Better together — a family’s story of giving

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It all started with a question that Jean and John Kingston had in 2005 when their eldest daughter turned 14: “Have we done a good enough job instilling in our children the values in which we believe?’” After much consideration, the Kingstons decided that it was not enough simply to talk about values with their children. They needed to provide them with experiences that would inculcate the virtues of generosity and sacrifice.

The Winchester couple, who met as freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania, began seeking out opportunities to serve their community side-by-side with their four children. The six members of the Kingston family came to think of themselves as “seeds” of generosity that they hoped would take root and flourish, improving the lives of others and encouraging other families around them to serve together. Based on this notion, the Kingstons started SixSeeds, a non-profit organization dedicated to sharing stories of service and connecting families to volunteer opportunities.

“We ended up doing the craziest thing,” said Jean Kingston. “We ended up buying the ‘dying’ video store in our town.”

The Kingstons bought the store in 2009, after the current owner realized videocassettes had become a dying business. They put a SixSeeds sign out front and opened their doors to the public.

Although they continued to rent movies, the Kingstons also used the space to share their vision of family volunteerism. They collected customer e-mails and sent newsletters filled with articles consistent with their philosophy. The newsletter was soon picked up by Patheos, the world’s largest multi-faith website, and eventually, it grew into that website’s Faith and Family channel.

For six years (between 2006-2012), the Kingstons and several other families (in collaboration with World Vision International, a Christian humanitarian aid, development and advocacy organization), traveled to Las Palmas, a “squatter” community on the hillsides of Tijuana, Mexico. This family collaboration has helped re-build the town’s infrastructure while forging lasting relationships between the American families and the Las Palmas community. Together the families cleaned, painted, and expanded the local playground and participated in Bible study groups. Mostly, the kids enjoyed playing soccer together. SixSeeds continues to support the Las Palmas community in creative ways, such as organizing neighborhood parties to stuff backpacks with school supplies for the Mexican children.

“Over the years, we’ve gotten to see their community flourish,” said Jean Kingston. “But really, for the kids, it’s [important to] have the exposure, so that when they grow up they will have those memories and relationships… and be people who care.”

SixSeeds expanded this concept of social family engagement to form “Operation Send-A-Box,” a coordinated effort to fill more than 2,000 boxes of towels, toiletries, reading materials, and letters for the squadron of a good family friend serving in Iraq.

Over the years, the Kingston’s small family initiative has continued to sprout. Today, SixSeeds is part of the Sword and Spoon Foundation, a national umbrella organization of various entities dedicated to the common good. One of these entities is Ottauguechee Farm, which hosts spiritual college retreats and artists’ workshops.

Sword and Spoon also works with Kingston Road Pictures, which develops inspirational narrative feature films and documentaries. For example, last May, Sword and Spoon hosted a free Boston premiere of “Little Boy,” a movie about a boy who is determined to bring his father home from World War II. Since one of the foundational values of Sword and Spoon is family, this movie about the father and son bond seemed like a particularly appropriate film to show.

“It was really [heart] warming and exciting to see all of these families together,” said Cathy Fair, the director of the Sword and Spoon Foundation, about the screening. “The atmosphere was super energetic and fun.”

Nonetheless, as with many energetic initiatives that start at the micro level and branch out, there is always the danger of loosing momentum, and Jean Kingston worries about losing touch with the original goals of the project.

“What we are trying to do now is basically to put some water back on those service projects because that’s really a big branch that we’ve left behind for a little bit.”

Locally, SixSeeds hopes to partner soon with the Texas based Boot Campaign, which raises money for veteran families. Jean Kingston understands that charity can be fun, too: Sword and Spoon is seeking to partner with the Red Sox to organize sports focused family events and has begun a “push-ups for charity” initiative where volunteers are sponsored to do a number of push-ups within a certain time frame.

The Kingstons are motivated by a strong desire to share memorable experiences of service with their children, and their strong Christian faith helps build connections through service beyond their nuclear family.

“You don’t have to believe in the same Jesus or God, but to have that universal feeling of that connection, that humanity connection. There’s a little bit of that,” said Jean Kingston. “Once you’re out there and say ‘hey I don’t have the answers but I would love to ask the questions alongside you. Let’s have a conversation, [then bridges can be built.].”

Contact Beth Treffeisen at [email protected]

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