Dalton Lemert is a graduate of Purdue University and formerly worked as the Director of a nonprofit organization that aimed to make the world a better place, one act of random kindness at a time. Together, he and his team traveled more than 35,000 miles around the U.S. in their RV performing acts of kindness, ranging anywhere from buying coffee for a stranger, to throwing a senior citizen prom, to taking a Boys and Girls Club to Disney World. His work has been featured on the Today Show, Steve Harvey Show, USA Today and others. Dalton has also led digital, social, and print marketing initiatives for companies like PayPal, Fifth Third Bank, Amway, and Boxed Water, and has recently joined the CharacterStrong team to help bring social-emotional learning into more schools across America.
We talk with Dalton about his time living in an RV for almost 4 years doing acts of random kindness. He also talks about how important it is to be an advocate for others, and shares about his new role with CharacterStrong.
“...the world now more than ever is in desperate need of an epidemic of kindness. I think there is transformational power in kindness. I've seen it from my time on the road. I've seen it in my personal life. I've experienced times when I'm maybe not acting in kindness. I've seen how that stops the transformational power, and so I think now more than ever we're in need of it.”
— Dalton Lemert
- John: Welcome to the CharacterStrong Podcast where we have conversations on school culture and leadership. Today we're talking with Dalton Lemert. Dalton is a graduate of Purdue University, and formerly worked as the director of a nonprofit organization that aimed to make the world a better place, one act of random kindness at a time. Together he and his team traveled more than 35,000 miles around the United States in their RV, performing acts of kindness ranging anywhere from buying coffee for a stranger, to throwing a senior citizen prom, to taking a Boys & Girls Club to Disney World. His work has been featured on the Today show, Steve Harvey show, USA Today, and others.
- John: Dalton has also led digital, social, and print marketing initiatives for companies like PayPal, Fifth Third Bank, Amway, and Boxed Water. He has recently joined the CharacterStrong team to help bring social emotional learning into the daily fabric of schools across America. Are you ready? Let's get CharacterStrong with Dalton Lemert. All right. It is such a great day at CharacterStrong because we have the newest member of the CharacterStrong team with us today on the CharacterStrong Podcast, Dalton Lemert. Welcome to the show my friend.
- Dalton: Thank you so much John. It's an honor to be on the podcast. It's even more of an honor to be part of the CharacterStrong team.
- John: Well, we are so excited. Dalton, you spent a few weeks up here in Washington where we are, and we were getting to know each other even more, and really digging into this work. You're coming onto the team doing a lot of things, but the official title is you're the, CharacterStrong Curriculum and Training Consultant, which means you're getting a chance to really talk with a lot of people that are out there that are wanting to learn more about CharacterStrong.
- John: Whether it be our curricula. Whether it be about trainings. Basically, how we can support schools more, and in many cases you're going to be their first touch point. You're going to be one of the first people that they talk to at CharacterStrong to learn more, and so just so thrilled to have you. Instead of digging into that, because we're big believers at CharacterStrong in cut the fluff, get right to the stuff. So let's get to the stuff. I want people to get to know you, but I want you to be able to share some content, things that they can learn from. So man, tell me about the RV.
- Dalton: All right. Going right into the RV. Yeah. A little unique in my life story in that I've spent almost four years on and off, full-time in an RV, traveling around the country, performing acts of random kindness everywhere I went. It's a long story, but to summarize it, it started my freshman year at Purdue University. It actually started, my best friend Alex had just finished up some finals, and was trying to unwind. He was watching a movie called Evan Almighty. I know you can remember it.
- John: I remember it. I remember it.
- Dalton: There's a line in this movie that is admittedly very cheesy, but Morgan Freeman asks, "How do we change the world," and he says, "With one act of random kindness at a time." It was that very simple line that resonated with Alex, and so he approached me and said, "Hey. I think there's some power behind this idea, and I would love to go on a road trip, and see if it's true." I'm a little adventurous. I grew up having my parents be really great examples of kindness, and so I thought, "Yeah. Why not? Let's go adventure." So we started in my mom's soccer mom beautiful pink, sorry, purple minivan that we took all over the country.
- John: It probably was purple, and maybe it's been fading to pink or vice versa.
- Dalton: It's faded a little bit. Yeah. It's in there.
- John: Okay. Tell me that you still have that thing.
- Dalton: I'm actually still driving it to this day.
- John: I love that.
- Dalton: I'm going to take it to 300,000 miles tonight. Almost there.
- John: That is awesome.
- Dalton: Yeah. We pack up our van. We hit the road, and we try to explore kindness. We don't really know what it means to be kind, but we're doing our best to figure out, "Is there power behind this idea of one act of kindness can change the world?" So at first we may have been doing more harm than good. May have been annoyances as we were trying to hand out free coffee, or spread some kindness where we could. But I think over time we realized that it was a skill, and we were able to consistently practice it. Over the course of four years, we drove more than 35,000 miles all over the U.S., eventually upgraded to this RV that you've referenced, and were able to perform hundreds of acts of kindness, and inspire thousands more.
- John: Wow. Love it, man. You actually at the time it was that you had created a nonprofit. Explore Kindness was what it was called. Correct?
- Dalton: That's right. Yep.
- John: Yeah. The mission was, if I remember correct, I'm trying to remember from our convo, but it's to make the world a better place, one act of random kindness at a time.
- Dalton: Hey, you nailed it. You could have been our PR person.
- John: Well man, just because I think that's really unique. I know that there was even a time where you had some ... Weren't you on the Today show or something like that? I remember that you got some traction with people who were being inspired by it.
