Matt Kurtz Kindness Award Winners Announcement

Thanks to our generous donors, we are thrilled to announce two winners of our Kindness Award: Sonia Su and Agha Haider. Their acts of kindness have rippled out and touched many others. It’s incredible, it’s beautiful and we’re so proud to have them as part of our MKRO (Matt Kurtz Ripples On) family.

2020 Award Winner Sonia Su

Sonia Su of Clarksville, MD, started a non-profit called Kits to Heart that provides cancer care kits to patients throughout the US. Her mission is to bring smiles and solidarity to those affected by cancer, one kit at a time.

Sonia was diagnosed with an aggressive type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at age 24. She had just completed one semester of graduate school at Georgetown University and had to take a year off, during which she relapsed twice. When she was admitted for her last treatment in March 2019, Sonia saw a care package left on her bed by a former patient. The gift gave her hope and inspired her to pay the kindness forward. Now in remission, she has launched a non-profit called Kits to Heart that gives thoughtfully designed, curated cancer care kits to patients and their caregivers throughout the US! Since May 2020, she has already donated 439 kits to 44 states. To say she is amazing does not even begin to describe her impact and kindness, all while she continues to go for regular checkups and scans just a little over a year out of her own journey.

With her kits, Sonia wanted to address the loneliness of the cancer journey, the lack of knowledge friends and family have on how to assist cancer patients and the inadequate materials and resources patients receive from hospitals.

The kits are composed of cancer treatment essentials. Sonia combines the resources she found helpful during her cancer journey with the resources she wishes she had by her side.

Each kit includes some combination of: ginger chews (a common tool for reducing nausea caused by chemotherapy), hand sanitizer, SPF lotion (cancer patients often have more sensitive skin after cancer treatments), reusable water bottles, washable cloth masks, notebooks, snacks, informational pamphlets and hand-made cards or origami.

Many companies have donated products to help Sonia fill the kits and she said: “We also have had more than 350 volunteers throughout Maryland contribute more than 2,350 volunteer hours so far. They’ve been writing inspiring cards, making beautiful origami, crafting friendship bracelets, making cloth face masks and crocheting bags.”

Sonia uses her experiences and interactions with patients and social workers to pack the kits with informational resources and comforting products compatible with various cancer treatments. Just like receiving a care package from a survivor gave her hope and inspiration to pay it forward, now she can inspire hope at the most difficult moments of treatments for others.

Sonia is truly an inspiration to us all and she has made a difference in the lives of so many.  Sonia makes our world better one kindness at a time.

2020 Grant Winner Agha Haider

Agha Haider of Ballwin, MO, (17 years old) started a non-profit organization called the Literacy Initiative. The original goal was to provide every child in St. Louis with a book to read. In the spring of 2017 Agha hosted book drives at local schools and collected over 2,000 books which he donated to various local organizations. Since then his goal has changed. Now he helps students build a healthy spirit, mind and body through programs that mentor, engage in sports and support reading. “Our two main programs that allow us to achieve this goal are our Books & Cookies and Books & Basketball programs. Through these programs, students work with high school volunteers on icebreaker and reading activities. Students receive snacks during each meeting and a new book every other week. The Literacy Initiative currently has around 20 Books & Cookies and Books & Basketball clubs across the St. Louis, Missouri and Memphis, Tennessee areas.”

Staci Wallington, Principal at Airport Elementary School, nominated Agha for this award and had this to say: “During this partnership, I observed a real-life hero. Mr. Haider was young, but driven. He showed his commitment to serving our students and families by providing donated new books for homes, school supplies for students, a book club and tutors. He works tirelessly and is innovative in his approach to meeting the needs of our diverse student population.

At the beginning of our second year together, Mr. Haider secured donations for school supplies and invited students from the entire district. Mr. Haider invited our students to join his Books & Cookies Club which allowed students to partner with high school students. During these sessions students had a reading buddy that showed personal interest in them and helped them with comprehension skills and reading proficiency. During these programs students also worked with high school students on activities relating to real world topics and subjects of importance.

His coordination efforts went over and beyond the call of duty, but it shows his passion and commitment to his work and how much he cares for our students. He was a motivator and a man on a mission. I believe that our world needs more heroes like Mr. Haider. I have been impressed with his steadfastness, his consistency and his work ethic. He does it all with a smile and positive attitude.”

She also pointed out: “After working with Mr. Haider and the staff at Airport Elementary for three years, our reading scores went from the bottom of 17 elementary schools in the district to being recognized as one of the schools with the most growth in the district.”

What do you think happened to The Literacy Initiative due to the Covid shutdowns? Agha rose to the challenge.

They have been offering online one-on-one e-tutoring to provide homework help during remote learning.

Even more amazing, in response to summer camp closures and missed school, he launched eCamp, a virtual enrichment program for elementary and middle school students. He got high school student volunteers to design and teach hour-long classes of their choice. eCamp ran from 9am to 5pm CT, five days a week, through June and July. Over 100 different classes were offered, such as Becoming a Scientist, Basics of Coding: Creating Video Games, Digital Art for Beginners, Creative Writing, Model UN and many more wonderful classes.

Agha, at such a young age, has already had an impact on so many lives. When thrown a Covid curve ball, he carried on and found ways to continue his mission. Agha is an inspiration and absolutely helps to make our world better one kindness at a time.

Jackie Kurtz is a blogger who is on a mission to make the world better, one kindness at a time. When her son died tragically, she started a kindness website and blog as a tribute to him. In his 32 years he impacted more lives than most people do in a lifetime. Her favorite quote is, “Even if we disagree about everything, we can still be kind to each other.” – Matthew L. Jacobson You can connect with Jackie on her website or through email.

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