Meet 4 of the Kindest Families in America
The Barrón Family
Luke (39), Holly (38), Keaton (forever 8), Reid (7), Holden (4), Conley (2)
For the Barrón family, kindness is a mission with profound personal meaning. "When we're out somewhere, we're always thinking, 'What can we do here? How can we help?'" says mom Holly. Even while in New York City for this issue's cover shoot, the family saw a boy asking his mom for a toy at the LEGO Store. After clearing it with his parents, the Barróns gifted the boy and his sister with new toys (to their great delight). The Barróns' desire to give is instinctive, says Marie Jeanne Lopez, the family friend who nominated them. "They have a can-do spirit," she says. "They lend a hand and expect nothing in return." Contest judges Kristen Bell and Benjamin Hart agreed: "The Barróns' kindness is a clear representation of what we aspire to be as parents, friends, and neighbors." Said fellow judge Angela C. Santomero: "The Barróns are the epitome of kindness." And the hosts of the 3rd Hour of Today said, "As soon as we heard their story, we knew they had to be the winners."
The family heads up the K Club, an organization founded by their son Keaton Barrón, who passed away on May 11, 2018. Keaton was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at 2 1/2, went into remission, then suffered a series of recurrences, including one when he was 6. "This time, there were complications, and it was super-scary," says Holly. In January 2018, Keaton was hospitalized with the flu. When a volunteer and friend named Kay came to visit him, they created the K Club. "Kay's name starts with K, and we called Keaton 'K,'" says Holly. "They decided to make a club about kindness." Keaton wrote a mission statement: "To be kind to others, be courageous, compassionate, and caring." He established a clubhouse and membership dues ($1, or whatever people could afford). Soon, donations rolled in.
The K Club helps kids with cancer and their families, hosting several fundraising events a year, from a golf tournament to aid childhood cancer research to an annual charity auction to a Christmas celebration where they sell hot chocolate and homemade cookies. Then there are K Club's kindness efforts, which include collecting diapers, wipes, and clothes for a pregnancy resource center; donating to build wells in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; making hygiene packs for those struggling with homelessness; and chalking kind messages all over Oklahoma City and Edmond, Oklahoma. In fact, when the Barróns heard about their win, they were at Keaton's school setting up a "FUNderwear Party," an underwear drive for the homeless.
They dedicate much of their time to the K Club, with Holly and husband Luke working nights and weekends. They also spread kindness in their daily lives. Luke, for example, surprised a child at an Oklahoma City Thunder game with a jersey. Holden, now 5, once asked if he could do a good deed at the grocery store. Luckily, Holly kept stuffed animals in her car with "Keaton cards" attached; they've gifted more than 200 in the past two years.
The K Club has also created "K Packs," which allow families to make precious keepsakes to remember a child with a terminal illness: a recordable book for children to leave for siblings, parents, and friends so they can always hear their voice, and a canvas and paints to make fingerprint art. If a local patient or family needs extra joy, the K Club steps in with "K Boosts." Holly recalls making goody bags for a party thrown by an 8-year-old nearing the end of his life. He wanted to say goodbye to his friends and to make sure they had a good time.
"It's an honor to provide a tiny bit of hope or peace in the most unimaginable time in a family's life," Holly says. "We feel for every parent who may lose a child and will do anything and everything we can to be there for them." They developed the "K Cares" portion of the organization to help pay for funerals for loved ones lost. "There are lots of organizations that do stuff at the beginning of treatment, but at the end, when it's harder, darker, and more depressing, that doesn't get as much attention," Holly says.
There are happy moments too. The family provides treats for parties thrown in honor of children leaving the hospital and hosts a monthly LEGO party at Oklahoma Children's Hospital, in Oklahoma City, where Keaton was treated; each child gets to choose a set to keep. "Keaton loved LEGO. They're good for a hospital stay because you can play with them in bed," Holly says. Despite his LEGO love, Keaton always thought of others first. Lopez recalls a few times when, instead of picking a toy for himself, Keaton chose one for his brother. "He realized his brother's life had been turned upside down by his treatment. How many 6-year-olds do that kind of thing?" says Lopez. That's who Keaton was, his family says. "He was a saint on earth from the moment he was born," Holly says, "different from anyone we've met. It's a privilege to be his parents."
The Barróns worked tirelessly for almost six years to keep Keaton alive. Now the K Club gives them an outlet for their energy, and gives Keaton's younger brothers, Reid, Holden, and Conley, a way to continue Keaton's legacy. "I think Keaton would be pleased with it all, but I don't think he'd be like, 'Whoa, this is unbelievable!'" Holly says. "I think he'd just say, 'Yeah, this is what I'd planned. Good job.'"
