Crystal Lake teen embarks on 25 days of random kindness

CRYSTAL LAKE – Something’s up with Brad Jones.

Even the 17-year-old Crystal Lake Central senior can’t quite explain how it happened.

The typically reticent and modest honor roll student has embarked on a new campaign, and its beginnings seem to bewilder even those closest to him. He’s not one to make waves, he said, but he certainly is making a splash with unsuspecting strangers.

It all started with a simple batch of cookies. Jones baked some extras and took them to school to share with his classmates – both friends and strangers.

“It didn’t matter if I knew them or not, if they walked up to me and wanted a cookie, I gave it to them,” Jones said.

Then it dawned on him. Why not do this every day?

So Jones set out to complete 25 random acts of kindness – one each day until Christmas.

“This is very out of the ordinary for me,” Jones said. “I’m really pushing my boundaries doing this.”

So far, he has been a bell-ringer for The Salvation Army, bought a wedding gift from a stranger’s registry, got two classmates a poster signed by their favorite band, brought in enough quarters for a wash and dry on each machine at a local laundromat and played Santa Claus at a PetSmart.

“I was the skinniest Santa ever, I think,” Jones said, laughing.

“Random” is the key, Jones said in explaining how he chooses his acts of kindness. “Most nights I don’t have anything planned. It could be that person who doesn’t look like they’re having the best day, a mom in the store that’s under stress. I keep it as random as possible. I don’t pick people I know, but somehow everyone I pick is related to someone I know.”

On the night he bought flowers to deliver to hospital patients, he ran into a classmate in the elevator. The classmate’s mother was one of the flower recipients.

On another day, he gave a bouquet to an unsuspecting woman in the grocery store. It turned out she was the mother of a different classmate. The next day, that classmate brought in a gift card for Jones.

Of course, he passed it on.

When he bought a cart full of groceries for strangers who were on their way to a funeral, they turned out to be related to his neighbors.

His 25 days of kindness is completely self-funded. Jones worked over the summer and said he “didn’t spend a dime.” He planned to save money for school next year – he plans to attend Illinois State University to study biochemistry – or for “nothing in particular.”

This month, he has bought Christmas gifts from a giving tree, written 100 compliments and left them on windshields, filled a stranger’s gas tank and given out plenty of gift cards.

“I don’t even know him, but I’m so proud of him,” said Margaret Panozzo, who was one of the lucky recipients of a Conscious Cup gift card. “Your parents must have done something right.”

And proud they are. He is the son of Randy and Mary Ellen Jones of Crystal Lake.

“He’s a good kid, and he cares about others and what’s going on in the world,” his father said. “He’s trying to make a difference in the world, even if it’s small.”

Because he’s tracking his progress on Facebook, Brad Jones is getting all sorts of attention. Soon after starting his project, messages, phone calls, cards, letters and text messages started flooding in.

“Going into it, I wasn’t expecting this response at all,” Jones said. “I expected it to benefit me because I love doing it, and I expected it to help other people. But I never expected hundreds of messages.”

Although he’s stepped out of his shell for the project, it’s hard to teach an old, modest dog new tricks.

“I’m no Superman,” Jones said. “I’m nothing special, honestly. I’m doing it because it’s what feels right, and it’s what inspires people.”