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By bus and by bike, local man promotes kindness

Bob Votruba pedals his message of tolerance at the Lakewood Summer Solstice celebration. (Photo Sue Botos)

By SUE BOTOS

LAKEWOOD – Bob Votruba has a challenge for everyone he meets. That goal is to perform one million acts of kindness in their life.

“I want to spread the message of having kindness as a goal,” said Votruba, sitting astride his “Kindness Bike,” which was adorned with signs proclaiming that he was “Riding for those with special needs,” and was urging onlookers to “Help those who need a helping hand.”

Votruba was making his way through a crowd of thousands, which had packed Lakewood Park for the city’s Solstice Celebration on June 21, shedding light on his “Ring our Country with Kindness” journey of over 10,000 miles. Started in March near his Florida home, Votruba, accompanied by his terrier Bogart and his “Kindness Bus,” plans to be on the road until December, bringing his message of compassion to all he encounters. He rode his bicycle up and down Lake Avenue just prior to Lakewood’s 4th of July parade, and drove the bus in the parade.

The trek, Votruba said, grew from his reaction to the Virginia Tech shootings on April 16, 2007, when a gunman shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17.

“I went down there three days after the shooting and I was deeply and profoundly moved,” Votruba recalled.  “How could one person take 32 lives?” he asked. As a father of three, he knew he had to act out of concern for the world in which children will live.

A builder at the time, Votruba disposed of most of his possessions, and bought a retired school bus. He recruited about 60 family members, friends and neighbors to paint the vehicle, which now holds everything he owns, with advice to “Be Kind” and “Stop the Hate”.

Votruba and Bogart then began a 10-year journey, visiting college campuses across the country, spreading the message of kindness and tolerance. Most people, Votruba said, consider themselves caring individuals, but he said that many are surprised by the response to two questions he usually poses to audiences.

“I ask for a show of hands for ‘Who is a kind person?’ All of the hands go up. Then I ask, ‘What was the last act of kindness you did?’, and people really have to think,” said Votruba.

While he promotes all acts of compassion, Votruba has dedicated his bike riding specifically to those with special needs, such as Down Syndrome, Autism and addictions. He noted that he was inspired by the story of Bethany Thompson, who survived cancer, but took her own life at age 11 because of bullying.

“Bethany was bullied because of facial nerve damage resulting from her successful battle with cancer,” he recalled. He handed out gold fliers to passers-by which stated, “The loss of our children to bullying related suicide is 100 percent preventable with greater awareness, understanding, respect and kindness.”

A native of the Chagrin Valley on Cleveland’s east side, Votruba had paid a visit earlier in the month to Chagrin Falls’ Blossom Time Parade. He said he was pedaling around Lakewood Park while his bus was getting serviced, (and Bogart was taking a break at Votruba’s sister’s home)  and would head for the Geauga County Humane Society’s Rescue Village the next day, to present his “One Million Acts of Kindness” talk to campers there, aged 9-12.

Although Votruba admits that one million acts of kindness is a tall order, he sums up his hopes on his website, www.OneMillionActsOfKindness.org. “”It is my wish that you will dedicate your life to charity, finding the passion in your heart for something and someone in need.”

(Votruba can also be reached at TheKindnessBusTour@gmail.com or One Million Acts of Kindness, P.O. Box 770054, Lakewood, Ohio 44107.

 

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