The Phaire Family
Charnay (43), Candace (39), Chelsea (12), Corey (10)
Chelsea Phaire, 12, has felt compelled to spread kindness ever since she learned to speak. Always an avid creator, she would often draw pictures for waiters when the family went out to eat. That's how she quickly caught on to the impact of art: On one occasion, her work brought a staffer who'd had a rough week to tears.
Eventually, a family friend gave Chelsea a suitcase full of elaborate art supplies. The gift planted a seed. "We explained to her that this was an extraordinary present, that art supplies are expensive and not everybody has them," says Chelsea's mom, Candace. "Chelsea was like, 'Wait a minute. Everybody should have this, because I love that feeling I get when I make art and everyone should have that feeling.'" At her tenth birthday party, Chelsea had an idea. She asked her friends for any gifts they brought to be art supplies, then used these gifts to make art kits to be donated to kids in need. Chelsea's Charity was born, and it's been growing ever since.
Her parents nominated her for this contest to honor her awareness and generosity, but also to help her see that she's actually making a difference. And our contest judges agreed. Said judge Santomero, "For Chelsea to realize the therapeutic power of art at such a young age is inspiring." The 3rd Hour of Today hosts told us that Chelsea's "commitment to spreading joy through art left us in awe."
Thanks to donations received through the charity's website, Chelsea packs her kits with crayons, colored pencils, paints, smocks, sketchbooks, and glue sticks. They're given to children in foster care, shelters, hospitals, and underresourced classrooms. There are also art packs for adults. For Women's History Month, Chelsea donated 1,000 bundles of supplies to shelters that support women with mental health challenges. And their work is far-reaching. The family traveled to El Paso after the mass shooting there in 2019 to distribute kits to 140 kids at a school very close by. The charity stems from Chelsea's realization of art's restorative power. "It's a part of the healing process and helps kids recover from trauma," Chelsea says. "I know firsthand how those kids feel. After my swim coach was shot and killed, I drew a poster of him, and it really helped me recover from that loss."
Chelsea hopes one day to be an actress and singer with hot-pink and blue hair (or purple and green; she's still deciding). Fitting, since her proposed stage name is Cotton Candy. But for now, she's laser focused on ramping up her charitable work. Everyone in the Phaire family does their part: Chelsea's brother, Corey, is the organized one, so he's in charge of operations, making sure the assembly line runs smoothly. Dad Charnay takes the packaged supplies from the garage or the basement to the post office to be shipped. And Candace oversees kit distribution.
For Chelsea's 12th birthday, the family held a virtual packing party with people across 12 states, yielding 1,200 kits to be donated to organizations in each community. None of it would have been possible if Candace and Charnay hadn't encouraged Chelsea's inclination to give back. Candace hopes other parents follow suit. "You want to support your kids and find your own role in what they're doing," Candace says. "Then it becomes an awesome family experience. We've become so much closer." As Chelsea says, philanthropy "is a family a-Phaire."
- RELATED: 6 Ways to Teach Kids to Be Kind
The Corner House Family
Durham, North Carolina
Top row, from left: Lee Anderson (31), Bonnie Ellis (60), Tony Simpson (70), Bill DeFulvio (31); Middle row, from left: Erin Payne (34), Tikelah Wrein (40); Bottom row, from left: Janice Little (33), Elias Little (19 months), Greg Little (35), JoyAna Little (4)
Greg Little vividly remembers the day Tikelah Wrein, affectionately known as Ms. T., moved into the Corner House, a home of care for people of differing abilities owned by nonprofit Reality Ministries and tended to by Greg and his wife, Janice. As Ms. T. pulled up with her things, she stuck her hands out of the car window and yelled, "I'm home! I'm home!" Says Greg, "We've been living into that feeling every day."
Before Corner House, Ms. T., who has a developmental disability, had been in and out of group homes that lacked the stability, support, and caring she craved. Greg, who knew Ms. T. from his work with the ministry, wondered, "What if Ms. T. could live with people she loved?" Corner House was born out of that ideal, and so named because it's on the corner of the block and reflects the message of Psalm 118, "The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone." As Greg says, "The house is oriented around folks who have been overlooked, and because we live here, too, these residents are the cornerstone of our shared life." Greg resides in Corner House with Janice and their two kids, Elias and JoyAna, along with the six residents. Greg hesitates to call himself the head of the household. "I'm grateful to live here," he says. "My kids receive the wisdom of the people here, and learn to create an atmosphere of kindness."
