Sometimes, all it takes is a small act of kindness to brighten someone's day. Saying "How are you?" to the cashier at the checkout line, giving a stranger a friendly smile, or saying a simple "thank you" - these gestures may not seem like much, but they can make a world of difference to the person on the receiving end. Perhaps nobody knows this better than Hasan Hai.
Over the past year, the St. John's resident and single dad of three has become well known for his big heart (and big beard), and for going above and beyond to help make Newfoundland and Labrador a better, kinder place. It's a role that Hasan's proud to play. However, he admits, he wasn't always happy with who he was as a person.
Four years ago, Hasan was moving from Clarenville, NL to Regina, SK for work when he decided to stop and visit his parents in Ottawa, ON, where he grew up. It was there that he had a revelation.
“For many years, I don’t think I was ever a bad person, but I wasn’t really concerned about people around me. I just kind of did my thing, did my job, went home and just clocked in, clocked out,” he says.
“I started kind of reassessing what was important to me and what kind of lessons I wanted to impart on my kids and what kind of person I wanted to be…I looked in the mirror, and I didn’t recognize the person that was looking back at me…and I was just thinking that if I don’t like the person looking back at me, I have full control and I can change that reflection.”
He began by doing outreach work and getting involved with community events and pay-it-forward initiatives. However, his next visit to Ottawa, in the summer of 2014, marked another turning point.
Hasan and his children were at a crosswalk when they came across a man holding a sign. Hasan’s young son stopped to read it, but Hasan shooed him along. The sign noted the man was “hungry, homeless or something to that effect,” Hasan says. He can’t quite recall - but he does remember how the incident made him feel.
“[My son] just didn’t understand. He’s like, ‘Why can’t I stay and talk to this man?’…but there was no reason why either my son or I couldn’t have at least said hello or smiled or just recognized that man. Even if I had nothing to give him, I could’ve given my time or attention,” Hasan says.
“And that moment still haunts me - or it inspired me a little bit.”
A Helping Hand
That inspiration followed him back to Newfoundland, where Hasan returned last summer - moving to St. John’s. Wanting to make a difference in his new community, a place where he hardly knew anyone, he visited the St. John’s & Area Classifieds Facebook page and posted ads for several weeks, saying he was willing to donate his time to help others (taking a cue from a video he’d seen online of a man from the UK who’d done something similar).
“I gave some examples - if you need your dogs walked, if you need housework done, if you need yard work done, if you have someone in your family who’s maybe an isolated senior and needs a visit. If you have something that’s not illegal or weird, and you need some help with it, I’d be happy to do it,” Hasan laughs.
One person took him up on the offer - a woman who’d reached out on behalf of a friend who had arthritis and couldn’t do her yard work. Hasan and his daughter went out and spent several hours raking her lawn.
Eventually, Thanksgiving rolled around and Hasan decided to try his hand at making Jiggs’ dinner for the first time.
“I recalled having lived in Regina, being away from my family, and how lonely the holidays were…so again I went to the [Classifieds] group and I put up an ad saying if anyone doesn’t have a place to go, if they don’t mind the company of some strangers, having a laugh and a good meal, you’re welcome to join my kids and I at our table,” Hasan says.
Aside from the two families who accepted, several others said they couldn’t make it, so Hasan and co. got to work preparing more food to distribute.
“There were about a dozen plates of food that we gave out and we made a bunch of new friends. The day after Thanksgiving I thought, ‘I’m going to do this on an ongoing basis,’” he says. And so Project Kindness was born.
A Wave of Kindness
Project Kindness isn’t exactly a group, Hasan explains, but more of a concept that’s all about spreading acts of kindness and charity to help build better, stronger communities. Last Christmas, for example, Hasan and about 20 volunteers distributed 500 “thank-you kits,” containing a candy cane, hot chocolate packet and a note of appreciation, to retail staff at various stores throughout the city. Hasan also visited local businesses and posed as the “Dark Elf on the Shelf” in exchange for donations to the Community Food Sharing Association (something which he plans to do again this year).
“It’s a fun, silly thing and people lost their minds over how ridiculous it was. People still recognize me as the ‘Elf on the Shelf’ guy,” Hasan laughs.
Project Kindness has also partnered with other organizations, like the Single Parent Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, to collect shoeboxes of small gifts for children. They’ve also teamed up with local businesses such as Jack Axes and St. John’s Beer Tours to do fundraisers for the Gathering Place, Planned Parenthood and the Association for New Canadians. Through another of his initiatives, the NL Beard and Moustache Club, Hasan is helping put together a calendar featuring local “mermen” with proceeds going toward Spirit Horse in Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s, which provides therapeutic interactions with horses to enhance mental health and life skills.
Currently, Hasan says, he’s looking at shifting the focus of Project Kindness to be less about projects he initiates, and more about helping others realize their own ideas. There are many people out there, he says, who’d like to make a difference in their communities, but just don’t know where to start.
“I’m a big believer that there’s an incredible amount of untapped potential in every person,” Hasan says.
“I’m just a regular guy. And there’s a lot of regular people out there who can do a lot of great things that they don’t realize they can do, until they try.”
Hasan says start with what you can do, even if it’s just a little. A kind action, no matter how small, can cause a ripple effect.
“We live in visibly dark times. The world, at a glance - it’s not a great place some days. The news is usually terrible. And these are not just fluff stories, but it’s a matter of real people saying ‘I want to influence the world, and I want to be part of that change and be better than the news we’re hearing,’” Hasan says.
“If you don’t like what the news [is], make some news of your own, do good things in the world. And I think people have really connected with that.” - By Linda Browne
Learn more about Project Kindness at Facebook.com/projectkindnessNL.