World Link’s first worldwide service project.
The Virtual Program
World Link has been helping Americans connect to the rest of the world through cultural exchange for the past twenty years. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the 2020-2021 program year to be completely virtual, the first time in those twenty years.
World Link wanted to build a virtual program that would give its’ virtual program students the same opportunities to gain new leadership skills and develop strong bonds with American families and friends as they would have had here in the U.S.
World Link has developed programming to give students this year the chance to connect with an American host family and share their experiences and lives with each other. Host families and their students have exchanged recipes, given tours of their homes and local areas, and even set New Year’s resolutions together!
World Link alumni have assisted in introducing the students to American peers with monthly discussions of interest taking place. In these discussions, students have learned about the American high school spirit, holiday-service and giving back, and diversity in the U.S. The newly founded World Link Global Ambassador’s Program will continue to build more one-on-one connections between World Link students and American youth.
Typically, during the first half of their exchange year, World Link students would have had the opportunity to give cultural presentations in their host communities during International Education Week and participated in holiday-service to experience America’s unique spirit of the season through giving back.
World Link did not want its’ virtual program students to miss out on these leadership activities. It took a bit of work and logistics, but World Link reconnected with host schools to beam a student right into the classroom for a live, cultural presentation. This idea was so successful, the World Link Speaker’s Bureau was born.
But how to give the students the experience of the U.S. holiday season, while still being at home? What is a uniquely American tradition that can bring joy around the world?
The Project’s Inspiration
World Link student Olga ’20 (Poland/CO) became known as ‘the cookie girl’ in her host community as she would regularly bake and share her Polish gingerbread cookies. This extra simple act of kindness she demonstrated at the events she volunteered at gave joy to all those she shared the cookies with.
Remembering her activity along with the fact that every international student is excited to try chocolate chip cookies in America, the idea of Kindness Cookies was born.
Kindness Cookies gave the students the opportunity to not only bake either these popular American cookies or their own favorite cookie/dessert recipe but to spread kindness through sharing them with those in need.
By sharing these cookies and seeing the smiles on the recipient’s faces gave the students a true sense of America’s holiday spirit and has inspired them to continue finding ways to volunteer in their communities.
The project was promoted to any who wanted to participate from December 4th 2020-January 1st, 2021. During this time, students, host families, staff, alumni, friends, and American peers all baked their favorite cookies and donated them to local heroes, persons in need, and disadvantaged groups in their local area. A total of 800 dozens were shared in the name of kindness.
Kindness Cookies was such a global success, it will now become an annual World Link service project.
“Participating in this cookie project was a really good experience and a good new feeling for me. Seeing people being happy and grateful for it, made me realize how people can be happy with very little and how much they appreciate it! It doesn’t need to be something expensive, or something big, all that matters is to help with love and support which is the best thing a person can do! It’s the work you put in it and the value you give… I really want to do it again and participate more in volunteering, and help people in need. I hope that very soon I can participate in other projects too. I would do it with great pleasure!” – Erzana (Kosovo)
“I have volunteered before but this project was completely different. I knew that not everyone could celebrate the holidays. This period is very difficult for the elderly because they can’t leave the house. That is why I decided to share my cookies with them. It was a great happiness to see their grateful faces. This project helped me to realize that you feel much better when you make others happy.” – Mariam M (Georgia)
“The Kindness Cookies Project taught me that the U.S is a country that is very open to different kinds of volunteering… In my opinion, the beauty and importance of volunteering is increased during holidays because they make us think about kindness and people who are in need… this project made me truly feel proud of myself. When I was making the cookies I was thinking to whom I should deliver them? Because I like kids and my mom is a kindergarten teacher, I decided to bring the cookies to my mom’s little students and it was truly worth it. When I came to the kids they were so curious about what I have in the bag and what am I doing in their classroom? I am sure that they were feeling happy because not every day someone comes into their classroom to bring them something sweet to eat. You should have seen their faces when I told them what I have in the bag. When I started to share the cookies with them their faces were full of enthusiasm and their eyes were shining. I consider that the main idea of this project is the emotional feedback we received from delivering the cookies because nothing in this life is more precious than feelings, emotions and mental health. Taking all into consideration I must say that KINDNESS COOKIES PROJECT is a good page in my life’s book.” – Andreea (Moldova)
