In May of that year, he was injured from an incoming mortar to his fob (barracks). He was thrown, hit with shrapnel and suffered a traumatic brain injury.

“Rusty cleaned himself up and continued suffering with headaches, vomiting, confusion and bloody noses. A month later, he passed out in the Humvee, and when he came to, he was throwing up and had trouble speaking. It was thought he had a stroke and was sent back to the U.S. After months at Fort Lewis, WA, Rusty returned home in January 2009.

“Once home, Rusty traveled to New Orleans for Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatments, spending two months each time.

“This was not covered by his health insurance, but with the help of our community hosting a fundraiser, it was made possible. Rusty continues to have many health issues related to his injury, such as headaches, vertigo, vomiting and cognitive thinking, but thanks to those treatments, my husband can walk and talk again.

“I continue to be thankful to those who help when possible and to those who remember our soldiers and their families.

“This letter was hard to write because it’s difficult to name all of the people and businesses who have shown us kindness: The dentist who gives us discounted services, the pool people who exchanged our pool for a better one, the multitude who came through when lightning struck our home in July 2010 and we lost everything in a house fire.

“There have been so many angels of kindness to our family in this community, but I’d like to tell you about the most recent.

“A few weeks ago, our riding lawn mower had steering problems, so I took it to the dealer in Moorhead. I borrowed a trailer from my brother-in-law who helped me load it, and off I went to RDO to get it fixed. When I got the quote of the price to fix it, I struggled with how to make this work on our budget but ended up giving the OK. I have teenage boys who mow lawns in the summer, so getting it fixed was important to them.

“When I went to pick up the lawn mower, I was greeted by five friendly employees. They had sharpened the blades and fixed some additional problems with the mower. I proceeded to take out my checkbook but was told to put it away as this was a ‘no charge.’

“They told me to make sure to thank my husband for his service. It took all I had inside not to show my grateful emotions with tears. Again, we thank the community of Fargo-Moorhead for its unending generosity and kindness.”

Marilyn, thank you for sharing your story and allowing others to experience the gift that comes from helping others.

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.

Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s Men’s Head Basketball Coach Saul Phillips. Her columns run every Saturday. You can also get a Daily Dose of Inspiration from Nicole at

One Special Friend is Enough for Kindness

Have you ever felt like everyone was in on a joke except you?

I’m not sure if I should feel angry or sad, but deep in my heart, I’m feeling a strange combination of dark emotions that are all jumbled together and desperately striving to find the light.

And it’s all the result of a third-grade birthday party.

My son goes to school with a little girl whose momma is in prison. Through a course of odd events that I often seem to find myself in, I’ve become pretty close with this little girl. She is a bubbly, blond-haired wisp of a child, slight in stature but bold in personality. I thank God she’s so consistently upbeat and outspoken, because I think those are the traits that just might save her from being eaten up by this world.

When I found out my young friend was turning 9, I did what I do with all little girls whose mommas are in prison. I threw her a pizza party to celebrate her special day.

Birthday girl and I went to Walmart, where we found Monster High plates, cups and party favors. Then we came back to my house and sat at the kitchen table, where we carefully penned 10 Monster High invitations, one for every girl in her class. We filled zebra-print goody bags (24 of them so there would be enough if little brothers and sisters showed up). Her grandma ordered a huge Monster High cake, and we anxiously awaited Birthday Party Day.

The day of the party finally arrived. We ate pizza, played games, blew out birthday candles and opened presents. The hour and a half came and went before I realized something everyone else probably already knew: None of the kids were coming.

I thought it was odd that only one classmate returned an RSVP, but I brushed it off.

I couldn’t brush off the fact that only the third-grade teacher and Birthday Girl’s one best friend came to the party.

People are busy. I get that. But ALL of them? Every girl in the class, except one? I have a little trouble believing that.

I asked the teacher what I was missing. Clearly there was something going on that I didn’t know about.

As my heart started breaking, the teacher gently explained that perhaps the girls never even showed their parents the invite because they didn’t want to come to this particular party. She trailed off sadly with, “You know how it is …”

Oh God. Yes. I do know how it is.

I went home, took a warm bath and cried. I cried for so many reasons, but mainly I cried because I saw so much of myself in that outcast little girl.

And then, as my husband sat snuggling me in a fuzzy blanket, I remembered something else the teacher said to me.

She said, “You don’t need a lot of friends in this world. Just one.”

That’s right. That’s when kindness truly shines its brightest. When the world seems dark and then you have that one true friend who shows up to your birthday party, and all of sudden, you couldn’t care less if anyone else in the world even existed.

I pray that we can all teach our kids to be kind to the outcasts, but until that day comes, I pray that we each have one special person in our lives who shows us great kindness when we need it most.

