Receive an envelope. Complete the challenge. Pass it on. These are the three steps that make The Benevolence Project possible.
Each month, 17 red envelopes containing unique challenges are passed anonymously to students and faculty. The challenges might include writing a professor a note of gratitude, leaving someone their favorite candy bar or asking the recipient to set a block of time in their day to care for themselves.
One of the inserts in the envelopes reads, “Kindness is always others-centered. That’s why the beauty of the benevolence project is anonymity. As you complete your tasks, savor the joy of extending kindness without expecting anything in return.”
Student Body Vice President, senior Anna Craig, said sometimes caring for one another well can easily be limited to intellectual exercise. While a community may have a rich theology of love and neighborliness, the everyday impact of small, ordinary acts of kindness can still be lost. This is where The Benevolence Project comes in.
“My hope is that people remember you don't have to be in a leadership position or do something big and extraordinary to affect someone else in a positive way,” Craig said. “Loving one another well is often very simple, and it just requires getting outside of yourself … especially with how hard this past year has been, it's been really difficult to remember that there's good too … It’s easy to point out the worst in each other. There are reasons to celebrate and be joyful.”
The idea for The Benevolence Project was born almost a year ago, just before the world went under lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Craig, a junior at the time, had a conversation with former Student Body President Anders Soderquist (‘20) and former Global Engagement President Stephanie Mithika (‘20) about how to foster more intentionality in interactions outside of their own circles.
They brainstormed the idea of passing around envelopes with challenges promoting simple acts of love, and the initial stages of the project were born.
Later, while standing in the Chick-Fil-A line, the word “benevolence” materialized in Craig’s mind. Benevolence is defined as the disposition to do good, the quality of being well-meaning and kindness. By the time Craig approached Soderquist with her vision for the project, Taylor students had to be sent home, so the project was delayed — but not forgotten.
Craig and Student Body President and senior Emmanuel Terrell launched the project in February with a different themed challenge for every month. Terrell said he hopes those who participate can take the directive of Mark 12:31 to “love your neighbor as yourself,” and use the envelopes as a way to manifest tangible change.
“The sum of our lives is not going to be in these huge extravagant moments, it’s the moments in between, and what are we doing to love one another well in those moments,” Terrell said. “I think in the same way faith without works is dead, the beauty of the abstract is actualized in everyday action.”