When closures and stay-at-home orders began due to COVID-19, Suzy Stjernstrom Shepherd wanted to find a way for people to focus on the “good stuff.”
So she reached out to her friends on Facebook to see who wanted to volunteer with service organizations in the Tyler area.
Through her efforts, Shepherd, a longtime Tyler resident, established the group Shine: Tyler to celebrate acts of kindness by writing letters of gratitude to good Samaritans and recognizing all the good in the local community.
Now, Shine: Tyler will host a kick-off weekend event Oct. 15 through 18. Her hope is that, through the initial celebration, community members will be inspired to complete acts of kindness and service.
The Shine: Tyler celebration will be held on Oct. 15 in the downtown square at 6 p.m. Thursday’s kickoff will include food trucks and booths showcasing area nonprofits. People are then asked to share their acts of kindness on social media using the hashtag #SHINEtyler to share their shine.
“We have to help people look at life differently,” Shepherd said.
After Thursday’s kickoff event, people are asked to find ways to spread kindness, with acts both big and small, over the weekend.
Shepherd herself knows what it takes to make people smile. She’s written dozens of postcards to thank community members for their work to make Tyler better. The cards are posted on the Shine: Tyler Facebook page as well to highlight people who are “bright spots” in the community.
Shepherd said mental health problems and depression have expanded due to recent, pandemic-related isolation, and helping out other people can improve everyone’s well-being.
“Giving often blesses and helps the giver feel better,” she said. “I think it’s imperative we focus on what’s good. We need action and need people to come together.”
Shepherd explained that at the event there will be no speakers – the conversations will be organic so that everyone feels comfortable as they share kindness and make connections with others.
She thinks there will be a lot of engagement from the event and hopes it can become an annual event.
Shepherd added people don’t have to come to the event to participate and that 100% of the proceeds will go toward nonprofits.
The organizations benefiting from Shine: Tyler include The Harbor, Fostering Collective, Literacy Council of Tyler, Alzheimer’s Alliance of Smith County, CARE, Hospice of East Texas, Meals on Wheels East Texas, Bethesda Health Clinic, Champions for Children and Christian Women’s Job Corps Tyler.
“Most people don’t want to live in the negative,” Shepherd said. “It’s been really cool to see a lot of like-minded individuals come together and see a lot of synergy around it.”
Smittee Root, executive director of Leadership Tyler, said Leadership Tyler is a fan and supporter of Shine: Tyler, as it provides an event for people to serve in a tangible way to connect with the community and give back.
Shepherd is also an alumni of Leadership Tyler.
“She has firsthand knowledge of what our program tries to do. So an event like this aligns well with our mission,” Root said. “It’s just great way for people to gather as a community and support the community to create some positivity hopefully.”
Root said she is encouraging as fellow alumni of Leadership Tyler program to participate in the Shine: Tyler event.
“I love that it gives people an opportunity to serve and it’s going to benefit nonprofit organizations,” Root said. “In general, people want to do good or love on their community, and sometimes it’s a matter of not knowing how.”
Root said Leadership Tyler has community leadership programs that bring leaders from different backgrounds and industries to give them the tools to get involved with the community and make a positive difference.
Ivette Zavarce, a member of the planning committee of the Shine: Tyler event, said she loves being part of the group because it works to make the city a better place.
“I call Tyler my little piece of heaven,” Zavarce said.
She said nonprofits invited to the event will get to share what they do in the community. Attendees will then plan to do something to help someone else over the weekend.
Lights will be given for people to show they’re a part of Shine: Tyler.
Zavarce said it’s a good opportunity to meet with people that are doing good things and not focus on the negativity.