In a summer that has left many adults discouraged about the world, a 10-year-old girl in California is trying to spread kindness, one bracelet at a time.
At the beginning of July, Leah Nelson of West Sacramento decided to take her love for making Rainbow Loom bracelets, made of rubber bands, and do something more: She created Becuz I Care, a project that sends the colorful trinkets to people in order to encourage them to perform good deeds.
"You don’t have to buy anything," Leah told TODAY Parents. "Just whenever you do something kind, you pass it on, and you ask them to pay it forward as well by passing on the bracelet when they do something kind for someone else."
When she thought of the idea, Leah's goal was simple and local: to encourage others around her to be nice 'just becuz.'" But the week after she started, 12 Dallas police officers were shot at a protest. "On the morning following the Dallas shootings, Leah came in our room and told us that she thinks she needs to add a message to the bracelets, because she wants people to be nice to each other, but she won't be able to be everywhere the bracelets go," her father, Charles Nelson, told TODAY Parents.
Leah's mother, Taylor, works for the West Sacramento Police Department. Charles Nelson said, "I cried that morning (after the Dallas shootings), and Leah didn't understand why. I told her there was a lot going on in the country with people who look like us and the police.
"She's aware that many people are angry, hurt and upset on both sides. Her answer was simple: People should just be nice. It was at this point I understood how important her message is, and my wife and I started helping her spread the message."
Nelson and his wife helped Leah type out the messages that accompany her bracelets, and created social media accounts for Becuz I Care. After handing out bracelets at a local event in West Sacramento, Leah and Becuz I Care started attracting media attention, and before she knew it, her story had gone viral.
Leah started out making every bracelet herself, but as word about Becuz I Care spread, she needed to enlist some help. Now, her whole family — including younger brother Charles Nelson Jr., 7 — have joined the effort, as well as members of her basketball team and many friends. In about a month, Leah has given out about a thousand bracelets. She recently posted a tutorial to show how she makes the bracelets on the Becuz I Care Facebook page:
"I have been reading the comments people send into the Facebook page, and it is really cool to hear from people who said that they were having a really bad day, but seeing what I am doing made them feel better," Leah said. "So many people have reached out and asked for a bracelet of their own that that they can pass on to someone else."
Leah's father said Becuz I Care is an example of Leah just being Leah. "We stress the importance of independent thinking and understanding that there will always be crazy things going on in the world that surrounds them," he said. "But your responsibility is for yourself and your actions. We've stressed to her the importance of being a leader and not a follower."
In the past, Leah has been involved in canned food drives, toy drives and outreach programs for the homeless. "It is my sincere belief that this is just Leah doing what she loves, but this time the message is something the entire country can get behind," he said.
When she's not making bracelets, Leah is playing basketball. "I hope to play for Stanford one day," she said. "This summer I am going to Michael Jordan’s basketball camp and hope to give him a Becuz I Care bracelet." Her message has already traveled far; Sacramento Kings player DeMarcus Cousins shared a clip about Leah's cause on his own Facebook page last week.
Leah has three other people she would love to send bracelets to, and she already has the colors picked out: an all-pink bracelet for Nicki Minaj in honor of Leah's favorite album, "Pink Friday"; a yellow and blue bracelet in team colors for Dallas Wings player Skylar Diggins, Leah's favorite basketball player; and a red, white and blue version for President Barack Obama — "so he could share the message in other countries," she said.
Still, even POTUS may need to be a little patient. These bracelets have a bit of a waiting list.