The child of Palestinian refugees who immigrated to the US from Lebanon in their 20s, Nicole Kassissieh Jones witnessed first-hand the refugee’s ongoing search to find security and comfort, not to mention the pain inherent in feeling invisible, being misunderstood, and confronting the isolation of being “the only one.” This childhood experience created a drive in Jones to take action to help in her community that she views as a compulsion. She finds it empowering to possess the wisdom and tools to prevent others from feeling the same kind of pain.
After moving to Winchester, Jones connected with the “Thursday Morning Coffee Group,” diverse and welcoming group of women who attended weekly coffee meet-ups organized by the then-named Winchester Multicultural Network. While she only attended for about a year—until her first child was too squirmy to sit through coffee—she enjoyed the connections she made and appreciated instances when she would run into people from the group throughout town.
When her child was in first grade, a conversation with another parent at Lynch Elementary School inspired Jones to co-found the Kindness and Inclusivity Networkers (KIN), a group striving to help parents reinforce school-based lessons of kindness, inclusivity and empathy at home. While the notion of promoting kindness—particularly among young children who seem to have more natural acceptance of one another–is a simple idea, the execution has been more challenging. KIN’s mission has been difficult to operationalize and, at first, defining words like ‘kindness’ and ‘inclusivity’ in a way that fully encompassed what they hoped to achieve was hard. However, the acronym of KIN seems to best capture their message: treat everyone as if they are part of your family, your kin.
While they still grapple with understanding how to elevate the ideas of “kindness” and “inclusivity” to the same level of importance as other lessons being taught in schools, Jones is thrilled that the conversations are happening. She views the success of KIN as getting families thinking, talking, and doing and for children, families, teachers, and staff to use KIN as a platform to further the message. She is particularly heartened by an anecdote from another parent about hearing a child use the concept of being an upstander with other kids, and is proud of successful donation drives to provide materials supporting multiculturalism and students with sensory needs in the classrooms, as well as a town-wide project that made the holidays better for underprivileged families and taught kids the importance of giving back.
Jones admits that there is always more to do, including engaging and empowering more parents, and continuing to contribute resources to our schools and community. She attributes this “nothing can stop you” attitude to her mother, who was one of ten women in her Medical School class of approximately 100 students, graduating in 1968 in the Beirut. A specialist in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Jones’s mother worked hard to get through anything in her way and taught her daughter early on that, with a little creativity, a handicap is not an impediment and that activism doesn’t always have to be loud.