- Dalton: Yeah. We got quite a bit of national media attention. I think because it was so rare that you would see a group of five young men spending their spring breaks and summers maybe not in Fort Lauderdale or, working summer jobs, but instead trying to do their best to spread kindness. So I think some national media took hold of that, ended up being on the Today show, and Steve Harvey show, and you name it. It was a cool experience.
- John: That's awesome. Well, one of the things I love too when you were up here and we were talking in person was, I said, "Did you do something where you were planning these acts in advance, and you'd show up to the city?" I really loved your response. If I remember correctly you said, "No. We would go to an area and just start talking to the people, connect with them, and let it more organically play out."
“...something I still hold to this day is, I was able to learn how powerful being an advocate, and having an advocate is...just always be on the lookout for, "Who can I step alongside, and help to empower them in some areas maybe they can't do on their own?”
— Dalton Lemert
- Dalton: That's right.
- John: Which I think there's something really unique and cool to that because there's the getting to know the people side of things that was really unique in my mind. Maybe this, tell me about one that really stands out because there's all these different acts of kindness, small, big, in between, but they're all kindness. That's the key thing, is we believe in making kindness normal at CharacterStrong. In going out and doing that, was there a favorite event, or one that was out there that just comes to mind if I said, "Tell me about it," this is one that comes to mind first.
- Dalton: Oh man. Yeah. So many. We did things like putting on a senior citizen prom, and taking a Boys & Girls Club to Disney World. Just some really fun events. So many to choose from. But probably my all-time favorite, and personally the most impactful experience for me was, we were in Nashville, and we had just shown up. We were doing our normal rounds. We're trying to meet people, and see where there was a need we could potentially step in and help. We were introduced to this man named Rob. Rob was a local country music artist. Just an amateur. Just playing some dive bars here or there. We found out he unfortunately had just been diagnosed with Stage 4 bladder cancer, and so wasn't given very long to live.
- Dalton: Through that experience, we found out his all-time, number-one dream was to perform at the Grand Ole Opry, which is the biggest stage in country music. So we hear that happen, and we say, "Well, that's impossible. Let's try to make it happen anyway." So we spend the next week meeting with everybody we possibly can, from music producers, to the district attorney in Nashville. Eventually, long story short, on a Friday night I got to be backstage with Rob and his family as he performed in front of a sold-out crowd-
- John: Wow.
- Dalton: ... got two standing ovations. Absolutely rocked it. To this day, it's still one of my favorite experiences of all time.
- John: That's amazing, man, and I love just like ... I mean I think this leads nicely into, you know in these shorter podcasts, people getting a chance to get to know you a little bit through hearing this. But from that experience, of all these different ... Let's see if this is actually true. I love that right from the movie. Let's see if this is true, that you can change the world one act of kindness at a time. Tell me then, what are two to three things that you learned from that experience that we can all learn from when it comes to those experiences you had on the road trying to spread kindness, make it normal?
- Dalton: Well, one learning is that hygiene is really important if you're living in a small RV with five other dudes, so make sure that everybody's showering and doing laundry.
- John: That's good advice everybody. There you go. That's good advice.
- John: There are some students that listen to this as well, although it's good advice for everybody.
- Dalton: Do your laundry.
- John: Yes.
- Dalton: Then number two, I think from the story of Rob that I just shared, something I still hold to this day is, I was able to learn how powerful being an advocate, and having an advocate is. If Rob were to be in that situation, and he were to approach the Grand Ole Opry himself and say that was his dream, I would say there's probably very little chance he would actually have performed on that stage. But I think because a group of five guys came in, and were so passionate about making his dream come true, that's ultimately probably how it ended up happening. So something I've been able to learn is just always be on the lookout for, "Who can I step alongside, and help to empower them in some areas maybe they can't do on their own?"
- John: I love it, man. Yeah, I think that advocate piece is so huge. I think it connects to all sorts of work that we're not only attempting to do, but many are working to do in education. I think it connects to the work many schools are digging into deeper around equity. How can we be advocates for all in our schools so that all are represented, and can have a chance to be successful? Love that message. Well, let's do this. Send us off today with, "Why? Why should we fight day in and day out to make kindness normal in our schools, in our community, in our world," which can seem like such a simple question, but so many times kindness isn't normal for many students, for many educators, for many people in our world. So why? Send us off with a "why" today.
- Dalton: I would say for a whole host of reasons that I'm sure you and I are very aware of. It's very evident today. But I would say the world now more than ever is in desperate need of an epidemic of kindness. I think there is transformational power in kindness. I've seen it from my time on the road. I've seen it in my personal life. I've experienced times when I'm maybe not acting in kindness. I've seen how that stops the transformational power, and so I think now more than ever we're in need of it. So I'm honored to be back in this space, to be working with CharacterStrong, and helping to bring that vision to life,
- John: Love it. An epidemic of kindness. We are so excited, Dalton, to have you on the CharacterStrong team to continue to help push this message forward. We're grateful for you. If you are out there and listening, and want to learn more about CharacterStrong, Dalton's probably the guy that you're going to be talking with. So we'd love to set up a call, and talk with you even if you want to ask some more questions about his experience across this country spreading acts of kindness in that RV.
- Dalton: I'm looking forward to connecting with everybody. Thanks for listening.
- John: Thank you for listening to the CharacterStrong Podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, feel free to share on your social media. Please rate, review and make sure to subscribe for future episodes on iTunes, Spotify, and Google Play. To learn more about CharacterStrong, and how we're supporting schools, visit characterstrong.com. Thanks for listening. Make it a great day.
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The CharacterStrong Team is a partnership of educators, speakers, and students who believe in creating sustainable change in schools and helping young people develop the skills of service, kindness, and empathy.