POMEROY — It was on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, that Susann Castore decided her life goal was to pass on acts of kindness to those whose paths she crossed.
Castore was coming out of a grocery store with a box of smiley-faced cookies for her and her friend when the tragedy occurred.
“It was a pretty day, so I decided to walk, and I walked into a boom, which was 9/11,” she said. “And it was chaos. And so a fireman came up to me and said, ‘Get out of the way, I just lost my colleague.’ So I said, ‘Okay, I just want to give you something.’ And so I pulled out some cookies and said, ‘This is all I know to do, just eat them if you’re hungry.’ And then I left, and I was walking back through the city and I was like, ‘I wonder what to do,’ and so that’s what I did the whole way (was pass out cookies) until my pocket was empty, except for two smiles for me and my friend.”
Now Castore, 70, of Columbus, is officially the Goodwill Ambassador of Kindness in Ohio and is also the founder of the non-profit The Kindness Exchange. Her mission, which she began in 2013, is to visit counties throughout the state and provide cutout smiles and words of kindness to those she encounters. And with her red cape, yellow fishnet gloves, blue shirt, floral pants and red boots, she’s hard to miss in the places around the state that she visits.
“If you can imagine Columbus as the sun, and the sun has rays, the rays reach out (in all directions),” she said.
One of Castore’s main activities is called “The Mile of Smiles,” in which she’ll walk down a particular street in a community and pass along her A-OK, or acts of kindness. Castore, in particular, likes to visit homeless shelters, senior daycare/community center nursing homes, schools/colleges, addiction centers, interfaith churches, veterans, hospitals and mental health clinics.
Castore, a licensed professional counselor herself, also spent 16 years in and out of hospitals because of her own mental illness. She also attempted suicide five times. But she said it was during this rough time that people reached out to her and made her better, and that’s what she wants to give back to the communities in the area. She said she also earned the nickname of A-OK after another patient during one of her hospital visits told her that it was her acts of kindness that made everything better.
During her visit Wednesday and Thursday to Pomeroy and Gallipolis, Castore said that nature — and particularly, the Ohio River — are healing things, and that anyone with turmoil in their life can look to it for a sense of calm.
She also encouraged people to be compassionate toward one another, especially those who have dealt with drug issues — which are a part of Meigs County — domestic violence, and mental health issues, and try to understand what they’ve been through. She said this is the way to heal a community.
“The word ‘community’ has the word unity in it, and the word ‘unity’ and the letters ‘U’ and ‘I’ — you and I,” she said. “If you have a chance, offer compassion, kindness and hope.”
To find out more about Castore and the Kindness Exchange, visit www.thekindnessexchange.org.
Reach Lindsay Kriz at 740-992-2155 EXT. 2555.