Rutgers doctoral candidate invites students to boost their birthdays by considering kindness

Stemming from her longtime passion for community service and public engagement that dates back to her days as a high school student, Alicia Raia-Hawrylak decided to celebrate her birthday differently from most.

In celebration of her 30th birthday, the Rutgers doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology made it a goal of hers to contribute one act of kindness, called a “boost,” each day for every year that she has lived in a project called "30 At Thirty."

She documented her daily efforts on her Twitter page, @30AtThirty, throughout her birth month of September, championing the hashtag #BoostYourBirthday.

As a doctoral candidate, Raia-Hawrylak is in the process of writing her dissertation and is doing research on improving school climate, and believes projects like this can help improve the general social atmosphere in small ways.

She said that she thought #BoostYourBirthday would be a great way to practice public sociology in her professional life and connect with organizations that she feels are doing great work. At the same time, she could enrich her own perspective.

The boosts have ranged both in time and in amount of effort required. Some of her most memorable boosts include scattering hearts with positive messages in support of the Peyton Heart Project and advocating for the creation of a crosswalk in her local community, which is an ongoing project.

Raia-Hawrylak said she is inspired by all people who live and breathe public service every day, whether it is their professional life or something that they do personally.

Though she documented her daily efforts on her Twitter page, Raia-Hawrylak reflected on her month-long journey of boosts in a blog post for the Huffington Post in an effort to connect with a broader audience.

She encourages students at the University to engage themselves with their own personal interpretation of this project.

“It can be something as simple as connecting ... people who you think would get along really well and would be able to work on a particular cause together ... (or) trying to smile at other people or trying to let people merge in front of you in traffic,” Raia-Hawrylak said.

She invites people to participate in this project in a way that makes the most sense to them, this may be by doing one boost on their birthday, doing as many as their age, challenging others or making suggestions for potential boosts others can do.

Sean Ullmer, a Mason Gross School of the Arts first-year student, said he makes an effort to be kind to strangers, most recently offering a pencil to someone in need. He believes there is worth in random acts of kindness, especially on a college campus like Rutgers.

“Even though we’re here (together) in this community there’s a sense of disconnect because ... people don’t always reach out to just be kind and be nice ... and we forget that we should always reach out to other people and be connected to other people,” Ullmer said.

Raia-Hawrylak said that students should try to understand the perspective of others in going about the boosts.

"Each person that you see walking down the street is fighting their own battle and you can never tell just by looking at them so by offering your hand to someone else you can really help them through whatever they’re going through and brighten their day," said Klaus Danjolli, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore student.

Raia-Hawrylak said part of the project is making sure that people always ask questions and listen to the person, cause or organization one tries to work with and making sure they are being helpful in the way that they need, as it may not be the way one expects.

She had an experience with an animal shelter where they did not need her donation, though she said they were friendly and helpful about it and redirected her.

She hopes fellow University students will think about ways that they can take the privilege of being educated here at Rutgers. Students should use the skills they’ve acquired at the University and turn them back in a way that they can be of service to others.

"I hope that if Rutgers students start doing boosts, or acts of kindness, this will strengthen existing efforts to promote a positive and inclusive climate at the University," Raia-Hawrylak said in an email. 

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