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.

Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s Men’s Head Basketball Coach Saul Phillips. Her columns run every Saturday. You can also get a Daily Dose of Inspiration from Nicole at

Sometimes Kindness Means Extending the Olive Branch

I am the youngest of 50 cousins on my dad’s side of the family. I have several hundred second-cousins, but please don’t ask me to name more than 10 of them.

The last family reunion was held at a park in Wisconsin and was a bit of a community event. It’s always hard to tell who is really part of the family and who just showed up because they smelled the grill. Throw on a name tag. We’ll feed you.

I’m a little embarrassed to say that I recently realized my dad has a brother I never even knew existed.

My dad, being the second-youngest of 11 children, has seen too many of his siblings pass away. He is in his 70s, and I think he really longs for both connection and reconciliation at this point in his life.

I’ve written before about the role kindness plays in serendipitous events. Well, three times over the course of just a few weeks in three very unusual places, my dad happened to be talking to people who took notice of his last name.

One was at a bait-and-tackle shop. One was at an eye doctor, and one was while he was just out taking a walk.

All three times, the people said, “Locy?” (It’s the opposite of high tide, pronounce it like low-sea) “Locy? Do you know Wayne Locy?”

“That’s my brother!” my dad replied. Through those three conversations, my dad learned about his brother’s health, children and general well-being.

During the third conversation, my dad found out his brother has a daughter who is an electrician. It just so happened my dad needed an electrician, so he called her up.

The day Wayne’s daughter was supposed to show up at my dad’s house to do some electrical work, she brought along a surprise.

Her dad.

My dad was shocked but so incredibly grateful to get a chance to sit and visit again with his long-lost brother. He said it was an amazing reunion.

I asked my dad whatever happened between him and Wayne, why they had a falling out in the first place. His answer was heart-breaking. He said, “I don’t know. They stopped showing up to things we invited them to, so we stopped inviting them.”

That was it.

No major argument or disturbance. Just two people on two different sides of the fence who both probably got a little offended once by something someone did and didn’t even mean to do and then they just slowly stopped talking. Forever.

Uff da. It knocks the wind right out of me.

Let me ask you this: How easily are you offended? How difficult would it be to pick up the olive branch and extend it, even if it meant you had to apologize for something you didn’t even do? What sort of love and light would it let into your life if you took the risk?

Sometimes being kind means turning the other cheek, picking up the phone, and simply calling the right electrician.

You can wait for a string of serendipitous events, or you can create them on your own with kindness.

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.

Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s Men’s Head Basketball Coach Saul Phillips. Her columns run every Saturday. You can also get a Daily Dose of Inspiration from Nicole at

Couple Shows Kindness Through Fruits of Labor

There has been a big white garbage bag sitting on our back porch for about three weeks.

 My sweet daughter, Jordan, planted a garden this spring, lovingly tended it all summer, beamed with pride when we used her homegrown carrots in a pot roast, and then painstakingly pulled all the left-over vines, leaves and roots when the weather turned cool.

She was careful to place everything in the garbage bag, as part of her bittersweet goodbye to summer.

And then in her beautiful 10-year-old way, she decided she was done.

I have a different opinion, so the bag is still sitting there and will be until she decides that the harvest isn’t complete until the bag is in the trash bin.

Growing, tending and releasing a garden is hard. So is growing, tending and releasing a child.

Jordan didn’t grow broccoli, cucumber, carrots and cantaloupe for her love of fruits and vegetables. She did it for me. She positively beamed each time she got to present me with another fruit of her labor. She felt the joy that comes with an act of kindness that is a long time in the making.

Curt and Ardyth Steele of Mapleton, N.D., seem to understand that sometimes an act of kindness can be done quickly and sometimes it takes months and months to grow.

Curt has a tradition of handing out mint candy to whomever he visits with after church. From little children to the elderly, it’s a quick act of kindness to sweeten someone’s day.

But the Steeles are better known around Martin’s Lutheran Church in Casselton for their garden. The couple plants a huge garden behind their home with the main purpose of providing canned goods and produce for others.

One woman wrote to tell me how much she and another widow from the church appreciate the box they receive every fall from the Steeles. It contains salsa, pickles, spaghetti sauce, pickled beets and other homemade treats.

This is not an act of kindness that happens overnight. The Steeles spend months and months planting, weeding, picking and preserving, all for the sole pleasure of providing a special gift to others. They fill about 800 jars a year.

“It’s just really a good feeling.” Ardyth tells me. “People say ‘Why don’t you sell it?’ and we say, ‘Because it would be a job then.’ It’s more fun to give it away and know that people are appreciative and can use it.”