“I learned that giving is the most important thing in life no matter what you give others but this act means a lot to them. It was such a great experience to share some kindness to others and remind them that good exists. Also, from my participation, I felt love, warmth, and happiness to see the smiley faces. The awesome moment was when the people who received the cookies didn’t expect to have a visitor when I knocked on their doors and they were so happy to welcome me since because of the pandemic, visits didn’t happen so often. From that day, every time I see them again we greet each other.” – Shahed (Jordan)
“This project gave me an idea of volunteering in America and its ways of implementation. It is especially nice to share kindness with people on holidays when they need special attention and support. I was given a brilliant experience, taking part in this voluntary project. I must mention that all parts of this event were absolutely amazing, beginning from baking cookies (which united my family by doing the process together) and ending by sharing cookies with people. It was an unimaginable feeling, when I shared these cookies with people, deeply watched them in their eyes, and wished them all the best for the Christmas holiday. It seems to me they feel total happiness and appreciation. They were happy because I tried not only to share cookies but also to communicate and support them. In general, this experience made me wish to repeat this voluntary project. So, I also shared “kindness cookies” for New Year and Ukrainian Christmas (January 7th). This project helped me to develop different skills like communication, leadership, and flexibility. It broke the boundaries between people of different social states.” -Anastasiia (Ukraine)
“Before this project, I did not know there was a wide variety of volunteer programs in America in which teens could participate. For me personally, it was a completely new experience as I have never had a chance to participate in such an activity. When I started preparing my cookies, I knew I wanted to share them with the doctors so that I could thank them for their hard work. The smile on their faces after handing out the cookies, made me feel really happy and I was glad that I could create a small act of kindness. Through this project, I realized that volunteering and helping different communities not only benefits others but also the volunteers themselves.” – Salome (Georgia)
“My experience participating in the Kindness Cookie project was wonderful, to say the least. This was my first time baking and I was truly nervous about the results. Thankfully I had a very easy recipe shared with me by my host mom. It is something she baked as well for her kindness cookie project and made me feel close to her in some way. From what I have learned, cookies are a great deal in the US and it’s something Americans relate happiness and joy with and now it has the same importance for me. There is a saying in my part of the world: ‘Happiness increases when you share it’ I have experienced it in its true sense… The smiles on their face and gratefulness were all worth it and I wish I could do more. It encouraged me a great deal and I will try to include myself in any volunteering work I can do. I learned that if you have the intention to spread kindness and happiness no matter how little you can share, it is a lot. I learned that I do have the capacity to bring about change no matter how small. To me cookies mean happiness and I spread happiness to all I could. This was really an experience that I will treasure for the rest of my life. I will try to continue this in all the upcoming years.”– Ashfiya (Bangladesh)
“During this project, I have understood that even little acts like giving cookies can bring people a lot of happiness and good vibes. My host family gave me the recipe for cookies and pancakes with banana and chocolate. I and my mother made some and I gave them to the homeless. They were so happy to get it. And I was happy that I could bring them some good feelings. Also, I gave a few cookies to my friends and they were really surprised, because I never cooked such things for them, but they liked it. I was really happy. So cooking was a little bit hard but we did it and it was so fun! I am really grateful for my mother, host family, and of course, I want to say Thank you [World Link] for organising this project.” – Zhanybek (Kyrgyzstan)
“I am so grateful to our World Link organization for such a glorious idea to make a #kindnesscookies project. It was an incredible experience for me. Honestly, it was the first time in my life I tried to bake cookies and it turned out very tasty! This project united our family together, as everyone participated in it. We decided to distribute cookies to our relatives, friends and neighbors just on the eve of the New Year on December 31st. Therefore, as my friend told me, by giving her such a delicious gift, I gave her a festive mood! And the most wonderful thing about all this is to see the smiles of your loved ones, to whom you give cookies and a piece of your love. We decided that now it will become our new family tradition. I believe, that making others happy is the greatest thing in the world!” – Bohdana (Ukraine)
