Carly Clark of Burnt Hills last week saw a reply to a Facebook comment that said a teenage girl was sad that she wouldn’t get to spend her 15th birthday with friends.
Clark joined forces with her friend Tim Walton to brainstorm ideas to cheer up the young girl, Georgia Clark, a Schalmont Central School District student who lives in Rotterdam Junction.
How about a surprise birthday cake delivery, the pair thought?
Clark reached out to Georgia’s mother to see if it would be OK for her and Walton to drop a cake off, while observing social distancing rules, of course. They went to Villa Italia Bakery in Schenectady, picked up a chocolate cannoli cake and dropped it off on the front porch.
The birthday surprise helped lighten the mood for a teenager who has been cooped up at home for weeks.
“It was just the nicest, kindest gesture ever to put a smile on [Georgia’s] face,” said Georgia’s mom, Amy Kiefner, who works as a probation officer in Schenectady County and has three teenage kids at home. “To actually go out of her way and go to a baker and deliver it to my house, just to put a smile on a 15-year-old girl’s face was heartening.”
Carly Clark, no relation to Georgia, and Walton have set out to lighten the mood across the Capital Region as residents grapple with the chaos, tragedy and hardship of a global pandemic, so last week they created a new Facebook group: 518 Great — Spreading Positivity and Kindness.
The pair of Capital Region natives, who harbor interests in social media marketing and supporting local business, said they felt it was important to highlight the good things happening in the community during a time when the news can seem so bleak. Also, there are inspirational quotes, funny memes and, oh yeah, live feeds of penguins and manatees. Within a week, the group had nearly 2,000 members.
“There are still positive people out there, there are still positive things going on,” said Tim Walton, who grew up in Schenectady and still lives there. “It’s important people know that and are aware of that.”
Walton and Clark met around two years ago and have bonded over their cheery attitudes and common interests; the pair also run another Facebook group, 518 Brews, focused on the Capital Region beer scene. They said they got the idea for the Facebook group as the pandemic shut down busineses and forced residents to stay home and limit social interaction. In these difficult times, they said, they want to shine a light on the things that unite the community and can serve as a basis for coming together after the health crisis passes. And during a time when so many people have no choice but to connect through social media, Clark and Walton said the platform can serve as a tool for people to see what good can come during such hard times.
The Facebook group’s feed includes hundreds of posts ranging from stories about local businesses donating meals or equipment to health care and other essential workers to live animal feeds posted by zoos and aquariums around the word to random, funny memes. There are also such things as inspirational quotes and random observations group members make as they live life in the Capital Region.
A major emphasis of the page has been the countless acts of generosity that local businesses or people have made in helping feed or support others, including businesses facing enormous hardship themselves.
“We see a lot of smaller businesses open for takeout stepping up and feeding essential workers right now,” Clark said.
They also have used the Facebook page to facilitate acts of kindness IRL — in real life. Working with a friend who runs local franchises of Jersey Mikes and other outlets, Clark and Walton reached out to the group to see if anyone knew of contacts at local hospitals; their friend wanted to find a way to deliver meals to health care workers.
One short post asking if anyone had contacts that could help facilitate the food deliveries quickly garnered a list of people that Clark and Walton could work with.
“There are still positive people out there today, there is a lot of love around, it teaches me that if you want to make change or a difference, it just takes action to do it and consistency and courage,” Walton said.
They have both seen first hand the economic impact of the pandemic.
Clark worked as a sales and project manager at AJ Signs in Burnt Hills but was laid off in recent days as the shop has closed. She said was scared at first but has taken even that difficulty as an opportunity for a positive disposition: “I have time to run the Facebook group,” she said.
“We have come together instead of moping around and being anxious, and we have made something positive,” she said. “Pandemic or no pandemic, we are all in this together. So many people are ready to donate and care for one another, it’s a beautiful thing.”
Walton, who works for Proctors, noted that some of his colleagues were also laid off in recent weeks.
“It’s unfortunate, it’s sad,” Walton said of Proctors’ recent layoffs, “but I take it is as nothing is promised tomorrow and live life happy and live it to its fullest. You never know when anything will be taken away, you have to appreciate it.”
Clark and Walton said they think the Capital Region can emerge from this health crisis as a stronger community. They said they hoped the situation brought more awareness to local businesses and that people would feel a greater commitment to supporting those businesses and their community members in the future.