Everyone has chores, some have outside jobs, and all sit down to dinner most nights. The three guiding pillars of the house—prayer, hospitality, and homemaking—help create structure. There's a chapel for worship and prayer. Homemaking is about cultivating a welcoming place and sharing household to-dos. Bonnie Ellis is in charge of the running grocery list, Tony Simpson is a gardening guru, and Ms. T. is a whiz at dishwashing. But as Greg says, it's the hospitality pillar that connects everyone. During the pandemic, they hosted Sloan, a neighbor with cerebral palsy, at the house on weekends, to relieve the responsibility of his caregiver. "The residents remind me that we're all in need in different ways, and all receivers of grace and gifts," says Sarah Swandell, another neighbor, who nominated the Little family for the contest. Our judges were just as inspired. Said the hosts of the 3rd Hour of Today, "Greg and Janice make it possible for anyone to find a loving home."
At Corner House, residents have space to be who they really are, something they haven't necessarily had before. "They've often been pressed to the periphery of society, whether through poverty or vulnerabilities of some kind," Greg says. "We want to offer a mutual sense of belonging." The house's residents do make for a peculiar family, Greg jokes, but his family wouldn't have it any other way. "We love being an expression of togetherness in the midst of difference," Greg says. For the residents, Corner House isn't a house at all. As Ms. T. perfectly put it, it's home.
The Moss Family
Top row, from left: daughter-in-law Jordan (26), Parker (25), Darin (49), Kara (52), Shannon (20), Eva (12); Middle row, from left: Kilik (15), Makenzie (23), Kadence (23), Juan (12), Marisol (15), Drina (10); Bottom row, from left: Keyton (7), Maiya (6), Zachary (5)
When Darin and Kara Moss married in 1994, they talked about the future. Darin wanted four kids; Kara, six. After their fourth was born, they evaluated their situation and wondered if they should stop there. "I told Kara, 'We can look into foster care or adoption later,'" Darin says. He assumed she'd forget that chat. She didn't. Kara's hope for six kids has been fulfilled—times two. Today, the Mosses are a happy family of 14.
Of course, the path from four kids to 12 brought many twists and turns. The plan was to adopt the first couple of kids they fostered. But it took seven years for the stars to align and all the pieces to fall into place. They grew discouraged, worrying that maybe they weren't cut out to be adoptive parents. So they continued fostering, taking in a newborn who remained in their care for 14 months. They tried to adopt this child, too, but a family member of the child's chose to adopt him. Again, the Mosses were devastated. Then their caseworker called: A newborn girl needed a home. They picked up Maiya from the hospital; now 6, she was their first adopted child. They then got a call about a boy, Zachary, the brother of the baby they'd raised for 14 months. With Maiya and now Zachary, their second happy adoption, in the mix, Darin realized his calling. "I was looking at my two younger kids and my four older biological kids, and there was a 12-year gap between them. I told my wife, 'Honey, we're going to be parents forever; we may as well fill in the gap,'" he says. "As soon as I said it, I knew it was what I was meant to do." They adopted six more children.
But the Mosses still wanted to do more. They noticed that when foster kids came to stay with them, they came with either nothing at all or trash bags of dirty, old clothing. One 5-year-old girl came straight from the hospital, owning only the clothes on her back. The Mosses started the organization A Mighty Change of Heart in 2016. When a kid enters the foster system, their caretakers can post the child's name and clothing sizes on the website. The Mosses will then embroider the child's name on a duffel bag and load it with new outfits, pajamas, shoes, socks, personal hygiene supplies, a book, and a stuffed animal—things many of these children have never had. Said contest judge Santomero, "It's clear to me that the Moss family is filled with love. Darin and Kara have the biggest hearts." The 3rd Hour of Today hosts felt that "selflessness doesn't even begin to describe them."
To date, their organization, which receives both monetary donations and in-kind donations from companies, has distributed more than 6,000 bags across Arizona. The Mosses' mission is so moving that it was a stranger, Barbie Boehler, who nominated the family after seeing their story in a local newspaper. They have since become friends.
As much love as the Mosses have given, they say they also get it right back. "For the trauma these kids have been through, they've adjusted so well," Darin says. "They're all doing well in school, have good relationships with friends and family—we honestly couldn't ask for better." Darin says that to make a huge difference, one need only start where one is. "You don't have to change the world today. You just have to be kind to one person," he says. "And from there it just grows and grows."
- RELATED: 14 Little Ways to Encourage Kindness
The Contest Judges
This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's November 2021 issue as "Meet the Kindest Families in America." Want more from the magazine? Sign up for a monthly print subscription here