OHIO VALLEY UNSUNG HEROES: Barnesville’s Ford just wants to help

BARNESVILLE — All Lillian Ford ever wanted to do was help people.

But when she came up with the idea for “Kindness U: Lillian’s Leaders of Tomorrow,” she couldn’t envision the enormity of folks it would help in her community — and the lives it would touch.

“I am,” the Barnesville High School freshman said while participating in her 4-H group, Outsiders, this week at the Belmont County Fair. “But I wouldn’t want to have it any other way. It’s great.”

“Kindness U.” emerged from Ford’s involvement with the Miss Ohio program. Also a football, basketball and competition cheerleader at Barnesville, Ford needed a platform with that and wanted to use it as a vehicle to give back to the community.

“So, I decided to start something that could really grow into something even bigger than just being part of something.”

In other words, Ford didn’t want to volunteer. She wanted to create a culture; an endeavor that would be everlasting and bring her peers together for a common cause.

“I’ve always wanted to give back to my community and help out as much as possible,” she explained. “So, being enrolled in Miss Ohio, it drove me to wanting it even more. My mom (Tricia Ford) got me started with the non-profit part of it and walked me through all the steps.”

Ford said it was challenging getting things off the ground. The organization began with 15 youths but, with the help of social media and word of mouth through school, participation has increased to about 100.

“The outcome has been pretty great,” she said.

That has allowed Kidness U. to participate in a plethora of projects around Barnesville and Belmont County ranging from summer lunch programs, a back-to-school bash, food pantries and a feed the kid program. All of the activities the youngsters participate in have a common theme — they help members of the community — their neighbors and friends.

“We all have different jobs at the projects we pick,” Ford explained. “We pick a project and then everyone chips in with it.

“The looks on their faces when they volunteered and gave back was like, wow, this is great, so I wanted to get everyone involved.”

Things have gone so well that some organzations have sought out Kindness U. to assist with their projects. Ford hopes to see her work spread around the county and would like to see it patterned throughout the state.

“I’ve had a lot of feedback,” she said. “It’s really changing lives and helping (the members) become leaders.”

The group meets once a month and, there, brainstorms to create ideas for future fundraisers. The group is currently working on a Mom Prom and a T-shirt fundraiser for Barnesville resident Kelly Burkhart, who is fighting cancer. Details of the group’s activities can be found on their Facebook page.

Tricia Ford has been absolutely floored by the success of the endeavor, and by the effort her daughter and the other youngsters have out into it.

“I think it’s absolutely amazing,” she said. “Lillian has always been the type of kid that, if you really knew her, has always been kind-hearted and good about helping everyone else. She wants everyone to be included all the time.

“When she wanted to do this, it made my heart happy because she is so excited and proud of what this organization is doing and she really wants it to grow and get all of thse kids involved.

“The families they’ve helped and the community have really been supporting them. It’s definitely been a whirlwind, but we’re super-excited about.”

If you know of someone in sports in the Ohio Valley whom I could feature as an Ohio Valley Unsung Hero, drop me a line at rthorp@timesleaderonline.com or via Twitter @RickThorp1