Middle schooler incentivizes good deeds

Last school year, a superhero walked the halls of West Middle School.

True, she can’t leap buildings in a single bound, and feats of strength are out of the question — she’s 5 feet 2 inches tall and looks all of 90 pounds.

But her goal of spreading kindness is worthy of any masked crusader. And she does have a secret identity — that is, until now.

Her name is Mary Krieger, a soon-to-be-freshman at Free State High School next year. When you see her, she looks like a normal teenager, with blue eyes and a shy smile.

What makes Mary heroic is the program she created and funded in her last semester at West, called Kindness Counts. The program provided awards and $10 gift certificates through Downtown Lawrence Inc. for teachers to hand out to students they saw doing acts of kindness. The idea was simple: give students incentive to do good and they will do it.

“I was hoping, if I did this, then when I did see the change kids, would start doing nicer things,” Mary said. “I did get to see that a couple of times and see the smile on the kids’ faces when they got one of the awards.”

To fund the program, Mary told her mother, Jackie Millin, she didn’t want presents on her birthday. She just wanted to put whatever money her mother would have spent on her birthday into the program.

“We don’t really have much money, but even at that I can already look around and see that already I have too much stuff that I don’t really need,” she said. “I wanted to try to give back and give to someone else.”

Millin saved the money that normally would have been spent on a birthday cake and fried chicken for the family. Mary is the youngest of six siblings.

Millin also emailed friends and family about the program, and soon, after a $5 donation here and a $10 donation there, they had raised $600.

Mary then took the idea and proposed it to her principal.

“It was really a neat idea,” said West Principal Myron Melton. “She did a really nice presentation and was also very formal.”

Melton said Mary stressed the kindness she saw within the student body and how she wanted to reward such kindness instead of focusing on students’ negative behavior.

But the program had a catch — not only was Mary using her own money to fund it, but she didn’t want any recognition for the idea and wished to remain anonymous.

The situation surprised her principal.

“I said, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ and she said, ‘Yes this is what I want to do.'”

Mary said she wished to remain anonymous because she didn’t want to ruin the program by having others think it was for attention.

So the program began in March, and Melton and Mary kept their secret.

It wasn’t always easy. She had to keep quiet when friends won — she even won an award herself — but secrecy is what she wanted.

Mary’s wish made it hard to track her down for this story. The Journal-World received a tip from a neighbor that mentioned the program. After a short conversation, Melton agreed to call Mary’s mother, and Millin agreed to talk to her daughter about it. Mary agreed to the article, again with a condition — that it stress she didn’t want the recognition.

After a 30-minute conversation with Mary, it’s easy to see that the recognition didn’t matter. She said she had seen bullying going on at the school and had been bullied herself.

Her reward was seeing good behavior improve the school.

“It’s been a huge morale boost,” Melton said. “We are just so proud of her.”

Added Mary, “When I did get to see the change, it was probably the best feeling that I ever had. Because that was one of the things I wanted for my birthday, and I would actually get to see the difference and see the kids with the smiles on their faces. It just put a smile on my face.”

She said she hopes the program will continue at West.

Mary might not have wanted recognition, but she has earned it from Mom.

“I don’t know that you can put that in words to have a daughter that is that amazing,” Millin said.