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Residents perform works of heart

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Posted: Tuesday, March 27, 2007 11:00 pm

Random acts of kindness are contagious at Mesa Dunes Mobile Home Park, dubbed the "little park with a big heart" by its residents. Arline Paradis discovered a surprise on her doorstep: a little porcelain bear and a bouquet of flowers left by friends in the park. To pay that random act of kindness forward, Paradis dropped off little gifts for her friends, and even got caught by the motion detector light on their patio. These random acts of kindness are part of the mobile home park's "Heart and Hug Me Month," an idea dreamed up by Aurel Wood, the park's 70-year-old activity director. "I think it's a really good idea. It makes your heart warm," said Paradis, a winter visitor from Saskatchewan, Canada. The idea "popped" into Wood's head after she noticed an unusual amount of residents had recently been sick, lost loved ones or were alone in their home with no transportation. A committee of women was put together to tell everyone about the kindness initiative. Marie Heiges, a 76-year-old winter visitor from Minnesota, wrote an article for the monthly mobile home park newsletter. Included in the newsletter was a red construction paper heart. The east Mesa residents are being encouraged to do a random act of kindness, and give that person the red heart in person or anonymously. That heart should then be displayed in their front window, letting everyone know they have been "hugged." "We wanted to reach out and let them be known they are loved," said Pat Martinez, 67, a winter visitor from Washington state and a member of the kindness committee. "The effect we're hoping for is, 'Oh, that felt so good. I want to do that for someone else.' " The person who was "hugged" is then encouraged to continue the random act of kindness, and pay it forward, doing something kind in return. Residents are encouraged to get out of their comfort zone and help someone who may not be in their circle of friends. The idea has mushroomed and residents have been doing random acts of kindness everywhere. Homemade muffins, stuffed animals and candy have been left on doorsteps. Other residents have been taken out to lunch, shopping or driven to church. The kindness committee hopes other communities will catch the bug and start their own pay-it-forward program. Donna Kennedy recently lost her 52-year-old daughter and was pretty down one day. She was perked up by a friend who gave her one of the hearts with an invitation written on it to have dinner at their house. "When she handed me that heart, I just lost it," said Kennedy, 75, a winter visitor from Iowa who is also on the committee. "I was so touched." Walking through the park, dozens of hearts can be seen taped to the front windows of the 300 or so mobile home parks and RVs. One mobile home even has nine hearts. "This is what makes our park so wonderful," said Carole Taylor, 69, a winter visitor from Canada and the assistant activity director. "This is the friendliest park."

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