Layla Pobst and Kate Lipke

Spreading Kindness and Love

Layla Pobst and Kate Lipke don’t focus on the “dis.” They only focus on ability.

It’s a foundational belief they’re teaching their peers, too, through founding the SHINE Club, a place where people of all abilities can gather to become friends at the Jackson R-2 School District.

The idea for the club came from their friendship with Carter Kuntze when they helped him and other students in their classrooms while Layla was in fourth grade and Kate was in third grade. Because they enjoyed their friendship with Carter so much, the girls wanted to help their peers learn about each other and provide a place for people of all abilities to hang out and serve their school and community together. So, they created the SHINE Club, letters that stand for “Supportive, Helpful, Inclusive, Nice and Encouraging.” 

Four years later, the friendship is still going strong. And the club is, too.

“We focus on ability. We just don’t put the ‘dis’ on there. We all have our abilities, and some people have more than others, and that’s okay. … We shouldn’t love somebody different for what they look [like] or how they act or how they are. We should love all people,” Layla says. “We’ve seen lots of friendships blossom from that.”

“We kind of knew that not just our school needed it, that there were other kids that were struggling and that were hurting and that needed just kindness and people being nice to them,” Kate adds. “So it was just kind of a group where we wanted to show kindness and spread some joy and spread some love and just help other people out.”

And that’s exactly what they’ve done. Initially, there were 30 students at East Elementary who joined the club. Kate and Layla say it grew quickly by word of mouth: now, there are approximately 40 students each at East Elementary, South Elementary, North Elementary, West Lane Elementary, Orchard Drive Elementary and Jackson Middle School who are a part of the club, with plans to expand to Jackson Junior High School when the pandemic is over. 

In elementary school SHINE Club meetings, the girls taught lessons about being kind to others and spreading love. The club has also had bowling parties and often eats breakfast and lunch together at school. For their larger community, the club members have made blessing bags for the homeless and chew toys for animals at the humane society. And Kate and Layla want the club to continue growing as they mature: in making plans for the junior high SHINE Club, they plan to teach lessons that are more in-depth and include life skills training.

Rather than waiting to change their community when they’re older, they are starting now, through forming the minds and hearts of the younger generation. And those who are older can learn from them, too.

“In this kind of crazy world, everything’s not perfect or it’s not how we want it to be when we’re older, and so we kind of have to change that. We want this to be an accepting and equal community,” Kate says. “When you get older, you get into peer pressure and you want to fit in. ... I think it’s important to stay on the path that we’ve started for ourselves individually and together. … But even if you are an adult or a teenager under peer pressure, it’s not too late to start being kind if you’ve had a bad past or you’ve been rude to people for some reason and you haven’t given them care or love. It’s not too late. You can always say, ‘I’m going to clear it, I’m going to start a fresh path, and I am going to start caring for people.’”

The friends hope to lead by example and help other students have the courage to reach out in friendship to people who are alone through kindnesses such as sitting with them at lunch.

“Whenever you’re trying to make a new friend, find that person that everybody else has pushed away or ignored. You find that person, and you introduce yourself. It’s really easy talking to someone. You just have to be the person to stand up and do it because that’s what we all need is that one person,” Layla says. “One of the hardest things of being a young person is always being told in this world of ours today to do what everybody else is doing. And you just have to be a leader and stand up and not be a follower, and be kind. You just have to be that one person who does it, and then the ripple effect happens.” 

Carter sums it up best.

“My best friend is Layla. And Kate,” he says. “You won an award. … The winner is Layla and Kate and me.”

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