MARTINS FERRY - A cape-clad woman, sporting floral pants, a large smile and carrying a bright yellow, circular sign made her way through Martins Ferry and other points in Belmont County this week.
Her name is Susann Castore and she is the state's "unofficial" Goodwill Ambassador of Kindness.
She's known as the AOK (acts of kindness) lady, and she is on a mission of spreading goodwill, caring and yes, kindness, across the Buckeye State.
Susann Castore, the AOK lady and Ohio's unofficial Goodwill Ambassador of Kindness, is traveling across the state spreading goodwill, caring and hope to all that she meets. Castore is easily spotted, thanks to her bright red cape, colorful pants and large smiley-face sign that she carries with her.
"The action of committing and exchanging A-OK's with one another helps to create and nurture an environment of harmony and peace around the USA," Castore said. "It kindles hope and creates and fosters a kinder environment for everyone to enjoy."
After all, the state name itself lends itself to kindness.
"Take O-H-I-O and removes the 'Os' and what does that leave you with," Castore asks. "H-I."
It's all part of her Kindness Exchange 2013 campaign, which falls under the umbrella of Castore's HopeScapes 501(c)3.
Both are designed as outreach projects to inspire, motivate and encourage individuals to reach and connect more on a daily basis with one another.
She's also hoping to offer hope to everyone as people face their daily challenges and the uncertainty of the future.
Inside her pouch, Castore carries a number of small plastic smiley faces. She loves to hand them out, two at a time, to people she meets.
The first is for you. The second is for you to continue the act of kindness and share with someone else. That way the caring continues.
She's driven all across Ohio, stopping in little towns and communities all over the state, spreading her message.
Nearly all respond positively to Castore's message, even if they are initially a little confused at why this tiny woman with a bright smile is carrying a giant smiley face and looking as if she's ready to give you a hug.
Which she is. It's all a part of Castore's charm.
A former counselor herself who once served as a high school guidance counselor, Castore has battled her own demons throughout her life.
She's struggled to overcome 20-plus years of emotional, physical and sexual abuse.
She's had to endure numerous hospitalizations and various medications after being diagnosed incorrectly multiple times between 1986 and 2002. She was eventually correctly diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and after receiving the proper medication, her life has started to improve and balance out.
She began the Kindness Exchange program back in 2006 as a way to help the homeless, low-income people and families and those on social security offer their skills, as acts of kindness, in exchange for goods and services and other things they needed.
Throughout her current journey, Castore is having her picture taken with the various individuals and groups she meets.
Eventually, she'd like to write a book, detailing the Kindness Exchange, the people she's met and the stories she's learned.
For more information, visit Castore's website at www.thekindnessexchange.org.