“I never experienced something like this project in my entire life. But after completing it, the volunteering spirit makes me continue doing good for everyone. This project allowed me to understand how the American people spread kindness to everyone and gain insight into things that I’ve never experienced in Indonesia. This project made me feel excited to volunteer for everyone. Especially people who are in difficult situations. It was my first experience volunteering and baking cookies and I was a little bit clumsy but I immediately enjoyed sharing kindness with people. The people feel so grateful and happy but they were a little shy after receiving my cookies because they don’t know me or only know me a little bit. I learned various important things about volunteering where in me, doing good things is something that I can’t avoid because in our environment there are always people who really need help.” – Agus (Indonesia)
“There are some things in life that really make you stop and think about everything you do and why you do it, the #kindnesscookies project was exactly like that. I always tried to help the communities around me, but this was the first time doing something like this. I`ve never been a good baker, but I put my heart and soul into the cookies I made and that made me really happy… I decided to deliver them to refugee children. It`s a really difficult period for everyone and especially for them, they`re still kids and have to go through so much, therefore I wanted to show them my love and appreciation. As a future teacher, I love interacting with kids, so it was a really exciting experience. They seemed a little down at the start, but the cookies surely raised their spirit. All of them were very sweet and nice, Looking at them made me feel very warm inside and simply just happy. Volunteering is really an amazing thing, Even the smallest things you do can bring joy to people. I realized that there`s so much more I can do for them, which is why I`ll continue to help them in any way possible and the #kindnesscookies project will keep on living too.” – Nino B (Georgia)
“For me, the kindness cookie project was a great opportunity to get to know the volunteering culture in the U.S. It was nice to help others during the holiday season. Participating in this project made me feel better about the people around us because I realized that there are so many kind and beautiful souls who just want to give without any hidden reasons. People (and animals) to whom I gave cookies were surprised and thankful. I learned that I want to do more good in my life and this will not be the last time I volunteer.” – Rudolfs (Latvia)
“I’m really grateful for the opportunity to do that kind of volunteering project. I have taken part in several volunteering activities in my home country, Poland. They all were totally different from Kindness Cookies Project. The Kindness Cookies Project was obviously super fun for me and for my sister, who helped me with my cookies! We spent a wonderful time making them! Christmas time it’s very busy for everyone. It was also a challenge to find time to do and pack more than 200 cookies especially when I also take part in other volunteering projects. One of them helps families in need to have a great Christmas. Donors and volunteers give them some gifts and packages filled with food etc. I came up with a pretty nice idea to connect this volunteering project and the Kindness Cookies Project! Basically, I’ve made more than 200 cookies for our donors and families as an extra, symbolic gift! I’ve packed them in special bags and hand them to donors and families! It was so great to finally feel the holiday spirit and amazing atmosphere. It was also incredible to see that people are so happy with the small things like cookies! For me volunteering it’s one of the best ways you can actually spend your free time. I love being close to people and just helping them in any possible way. The Kindness Cookies Project has also shown me that sometimes as individuals we can start something that will become a tradition not only in our local community but also in different places. It has also shown me that you don’t have to be scared to start new things. Especially when you put some effort into it and share your small acts of kindness with others! So if you think about changing the world I would definitely recommend you to start with spreading kindness and volunteering!” – Maria (Poland)
“Sharing ‘Kindness Cookies’ and spreading happiness in this way was one of the biggest experiences to me. Firstly because volunteerism is an essential American value and this initiative gave me an opportunity to learn how to be a better volunteer, how to plan an activity and then accomplish it, and most importantly, how to become a better leader as I have invited my friends to participate as well and at least share cookies with their families. With the aim of creating a Georgian atmosphere my Gingerbread Men were clothed in traditional Georgian clothes called Chokha – this is how I connected America to Georgia – American Gingerbread cookies in Georgian clothes. I think the most outstanding part of my decoration was using quotes, such as ‘Smile’, ‘Seize the day’, ‘Life is beautiful’ and others. These were in each pack and my purpose was to give motivation and inspiration to people. I was thinking about who I should share the cookies with and then I remembered pedestrians who hardly ever smile, people who sell different products in the street and beggars who spend all their day out. I have decided to bring a smile to their faces. They were surprised as they didn’t expect it to be a gift. I think their simple day became better and special – this is what I wanted. At the end of the day, I was full of emotions and I realized that what you share returns to you as I spread kindness not only to others but to myself as well.” – Nino G (Georgia)
Thank you to our students, and everyone around the world for participating in World Link’s Kindness Cookies service project. The fact that 9,600 cookies were baked and shared in the name of kindness in 22 countries around the world is astounding. Follow our Facebook page to stay up to date on program activities, highlights, and future service projects.