The Martin’s Lutheran Church annual fall dinner, bazaar and bake sale is coming up on Sunday. The Steeles have spent countless hours preparing bread-and-butter pickles and many other goodies to help raise funds for their church. The event is open to the public, runs from 10:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. and is held at the church, 602 2nd St. N.

If you go, please say hello to the Steeles for me. It’s not every day you get to meet someone who is literally known for the fruits (and vegetables) of their labor.

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.

Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s Men’s Head Basketball Coach Saul Phillips. Her columns run every Saturday. You can also get a Daily Dose of Inspiration from Nicole at

Start Seeing Light in the World Instead of Darkness

Have you ever noticed that when you get something stuck in your mind you start seeing it everywhere?

When I gave up drinking, every billboard I drove past for at least a month was advertising some sort of alcoholic beverage.When Saul and I started thinking about getting a security system for the new house, it seemed like we had a non-stop loop of ADT commercials on our television and every story on the news was about a home burglary.

Life seems to work like that. Whatever we focus on becomes bigger.

So today I’d like to ask you, what are you looking at?

Is it ISIS, domestic violence, human trafficking, poverty, hunger or just plain evil in general?

Or is it love? And kindness? And beauty amid the troubles surrounding us?

If your mind is on the decay of our society, you will notice that our society is decaying. If your mind is trained to zero in on the tiny acts of kindness lighting up a very dark world, you will notice the light.

I use the word “trained” because that’s how it worked for me. I’ve been writing this column for three years. When I began, I had to intentionally look for acts of kindness (and then pounce on the people involved) so I had something to write about each Saturday.

Very quickly, my mind became “trained” to notice people holding open doors, speaking kindly in contentious situations and going out of their way to help wherever it was needed.

Then I took the next step. When I wasn’t seeing kindness, I created it, and kindness became the key that unlocked forgiveness, passion and healing in my life. I believe it continues to keep me healthy, which is why it’s so important to me to keep it at the forefront of my mind.

As much as I focus on kindness, I’m starting to notice a disappointing trend. People around me are becoming scared and discouraged. They seem to feel the darkness closing in around them and are thinking that the little they can do for others will never be enough.

I don’t see it that way. When I close my eyes, I see all of the people on Earth standing and staring at the sky. Only they aren’t looking at the real sky, they are looking at a huge black tarp blocking out the light. Each time someone does an act of kindness, a tiny pin-sized hole is poked into that big, black tarp, allowing in a speck of light.

Someone notices the light and does another act of kindness, creating yet another little hole. Someone sees that new light, realizes what is happening and starts creating more little openings for light through their own acts of kindness.

I see my job, through writing this column, as pushing my fingernails through those pin-sized holes and ripping them open with all of my might. I want to allow in as much light as possible, by drawing attention to the acts of kindness being done.

That’s why I love it when people share with me the kindness they see around them, because it gives me the chance to rip open that tiny dot of light and share it with many more people.

Little by little, we will light up the whole sky with kindness, and it will be impossible to deny all the warmth and beauty shining down on us.

But the question remains, as you stand there, looking up at that big black tarp, what do you see? Darkness? Or light? Your focus makes all the difference.

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND, 58107.

Kindness Makes World of Difference to Newcomer

Have you ever had a life experience in which you thought to yourself, “If I can just live through this, it’ll all be OK?”

I have had several, and I’m a little embarrassed to say they weren’t caused by the bad things in my life. They were caused by the good things. Those moments of acute anxiety were caused by things I actually wanted. It’s like wanting to be in the pool, but freaking out when the water gets waist-level because it is so excruciatingly cold. You know once you’re submerged you’ll be fine, but getting there is going to be a battle.One of my “If I can only live through this …” moments was my first day on the job as a television traffic reporter in Milwaukee. I was 22 years old, and I truly thought I was going to have heart-failure when that TV camera light flashed “ON.” Once I made it through that first show, I was hooked, but boy was it a scary start.

Another of my “If I can only live through this…” moments happened my junior year of college when I was studying in the south of France. Actually, it wasn’t just one moment. It was an entire year of moments.

I went to France full of fanciful ideas of how I would wear skinny jeans and berets, sip espressos at outdoor cafes and speak fluently with all of my new French friends.

The reality was that I stuck out like a sore thumb in a beret, coffees at cafes were too expensive to drink more than once a month, and I could barely speak enough French to order a croissant.

I was lonely, poor and lost. What I would have given for someone to take me under a wing and help me feel at home.

I did meet someone at a park once who smiled sweetly and spoke slowly, but then he followed me back to my dorm and I had to call security.

Living through the experiences of that year away has given me new eyes for people who are out of their element. It has taught me to be especially kind to those who are finding their way in our country.

David Buchanan of Fargo sent me this story about a colleague who went out of his way to welcome a newcomer.

