VALLEY CITY, N.D. - As a child, Jodi Rae Ingstad would pass by a sign in her hometown that read, "Kindred: Where kindness is a way of life." The positive affirmation was instilled in her early on; she learned to see kindness in everyone.
"I think there are more kind people than unkind people," Ingstad says. "It's just that the unkind people get to be in the news. My theory is that unkind people are really kind people that probably just weren't hugged enough."
The career that followed came as no surprise. For the past two years, the 50-year-old Valley City woman has been working at the Griggs County Care Center, a rural long-term care facility in Cooperstown, N.D.
"I work as a joyologist," she says.
Some might be quick to think it's a self-proclaimed title or nickname given by those who know her, but for Ingstad, it's her job. Her name tag is proof.
"I get a paycheck to spread joy," Ingstad says. "Doesn't that almost seem like a sin?"
Her job is one that truly inspires her, but Ingstad takes that inspiration beyond her paycheck. In her spare time, she keeps her eyes open for the places and people that yearn for kindness.
Ingstad's personal mission regarding kindness recently paid off - in the amount of $100,000 from The KIND Foundation through a philanthropic program called KIND People.
She was one of seven winners from among nearly 5,000 applicants.
One of Ingstad's current efforts is a program called "Meat Us for Christmas." After seeing a sign warning of video surveillance in the meat aisle of a grocery store, Ingstad inquired about it. The manager explained the store had problems with elderly people stealing meat.
The issue stemmed from a prideful generation who didn't want to ask for financial help. Jodi knew she had to do something so she started a ministry by gathering names of people in community who needed assistance.
With help from others, she is able to stock freezers with meat, but the effort goes beyond providing food.
"Because of the kindness of the meat delivery, we were also able to take care of loneliness," Ingstad says. "(The people) felt purpose and value and they felt seen ... maybe for the first time in weeks."
Ruth was also in need of kindness. The woman had been elder dumped; her family had dropped her off at a nursing home, sold her possessions and taken her money - never to visit again.
While visiting with Ruth, Ingstad noticed she liked to knit and crochet.
"Without her knowing about it, I reached out to the world and I wanted to start a yarn ministry for Ruth," Ingstad says. Before long Ruth began receiving mail not just from her hometown, state or country, but internationally.
"When you're a woman who is forgotten about and your family has dumped you and nobody visits except your caregivers, how would it feel to get boxes in the mail?" Ingstad asks.
Ruth wrote back to the people who sent packages and made friends. Her loneliness disappeared. She was also able to knit slippers and afghans to sell with the yarn she received in order to cover living expenses.
"It elevated Ruth to care for herself again," Ingstad says.
Ingstad also spreads kindness in other ways including her "$2 magic bill ministry" for the homeless, a flea market that requires no fee for a booth as well as a benefit that helped cover medical expenses for a woman with lung cancer.
It's that selflessness that Ingstad's husband has witnessed for years. So when he caught "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" calling for nominations for The KIND Foundation, he thought of his wife and quickly submitted an application.
"He wrote things about me that I hadn't even remembered I had done," Ingstad says. "Me being kind isn't something I think about; it just happens. He had not only taken in, but retained things I had done in many years passed that he shared with KIND."
On Dec. 6, The KIND Foundation announced seven winners among nearly 5,000 applicants for its philanthropic program called KIND People.
Ingstad was one of them.
She was driving home when she received the news from The KIND Foundation. Ingstad was awarded $100,000 for her efforts toward kindness. She was shocked and elated.
When she returned home she broke the news to her husband by placing a 100 Grand candy bar on his dinner plate.
Fulfilling lifelong dreams
Ingstad has many dreams in mind for the award money, but one is especially close to her heart.
"I was always supposed to be a mother - in my head," she says. "But sometimes what we want for ourselves is not really how life turns out." Ingstad was unable to have kids and the current, one-bedroom rented farmhouse she and her husband live in doesn't allow room for children.
"I think (the money) will help me buy a house big enough to finally be a foster mom," she says. "And then I get to nurture my own kindness and grow it in the kids I'll be able to help - maybe adopt."
Her goal is to foster kindness by fostering children.
"The Disney movies are right. When you wish upon a falling star, dreams really do come true," Ingstad says. "I'm walking, living, breathing proof of that because of The KIND Foundation."
About The KIND Foundation
The KIND Foundation is a 501c3 established by the healthy snack company, KIND. Daniel Lubetzky, founder and CEO of KIND and president of The KIND Foundation, was taught the importance of kindness from his father who credits his own survival of the Holocaust during WWII to gestures of kindness from strangers.
KIND People is a philanthropic program created through the foundation which is awarding a total of $1.1 million to seven people out of nearly 5,000 applicants who have transformed their communities through kindness.
In conjunction, they will also launch a storytelling series in the coming weeks that reveals the transformative power of kindness.
"These remarkable human beings capture the spirit we need to elevate and the values that make America great, including kindness, respect and the conviction that we can make a positive difference in each other's lives," Lubetzky says.