Start-Up Spot: One simple act

Brooklyn teacher Orly Wahba wanted to motivate her students to perform a simple act of kindness – yet that good deed has grown into so much more.

Lifevest founder Orly Wahba. Her motto is that ‘kindness is a boomerang.’ (photo credit: Courtesy)
Lifevest founder Orly Wahba. Her motto is that ‘kindness is a boomerang.’
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Orly Wahba wanted to be a good teacher. She wanted to educate and inspire her students and motivate them to be the best that they could be.
One day she had her students make cards, with an act of kindness written on each one. Then they had to execute the act. And so began an adventure that has since seen Wahba go all the way to give a lecture on TED, produce a viral YouTube video, and sign a book deal.
Wahba received a degree in film production and English from Brooklyn College, and a master’s in Jewish history from Touro College, both in New York.
She began her career as a middle school teacher at the Yeshiva of Flatbush in Brooklyn, NY. She knew that she needed to build the children’s self-esteem, teach them to use the power they have to influence the world for good.
“Kindness is like a boomerang,” Wahba told the Magazine. “Just as a boomerang returns to the person who casts it into the air, kindness has the same sort of magical power. When you put kindness out into the world, it has a way of coming back to you full force. Perhaps you won’t see it right away, but no act of kindness is ever wasted.”
In one case, Wahba jumped on a fortuitous moment when she saw men and women performing community service on her street. After offering them some water and lemonade, she asked if they would participate in an experiment. She passed out Act of Kindness cards and each person read to themselves. “Suddenly one man clenching his card began to cry, screaming, ‘How did you know to give me this card? How did you know to give me this card?’” Wahba recounts.
“I asked him, ‘I’m sorry I didn’t know. What does it say?’ He explained that he hadn’t spoken with his parents for several years and over the past few weeks he was continuously thinking of them, debating whether or not he should reach out to them and call them. As a tear dropped from his eye he said, ‘My card says call your parents to tell them how much you love them. How did you know?’ But I didn’t know. All I know is that in life everything happens for a reason, nothing is random, nothing is a mere coincidence.”
WAHBA IS a true believer in the word “kindness.”
During a low point in her life, concerned for her dying grandfather and at odds with her family, she wanted to get away. “At one point, I turned my cell phone off and wandered the streets of NYC for hours on end. I didn’t want to be found; the more I tried to make sense of everything that was happening, the less I understood.
“Suddenly a man driving past stopped, approached me, and said, ‘I don’t know what’s going on in your life but remember there is always hope!’ “Then I noticed something that I would call extraordinary. An older woman was passing by, looking a bit out of sorts. He wished her a good night and said a few words. It was as though his simple words magically transformed her; she walked away with big smile. ‘Amazing,’ I thought. ‘This gentleman’s purpose in life seems so much greater than that of many others.’ As we parted ways, I felt that a weight had lifted, and although my troubles still remained, the burden seemed lighter.
“It is precisely this concept that I worked so hard to instill in the hearts of my students during the amazing seven-year period of teaching at the Yeshiva of Flatbush. As a teacher, it became a ritual of mine at the end of the year, before my eighth-graders graduated, to write each student a letter and include in it an Act of Kindness card as a reminder of what is really important.
In high school, it’s easy to lose sight of your true value; peers often tell you that what you knew to be right is now wrong, and what you knew to be wrong is now right. I wanted to instill within them the confidence to recognize that their acts, no matter how small, create a ripple of change.
“Kindness was always a topic that I would speak about in class and in general. I would constantly stress that each person is a piece of the puzzle, each significant in his or her own way. I explained to the students that although they may see themselves as mere soonto- be high-school students, they have a tremendous amount of potential. They have the ability to create change in the world. By simply completing their act and passing the card forward, they will set a ripple of kindness in motion.”
IN 2011, after having been inspired on a plane by a sign that said “life vest inside,” and with a strong conviction that acts of kindness can have a big impact on society, Wahba founded the non-profit organization by that name. Life Vest Inside recognizes that in times of hardship, kindness – like a life vest – keeps the world afloat. She had one goal in mind, to encourage the spread of happiness through small acts of kindness.
A trademark of the organization is its Acts of Kindness cards. During organized events in schools and community centers, Wahba or her staff hand out cards, each with its own act of kindness, prompting the person to perform the act and pass the card to someone else.
For the past 10 years, Wahba has worked extensively with tweens, teens, and local charities in her community, providing a helping hand for those who need it most. She works in conjunction with an array of organizations, such as Chai Lifeline, Sephardic Bikur Holim, and Kids Kicking Cancer, and is also an executive member of the World Kindness Movement.
LVI SHOT to national attention when Wahba’s five-minute Kindness Boomerang video went viral, receiving more than 20 million views and coverage in print and media outlets such as Ad Week, IBTimes and CBS News.
Wahba shared the mission of the organization with a close friend of singer Matisyahu. She told him she shot a film that she knew would inspire people around the world, and would love to have the rights to use Matisyahu’s song “One Day.” “I opened my computer and showed Matisyahu’s friend the film. Halfway through he had tears in his eyes, pulled out his cell phone and called Matisyahu there and then.
‘I am sending something your way right now!’ he said. ‘You need to watch it.’ Within a few minutes, the singer emailed him back saying, ‘She can use the song.’ I was so overjoyed.”
Every year, LVI organizes Dance for Kindness, seeking to break down barriers of culture, race, and religion. Thousands of individuals around the globe “join together to perform a kindness freezmob/flashmob to the same song, same dance, all happening on the same day.” This year marks their 4th annual worldwide event. Last year the event took place in more than 80 cities in 30 countries worldwide with over 10,000 participants. They hosted this year’s Dance for Kindness on Sunday, November 8. The flagship event was in Times Square in New York City; Israel joined with an event in Tel Aviv.
WAHBA, WHOSE father was born in Israel, says she always had a strong connection with Israel.
“Throughout my childhood, our summers were spent in Israel. It is truly a second home, and my heart is connected to it in such a deep way. It’s difficult to explain, but very easy to feel.
The energy, the spirit, the history, and the warmth that emanates from Israel is indescribable. The fact that Israel is the epicenter, a place to which people of all backgrounds flock, is a testament to something truly spectacular and world-changing that will most certainly spring from a country so small in size, but so large at heart!” Wahba offers anyone interested the opportunity to sign up to be a kindness ambassador, part of a global network of like-minded individuals passionate about incorporating change into their personal and professional lives. They each receive a weekly kindness task that is simple and fun to complete, plus they connect with fellow ambassadors on LVI’s closed Facebook group.
Wahba sees a bright future for LVI.
“We have kindness ambassadors in 120 countries, events in 50 countries.
Thousands of engaged and empowered people around the world are believing in the power of kindness. I see LVI branches sprouting up in additional countries; I see LVI leading a true educational revolution in which values and character development are integral to each lesson.”
But for now, Wahba just wants to change the world one card at a time.