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Much of the typical work?Joyce Cowdery does coordinating volunteer efforts at the?Bremerton School District paused at the start of 2020-21 school year because of COVID-19 protocols and restrictions.?

Buildings were closed, classrooms declared off-limits, students and staff?asked to operate in separate spheres.?

Yet Cowdery didn't want to stop serving. The 1980 Bremerton High School graduate has spent 27 years volunteering in?the district, including the past 14 years as a part-time employee/volunteer liaison. Other community members wanted to follow Cowdery's lead, hoping?to lend a helping hand.

It turns out some of those hands grabbed pens for?writing as part of the district's Kindness Project.

"There is never an end to kindness," Cowdery said.

Using?a group of volunteer writers, BSD is delivering "envelopes of encouragement" with?hand-written cards and letters designed to lift the spirits of students. Teachers nominate K-12 students who they believe would benefit from receiving inspiring words, which range anywhere from jokes and?quotes from famous people?to personalized notes.?

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Volunteers deliver envelopes to a green mailbox inside the district office building, where letters are reviewed by district personnel before being mailed to students' home addresses. Letters are directed toward various age groups and may contain additional goodies, such as stickers and coloring sheets, as well as a note from Bremerton School District Superintendent Aaron Leavell explaining the Kindness Project.

“An old-fashioned, hand-written letter with an actual stamp … those are so meaningful to these people when they receive them," said Cowdery, pointing out that volunteers are also writing encouraging notes and letters to district staff.

Cowdery said the letter-writing idea came to her last April during National Volunteer Appreciation?Week. Cowdery and?her mother, Gloria Drnjevic, helped craft cards for some of the?district's volunteers.

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"During non-pandemic times, we?generally have around 24,000 volunteer hours submitted by up to 900 volunteers," Cowdery said.?

When COVID-19 cut short most volunteer opportunities last spring, it left a hole in the hearts of many volunteers. Some experienced personal tragedy over the past 12-15 months.??

“This is their grief process," Cowdery said.?"They’ve lost someone during the pandemic and they said this is what’s kept them going. They’ve thanked me profusely for allowing them to do this.”

Cowdery said volunteers range in age from 8 to 85 years old and she provided some testimonials from several writers.?

Brenna Uzcategui has submitted cards for students in both English and Spanish.

"We all know that school can be a challenge, and with support from the community and staff alike, we can lift up our students and give them the strength to endure and conquer difficult times," Uzcategui said. "With a simple smile, one can change another’s path in life."

"It’s OK?to be scared, angry, confused through this tough time," said one writer, who asked to remain anonymous. "I want them to know bad situations don’t last forever and it’s OK to ask for help. It does not make you weak to ask for help, it makes you human. These cards let adults/kids know there are people out here that love them and are here to listen to them and to help with whatever they need. That’s why I write the cards for the Kindness Project."

Bremerton School District spokeswoman?Karen Bevers said it's possible the Kindness Project could continue?even after the pandemic is over. She mentioned that her daughter, who attends middle?school in the district, has received personal notes from her teacher this school year and it's had a positive effect.

"It was really meaningful for her," Bevers said. "Things like this really have value for people."

“The whole idea," Cowdery added, "is to make people smile during this very difficult time.”

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