Traveling Nonprofit Spreads Kindness in Auburn

ARK Project Now.jpg
Image courtesy of Perry Grone

AUBURN, AL | February 18, 2016 | On a windy Thursday afternoon in January, Alex Radelich, 22, and Dalton Lemert, also 22, sat across from each other in a booth in Starbucks. They arrived in Alabama one day earlier with one goal in mind: to spread random acts of kindness on Auburn University’s campus.

While they planned an event for Auburn’s campus, Radelich typed on a laptop covered in stickers and lifted a red coffee cup to his lips. Lemert readjusted his baseball cap and glanced at his phone as it lit up with a text message.

Four years ago when Radelich was a freshman at Purdue University he came up with the idea to start a nonprofit organization. He said that he was inspired to begin spreading kindness while watching “Evan Almighty” in his dorm room.

In the 2007 film that starred Morgan Freeman and Steve Carell, Freeman’s character asked Carell’s character how to change the world. Carell replied, “One act of random kindness at a time.” Freeman then traced “ARK” into the sand with a stick.

This scene in the film inspired the name of his organization, ARK Project Now.

“That line kind of stuck out to me and hit me in a way nothing ever has,” Radelich said.

Radelich said he then recorded a video of himself talking about his desire to spread random acts of kindness to help people around the world.

“Within 24 hours, I was contacted by people in Brazil, Russia, Canada, and the United States, which kind of led me to believe other people want to join in on random acts of kindness,” Radelich said. “We made a website, and things just started taking off.”

Radelich and Lemert described themselves as “business partners slash best friends.” They met in South Bend, Indiana, in the second grade and later went on to attend Purdue University together.

Lemert graduated this past December with a degree in management, but Radelich left after his freshman year to focus entirely on ARK Project Now. He said he made the decision to leave school as soon he had heard the line from “Evan Almighty”.

“I’d just finished school, and I was going through I think what every freshman does of like, ‘Am I in college for the right reasons?’, ‘Is this really for me?’ and then that line . . . [from “Evan Almighty”] . . . hit me,” Radelich said. “I took the next semester to decide if I want to continue my college career or just postpone it.”

In January of 2016 the two best friends embarked on their first ever college-themed road trip, along with Perry Grone, 23, who is documenting their journey. Grone joined the team after responding to the group’s online search for a videographer.

Since its birth in 2012, ARK Project Now travels every year to spread kindness, but now they are focusing their trip on college towns specifically.

“The whole project started out of my mom’s minivan, just Alex and I, taking these week-long trips where we’d flip a coin to decide where to go to,” Lemert said.

Lemert said that after using his mom’s minivan for a while, the group purchased a 1994 RV. They paid for the RV by selling ad space on the sides of the vehicle. Lemert said the RV broke down several times a week, leaving them stranded almost constantly.

“Through those adventures, we got a lot of national media attention,” Lemert said. “Through that, we got in contact with the heads of the RV industry basically, and a bunch of different companies came together and donated a brand new 2015 RV to us. So last summer we did 10,000 miles in 10 weeks around the perimeter of the U.S., and now we’re on this tour still living in that same RV. People blessed us so much. It’s been amazing.”

Despite the media attention, the group does not live like celebrities. By the time they were in Auburn, the gas that heats the RV had run out. Lemert said they go to bed shivering every night. Radelich said they live off of spaghetti and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They park their RV in Walmart parking lots everywhere they go.

“We’ve probably slept in a hundred Walmart parking lots over the last couple of years,” Lemert said. “And we don’t really have regular access to showers, which is why we’ve been rocking the hats right now.”

Lemert and Radelich grinned at that comment and each lifted their hats to reveal slightly shiny hair.

“It’s not a glamorous life by any means,” Lemert said. “It’s very very very uncomfortable, but we think it’s obviously worth it.”

Their videographer, Grone, agreed with Lemert that their road trip is “not glamorous.”

“It’s very crowded. But it’s fun,” Grone said. “We’re doing this for eight weeks, and it’s a completely different lifestyle. It might not be ideal to a lot of people, but I love it.”

While Radelich and Lemert sat in Starbucks discussing their plans for kindness in Auburn, Grone edited a video of the group’s previous experience in Nashville, Tennessee in the Student Center.

While in Nashville, Grone filmed Radelich and Lemert scraping ice off of cars and handing out coats and food at a homeless shelter. Although Grone only recently joined the group, he said he can tell that ARK Project Now is Radelich’s “whole life.”

“You can tell Alex . . . when he gets really interested in something . . . he gets really invested in it,” Grone said.

On previous road trips, the group took a Boys and Girls Club to Disney World, helped a man plan a surprise marriage proposal and rented an ice cream truck in Baltimore, Maryland, just weeks after some major rioting had taken place.

Radelich said his favorite random act of kindness so far is a money board they set up at a beach in San Diego, California. They pinned 20 one dollar bills to a corkboard and put up a sign saying “Give what you can, take what you need.” Both Radelich and Lemert confessed to thinking the board wouldn’t last very long.

It lasted three hours and, according to them, “quadrupled in money.”

“Our motto is to inspire an epidemic of kindness,” Lemert said. “We really believe that kindness is transformational. We’ve seen it literally save people’s lives.”

Before ARK Project Now left Auburn, they put together a kindness scavenger hunt on campus. At the end of the day, 101 acts of kindness were achieved. These acts of kindness ranged from buying a cup of coffee for the next person in line to leaving money at a vending machine.

Now they are currently in Florida, spreading their kindness to universities there.

As for future plans, Radelich said they are trying to get a TV show and are waiting to hear back from a production group that interviewed them. Lemert said it would be ideal for them to film the pilot this upcoming summer.

“We do a lot of like extravagant things,” Radelich said. “But for us, it’s usually the smaller random things that happen on the road that mean the most to us or the person receiving the kind act.”

To learn more about ARK Project Now, visit their website or Youtube page.

Visit Perry Grone at his website.

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