Have you been kind today? To someone you love, someone you don’t know, yourself?
Joan Steffend is making it her business to gently ask about your kindness status, and give an occasional nudge as a reminder that it’s easy and free to be kind.
“I believe that we can all make better choices and make the world a better place,” Steffend said. “I want to spread as much of that energy as I can.”
Known for her high-profile career in broadcasting, Steffend, 63, is now busy with her low-key kindness mission.
She posts pithy Facebook messages, (“Do you have the power to heal the world, even a little bit, today?”), hands out “kindness cards,” often with her 4-year-old grandson, River, in tow, and focuses on the kindness theme when speaking to groups.
She’s also joining St. Paul Saints’ owner Mike Veeck’s “Fun is Good” consulting business, which provides seminars to companies to help them promote a positive environment and talk about kindness in the workplace.
“I’m organizing around an idea,” she said. “I don’t have a group or a nonprofit. Kindness is contagious. A smile has meaning. It’s one of the tiny threads of connection we weave.”
Steffend is particularly sensitive to the pain that children suffer when they are bullied. She wants to use the reminder to be kind as an antidote to the everyday cruelty suffered by some children in the classroom and on the playground. She teamed up with her husband, filmmaker Joe Brandmeier, to record and produce short videos on their YouTube channel, called Kinder, a Hopeful Idea.
“Get it?” said Steffend, a fan of wordplay. “Kinder, like being kind, spelled like kinder, like in kindergarten.”
The videos feature Minnesota children, ages 5 to 14, who dance, draw, give high-fives and share their own earnest philosophies.
“Treat people how you want to be treated. That’s how I go,” said Jeremiah.
“There’s more good people than we think there are,” added Parham, with a solemn tone. “There’s a lot bad, but there’s more good.” (For more, go to tinyurl.com/ycr57gbt)
Steffend does not appear on camera in the videos, but viewers will hear her warm, distinctive voice as she sits for a heart-to-heart with the young subjects, drawing them out about what kindness feels like.
“It’s so cool to look in their little soulful eyes,” she said. “Each one of them has such a depth of wisdom.”
Steffend has always been a natural at connecting. When she was a girl, she connected with audiences at home, and then onstage. A singer and actress, she imagined a career like fellow redhead Carol Burnett’s. After graduating from Cambridge High School, north of the Twin Cities, she studied theater at the University of Minnesota Duluth, performed in summer stock shows in the Black Hills, and moved to Los Angeles with a dream of stardom after being accepted in the Warner Bros. Film Actors Workshop.
“This was the era of the tall, willowy, blonde star, and that wasn’t me,” she said.
So she returned to Minnesota, thinking she might be a good radio DJ. She attended the Brown Institute to study broadcasting and, through a fluke, auditioned at a television station in Duluth. She was hired as the morning anchor.
Two years later, KARE came calling and she remained at the TV station as an award-winning anchor and reporter for 17 years.
Steffend shifted to hosting Decorating Cents on HGTV, spending 13 years on camera teaching viewers how to revamp their homes on a shoestring budget. The show’s spotlight led to her anchoring the Rose Bowl Parade, giving away houses on Dream Home Giveaway specials, and hosting a show on Christmas at the White House.
Since leaving the airwaves, she’s continuing to tell stories, authoring two inspirational books, “And She Sparkled,” and “Peace In, Peace Out.”
Her kindness effort revved up after the 2016 election.
“I would leave Facebook feeling shredded,” she said. “I’m a sensitive sort. Tears are my first language. I got sadder and sadder.
“Then, one day, I decided to inoculate Facebook with something positive and I shared a post about kindness. All of a sudden, people were talking about my kindness mission. That’s how missions start.”
A doting grandmother of three preschoolers, Steffend wants to teach them to be kind, and believes her movement can make the world a gentler place for them to grow up.
“There’s so much chaos in the world, and solutions look so complex,” she said. “But every one of us can take responsibility to do a kind thing, think a kind thought. It’s magic. It can move the needle.”