“One of our North Dakota ag producers was on a flight into Fargo from Chicago last month and was sitting with a young woman who turned out to be a student from Germany coming to North Dakota State University for the first time.

“The flight was delayed, so she was concerned that the NDSU people who were to meet her would not stay at the airport until the flight arrived. He assured her that he had a car and would be happy to take her to the campus if need be.

“When the flight arrived, he saw that the NDSU people were still there, so he watched to make certain that everything was OK for her, said goodbye and turned to leave. The young woman ran after him to give him a hug and ask for his contact information.

“The next day she called him to ask if he could serve as her emergency contact. This was required for her to complete her registration. He asked for her family contact information so that, in the event that he did need to serve as her emergency contact, he could contact her family.

“She then asked him if she could come out to his farm to visit him and his wife sometime.

“A simple airplane conversation and an offer to deliver her from the airport to NDSU turned into an excellent first impression for a foreign student coming to the United States.”

I have no doubt the young woman in this story will still have moments this year in which she will say to herself, “If I can only live through this …” but perhaps because of the kindness of a stranger they will be far fewer than one might expect.

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, N.D. 58107.

Kindness Paves Road to Miss America

Seventeen years ago this very weekend, I competed in the Miss America pageant representing my home state of Wisconsin.

When the pageant was over, I came home with an interview award, $10,000 in scholarship money and a whole bunch of sparkly earrings (some of which are still in my jewelry box).

When people ask how I did, I like to tell them I won 11th place. In my day, they only announced the top 10 finalists, so I feel I can safely assume I must have been 11th.

The thing about Miss America is that you only get one shot. Once you’ve been on that stage, you can never compete again. You have to give it all you’ve got, which is hard when you have no idea what the playing field even looks like in real life.

I had never been to Atlantic City, N.J., until I showed up for the pageant, so I had to rely on my committee and trust they would prepare me for the unknown.

I remember staring blankly at my traveling companion who was on her knees on her living room floor laying out every outfit I would wear for two whole weeks, complete with underwear, jewelry and shoes. Then she started labeling everything “Miss Wis.” It wasn’t until I was in a dressing room with 49 other contestants that I realized this was not her first rodeo. I’m certain her kindness and great attention to detail is the only reason you couldn’t see my undies on national television.

Of course, the Miss America program is about so much more than hair, clothes and nails. It’s about giving young women at every level of competition the chance to speak about an issue that has become their personal ministry.

Mine was “Overcoming Crisis.” I spent the year talking with kids about what to do when life rolls over you with those big, turbulent messes like divorce, death and moving. I can’t promise I changed the world, but I still have letters from several high school kids telling me I changed their lives.

I know I wouldn’t have been in that position if it hadn’t been for all of the people lifting me up and acting as my personal cheerleaders for that one magical year.

Now it’s someone else’s turn. Jacky Arness is our current Miss North Dakota. On Sunday night, she will step out on that Miss America stage for the final night of competition. This Fargo girl will give it all she’s got, and if she wins, you’ll hear me screaming all the way from Ohio. But even if she doesn’t, she’ll come home and continue to change her part of the world, one life at a time through her platform of empowerment.

I know Jacky is feeling the same support and love I felt 17 years ago, and so is her mom, Amy, who wrote me this letter about the kindness that is surrounding their family:

“Just when Jacky is feeling fatigued, discouraged, like she can never accomplish enough, or be prepared enough, we will receive something from a friend or even a brand-new acquaintance.

“We’ve gotten messages of encouragement and overwhelming offers of generosity, including a year of massage services, a year-long lease on a car, nutritional supplements, personal training, dietician expertise, a restaurant willing to host a fundraiser, a theater willing to donate space for a send-off party, a private plane ride to Williston to be at an important state-wide event, gas cards for travel and restaurant meals.

“It all helps defray the many costs of preparing a girl to be on a somewhat level playing field with these other ‘pageant’ states that get huge amounts of support.

“There are moments when I as a mom feel I need to be 10 people in order to provide the assistance needed, and then something will happen that will cause me to pause, get choked up, and sometimes literally have to sit down on the ground right where I am because I am so overwhelmed with gratitude!”

I remember feeling that way, too, Amy. Thank you for sharing.

These days I watch the pageant from the sidelines (aka my living room couch), while eating ice cream, but reading Amy’s words and thinking about the emotions her daughter must be feeling right now bring me back to my own year as Miss Wisconsin. It was a special time filled with special people and more kindness than a person could ever imagine.

Cheer on Miss North Dakota as the Miss America Pageant is broadcast live on ABC. The pre-show starts at 7 p.m., and the final competition starts at 8.

I need kindness stories! Please share your stories of kindness with me or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.