Dylan's suicide inspired the Kindness Challenge (Picture: AP via Dennis Vassallo)
Dylan’s suicide inspired the Kindness Challenge (Picture: AP via Dennis Vassallo)

A father mourning the suicide of his son has started a campaign of kindness.

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Grieving dad Dennis Vassallo thought a few dozen friends might join in his attempt to encourage people to do good deeds without expecting anything in return – but thousands have joined the Facebook group set up in honour of his late son Dylan.

The Kindness Challenge group now has more than 58,000 members and every day it is filled with posts of compassion including heartwarming photos, words of thanks to doctors from patients, and motivational messages.

(Picture: Facebook)
(Picture: Facebook)

Dennis, of Holmdel in New Jersey, said: ‘Never in a million years would I have expected such a response, but it seems to have people thinking about what we were all taught as kids: to be good to people and help them,’ said Vassallo, of Holmdel.

Vassallo created the page to continue what he called his late son Dylan’s selflessness and volunteering for charitable causes.

The Kindness Challenge

Group members have shared their selfless acts of kindness:

One woman and her children have started to paint happy designs or kind sayings on rocks they find.

They then leave the rocks around their town for others to find, hoping it will make them smile and spread the love.

Another woman who was inspired by messages about compassion to comfort a crying teenage driver who had been involved in a car accident.

While an older man who had tried to pay some teens for doing some yard work he could no longer handle.

They refused, saying they just wanted to help him. After seeing a few postings about people making charitable donations, he realised he could do the same with the money he was going to give the teens.

Dennis Vassallo with son Dylan (Picture: Dennis Vassallo/Facebook)
Dennis Vassallo with son Dylan (Picture: Dennis Vassallo/Facebook)

Dylan was an altar boy at St. Benedict’s Catholic Church of Holmdel and volunteered at organisations including Students Helping Honduras, where participants help build schools, homes and other projects.

He served at a local kitchen, a school for special needs students and many groups at his school. He also was a military fan who planned to apply to the Naval Academy.

He was 17 when he killed himself in August 2015.

In a ‘statement of purpose’, Vassallo notes on the page that its sole purpose is ‘to share kindness only. Free of charge’. Members are advised not to use the group to moan about politics or try to sell anything, offer services or promote charities.

The page is monitored for trolling and members can report any problematic posts.

Here’s the full objective of the compassionate campaign:

The Kindness Challenge: Statement of Purpose

Dear Friends,

As all or most of you know by now, our family tragically lost our son, Dylan, on August 4, 2015.

Dylan was person of service, benevolence and kindness. He had a wonderful giving spirit, a legacy in which we will always continue on with. It got me thinking, in addition to the things we have established and taken part in as a family, and have been blessed by the generosity and support of our family and friends, what simple kind things could we all do for the betterment of our world, society and ultimately our souls.

The thought came, what if we had a kindness challenge? Not to raise money or funds, but to raise awareness and lift up each other and our hearts.

The challenge could be anything you’d like. From something as simple as holding the door for someone, giving a word of support to someone, to much larger acts of kindness.

The challenge would also be daily. You don’t have to say what your act or acts of kindness are, you could simply post an emoji on the page that is set up: The Kindness Challenge.

I was motivated as I stated by the memory of our son Dylan, but also by all the division, rancor and anger I see and read every day on my Facebook page. I like and love all of my friends regardless of their opinions. I don’t like all the anger. It is really disheartening.

I was told a very long time ago that I am either part of the problem or part of the solution. I don’t believe this will be a solution, maybe it can be a tiny step towards treating each other with some love, respect and above all kindness.

I challenge all of my friends to join this group, to do the daily challenge, to invite others to join and maybe truly prove that love, respect and kindness is alive.

Thank you. Much love and respect,

Dennis J. Vassallo

Group members say the page provides a refuge from the seemingly never-ending wave of negative political commentary online and other vitriol.

‘It is such a paradigm shift from all of the dreary political rhetoric and scary news stories,’ said Amanda Blake, of Kasilof, Alaska. ‘I feel inspired and alive with hope.’