Have you ever received an unexpected thank-you note from a co-worker or friend? Or been surprised with a free coffee from someone paying it forward? If so, you know how great it feels being the recipient of these small but wonderful gestures. And that feeling is what real estate marketing company Parkbench aimed to create during Random Acts of Kindness (RAOK) Week, Feb. 12-16.

To do so, it invited its real estate agent clients across the country to participate in a contest by doing something good for their communities, documenting it with some pictures and a blurb about what they did, and sending it to Parkbench for the chance to earn a $1,000 donation from Parkbench to the winning agent’s charity of choice (second place won a $500 donation).

The competition inspired 80 agents from New Jersey, Virginia, Colorado, California and North Carolina to participate in the competition, according to Parkbench. It was the company’s first RAOK initiative, and Parkbench founder Grant Findlay-Shirras said they decided to jump on board because the event fits with the company’s year-round mission to connect community members.

“Aside from the random acts of kindness, the purpose of Parkbench is to help neighborhoods get stronger socially by giving them the number one resource to stay up-to-date with what’s going on in the community,” said Findlay-Shirras in a phone interview with Inman. “And two, we’re leveraging our partners, which are real estate professionals, to interview people in the community and help them to get to know each other.”

“We’re constantly looking for more things to do, and it fit to come up with some fun, random acts of kindness,” he added.

The Toronto, Canada-based Parkbench team spent the week of February 12 doing community cleanups, handing out flowers and compliments on Valentine’s Day, passing out cups of coffee and highlighting local non-profits on their website.

But the real fun for Findlay-Shirras and his team was seeing what agents across the country did to compete to bring their neighborhoods together.

Arvada, Colorado-based agent Katie Roberts won the $1,000 donation grand prize for her project, which included passing out hand warmers to a crew of workers who serve the Arvada commuter rail line. Temperatures plummet to 17 degrees, and Roberts wanted to do something kind for the crew that she passes every day on the way to and from work.

“On Friday morning when I woke up it was about 26 degrees,” said Roberts in a blog post. “I decided to skip an 8:15 a.m. morning real estate meeting and hit the streets with some coffee and hand warmers to hand out to the flaggers of the construction crews.”

“Some call this a random act of kindness. It’s hard for me to see it that way,” she added. “My parents raised me to try to help others whenever I am able.”

Katie Roberts

Beyond offering a bit of warmth to the workers on a bone-chilling day, Roberts told Inman she wanted “people to be able to put a face to those construction workers.”

She says the workers are often treated rudely by drivers, but she thinks those drivers might think twice if they understood the workers’ backstories (one is a military veteran, another is an avid animal lover and the other has a toddler). She also noted there’s a road work zone accident about every 5.4 minutes, and nearly 1 percent of those accidents result in a worker’s death.

Roberts is an avid volunteer, which she says has made it hard to choose what organization to give her $1,000 prize to. So, she posted a poll on her Parkbench Arvada homepage and asked her community members who she should donate to.

Right now, it’s between Ralston House, a child advocacy center for victims of sexual abuse and/or sex trafficking, and a local animal shelter. Roberts is hoping she can split the donation between both organizations.

Although Random Acts of Kindness Week is over, Roberts, who signs each email “Kindly, Katie,” says she’ll keep on being generous to her community members throughout the year.

Email Marian McPherson

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