TIME 2021 Kid of the Year Orion Jean Lives by Kindness as a Simple Rule

Orion has donated much-needed meals, books, and toys to children during the pandemic, helping them make it through.

Volunteers passing cardboard boxes from delivery van
Photo: Getty Images

It's every parent's dream to raise kind children. But often we wonder if we'll see the fruits of our labor before our children grow up. An even smaller number of us expect our children to spread kindness on a large scale, like across the nation.

But kindness ambassador and recipient of the 2021 Kid of the Year award by TIME for Kids and Nickelodeon, 11-year-old Orion Jean, has done just that. Orion brought hundreds of thousands of books, meals, and toys to families in need over the last two years and he's just getting started.

"When the pandemic began, I saw a lot of things were happening, people were losing their jobs and losing access to food and homes and all of these essential things. And I knew right then that I wanted to do something to help," Orion said in an interview with humanitarian, actress and TIME contributing editor Angelina Jolie for TIME for Kids' February/March double issue.

Help he did.

In 2020, a teacher encouraged Orion to submit to the "National Kindness Speech Contest," presented by Think Kindness & Top Youth Speakers. Within 24 hours, he wrote, memorized, and submitted the speech that would win after receiving more than 2,800 votes.

He used his speech contest winnings to kick off a series of community service projects targeting underserved communities, called "The Race To Kindness," buying 600 toys for Children's Medical Center Hospital in Dallas, Texas.

"Since then, he's collected and donated hundreds of thousands of books, meals, and toys to those in need," said TIME editor-in-chief and CEO Edward Felsenthal, who described Orion's early efforts in a statement about how they selected the 2021 Kid of the Year. "Orion not only launches big efforts to fix problems he sees in everyday life, like food insecurity and lack of access to education. He also inspires others to join him, bringing local communities and governments together to help the neediest among us."

In the two years since that initial contest, Orion has collected 100,000 meals, helped collect and deliver 500,000 books, and inspired an untold number of individuals to action. His efforts have received local and national attention--including an appearance on The Ellen Show and inspired big brands like Melissa & Doug, Chobani, Scholastic, and even Disney, to amplify his story, often, with donations.

"In a time when it seems nothing is in order, one thing will always stay the same and that is kindness," the then-9-year-old said in his acceptance interview with Think Kindness. "That's why I wanted to share this message. I wanted to let everyone know that kindness will always be able to change someone's life for the better." Orion calls other children to action, asking them to join him, and discussing the importance of kindness in schools as a "universal message of peace."

It's evident that Orion has a history of service extending back before most children are even capable of thinking about the larger ecosystem of the world, let alone trying to change it.

Now, as TIME for Kids' official 2021 Kid of the Year, he hopes to do even more to bring on a wave of kindness. It's hard not to be inspired by his words, as well as his impact. In his interview with Angelina Jolie, the young inspiration made kindness simple:

"Yeah, I think that kindness sometimes can just be as easy as not being mean to someone" says Orion. "Not talking about someone behind their back or posting that mean comment on social media. That's what kindness can be, it can just be as simple as not being cruel to someone."

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