Published: Sunday, October 21, 2012
Bob Votruba is racking up a million acts of kindness and summoning others to follow suit.
Inspired by the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, the Gates Mills resident initiated an effort four years ago that challenges himself and every person to set a goal of performing 1 million acts of kindness throughout their lifetime.
“I couldn’t wrap my head around how one individual could take 32 lives,” he said. “This time I said ‘I’m doing something about it.’ ”
On Monday he’ll continue his quest as he commences a 9,000-mile, year-long bike/bus ride around the perimeter of the U.S. titled “Ring Our Country with Kindness.”
The do-gooder, along with his considerate companion, a Boston Terrier named Bogart, will visit hundreds of schools to address bullying and adolescent suicide as well as honoring three students who were killed at Chardon High School on Feb. 27th, his 57th birthday.
“My mission on this ride has but one focus — to save kids’ lives,” he said. “A lot of the kids aren’t learning the core values. I think we’re just all so hurried in our lives. If you grow up with the goal of respecting one another there’s so much less of a chance you’re going to do what happened in Virginia Tech and Chardon.”
Refraining from preaching or talking about religion, Votruba simply said he was brought up in a home with very strong Christian values, wonderful role models and that he was “really loved all my life.”
During a recent interview he related the story of a young girl who seemed to be moved by a sign on his bike, which read “Someone needs you. Don’t end your life.” He approached her and during a lengthy conversation discovered that her friend had committed suicide.
Through tears, the girl told him she wished her friend had seen the sign.
Votruba said he was a “small potatoes” housing contractor before his mission of promoting kindness.
His passion for positivity has become a growing movement that has led to an invitation to speak at the White House as well as creating public service announcements for the Oprah Winfrey Network.
Throughout his travels he said he’s learned much about the social climate of the country.
“Kids are having to grow up in homes that are toxic,” he said. “I never knew that this existed to this amount. We get snapped backwards, and if we don’t have a strong foundation then that’s when we wonder ‘What is my worth?’ ”
On several cross-country treks he’s focused on various issues including domestic violence, childhood sexual abuse and the heroism of military, fire and police personnel.
He travels is a 1990 Blue Bird bus emblazoned with inspiring and encouraging messages like “You have such a big heart, share it with everyone.” Lately in need of several repairs that are completed with whatever donations come his way, the bus has just 84 square feet of living space and is without air conditioning or heat.
When at home, Votruba often delivers his message to area schools and has visited Millridge Elementary in the Mayfield School District several times.
Guidance Counselor Anita Davidson, who has worked for the district for 25 years, said the school has embraced his message by initiating “Kindness weeks” as well as creating a Kindness quilt and other projects.
“What (Votruba) does is really connect the dots and shows the relevance of kindness and showing respect for all,” Davidson said. “He’s really a wonderful man, and he’s made an impact on all of us.”
So how does one begin the journey toward a million acts of kindness?
Votruba says that finding a cause that inspires a passion and working for it is a good start.
Another is taking a new perspective on judging others.
“Instead of judging in a negative way we should all start judging with goodness,” he said. “When I see people I think ‘She’s probably a great cook for her kids’ or ‘I bet that man works very hard for his family.’ Judge with kindness of heart.”
For more information, visit www.millionactsofkindness.com.