Paul Kuligowski may be only 16-years-old, but the Orchard Lake St. Mary’s junior is proving that you can never be too young to make a difference. Kuligowski was one of 15 students selected from across the country by PARADE Magazine for its All-American High School Service Team after he founded and started his non-profit outreach organization, Acts of Kindness. He began the organization to provide basic necessities for struggling individuals and families, whether it’s food, clothing or toiletries. Kuligowski serves as the CEO and, with the help of his family, friends and volunteers, collects and distributes donated items to the Detroit Rescue Mission and other agencies. He and the other PARADE honorees were recognized at a ceremony in Washington D.C. this past summer. Kuligowski spoke with the Spinal Column Newsweekly last week about Acts of Kindness and his hopes for the organization’s future.
You have been honored for starting your own non-profit organization called Acts of Kindness. Please tell us about its mission and how you came up with the idea.
PK: Acts of Kindness is a program and company that I founded back in 2010 and its basic mission is to provide basic necessities for homeless people and families that need basic things such as undergarments and toothbrushes. Our main goal is to give humanity to all people, no matter what the circumstances are.
We actually do drops at various locations such as the Detroit Rescue Mission, where we give them the things that they need such as roll-on deodorant or whatever there might be. We gather the items by talking to people and networking through e-mail and by phone, and we collect it all at my house, actually, and we distribute it to various locations that can use the help. The big ones (that we help) are the Detroit Rescue Mission. Another one is Turning Point and the third one is the shelter in Mt. Clemens.
I did a lot of community service in the eighth-grade and I just wanted to figure out how I can help more people because I realize that there is a greater need out there. I realize it’s not hard to actually make a difference and just the little things can really brighten someone’s day.
You’re a 16-year-old student and most students your age aren’t thinking about starting up and running their own organization. Tell us about what a typical day is like for you with Acts of Kindness as the CEO, in addition to your schoolwork. What are the biggest challenges you face in making your organization work?
PK: It gets pretty crazy, but you wake up and drive out to Orchard Lake, get through the school day, you get out at 2 (p.m.), and then you come home and do your homework. Then after dinner, you figure out what Acts of Kindness needs today and you just go through the checklist and make sure you’ve got everything together, you got your receipts and you go to sleep and you start all over the next day. There’s really not a whole lot of downtime though. I (also) do cross country and track.
(The biggest challenge is) getting people to take you seriously because they see a 16-year-old and they don’t realize that people my age can make just as big of an impact as people in their 40s running big mainstream companies. If you want to help, you can and people don’t realize that.
At first my dad helped me get a start, but as you get going and you improve your company, we really are helping people and that’s what the main goal is. You get donations and then people start donating clothes, hats and gloves and it just starts flowing in.
Who do you hope will benefit the most from Acts of Kindness? Do you have a staff and if not, who do you work with to carry out the organization’s mission?
PK: We really target families as a whole because the economy is not the best right now and people don’t realize that it’s not just the homeless guy on the corner begging for money. There’s actually whole families that need food and basic necessities. And that’s our goal, to help families stay clean and sanitary and have dignity.
We don’t really have a staff. I do a lot of the work, the networking and stuff, but my whole family actually participates in sorting things and helping distribute but you’ll get volunteers, like some of my friends come over and help out and just do a little bit.
We’ve logged our hours for community service and we’ve been certified with Presidential Service Awards, so that’s kind of like the reward. You log your hours so you can get rewarded for your time.
You were named to Parade Magazine’s All-American High School Service Team for your efforts. What does that honor mean to you?
PK: It’s a great honor. All 15 of us (who were chosen) really benefited from it because it puts our cause out there and it really helps us because we get our mission. It’s a real honor because someone is actually recognizing us for doing a good deed and it’s nice.
It’s just really nice to be recognized for doing something like that. It seems to get brushed over a lot. People don’t realize that it’s just as important as schoolwork, sports or any of that stuff.
You had the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C. to receive the PARADE honor. Tell us what your experience was like in our nation’s capitol.
PK: It was great, they took us on a tour of the Capitol (Building), and we got to meet (U.S. Secretary of Education) Arne Duncan who actually handed out the awards and it was a just real nice experience. They do a real nice job and GenerationOn is a great organization for community service and PARADE did a really nice job of honoring us in their magazine. GenerationOn (is an organization) that does a lot of work with younger people that are trying to start a community service project.
What are your future goals for Acts of Kindness and do you plan to keep running it after high school? What do you hope to do when you graduate from St. Mary’s?
PK: I definitely plan on keeping it going after high school and I just want it to expand where we can help out — not just the tri-county area, but the whole state and the country if it ever became that big — but just expanding and being able to help as many people as possible.
I plan to go on to college. I’m not sure exactly where yet, but I want to go into business management and see where Acts of Kindness goes. I have no plans of stopping and just seeing where life takes me.
How can anyone who is interested in donating to Acts of Kindness contribute or learn more about your organization?
PK: We’re working on a website, which we don’t have up yet, but the best way to get a hold of us is through e-mail, email@example.com. And if anybody has any questions or they want to donate, that’s the best place to get a hold of us. To learn more about the company, we have our annual reports and business plans if anybody has specific questions.