Activist cycles across country to raise awareness of violence, abuse

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One million random acts of kindness in one person’s lifetime might seem like an impossible goal to some, and Bob Votruba agrees it’s something only people college-age and younger could possibly hope to accomplish, but he also said just trying to reach it promotes love and kindness.

“It creates such a caring, loving individual,” said Votruba, formerly of Cleveland, Ohio. “I’d like everyone to look for the passion within themselves.”

At 56, Votruba has made “One Million Acts of Kindness” his life’s mission, and that mission brought him, by chance, to K-State. Votruba said he had not planned on stopping by Manhattan, but after meeting on campus with students and Mary Todd, director of the K-State Women’s Center, he has decided to stay until Monday.

“It’s unbelievable how good she is,” Votruba said of Todd. “She has a heart of gold.”

One Million Acts of Kindness started almost exactly 10 years ago, on 9/11, when Votruba watched the Twin Towers fall with the rest of the world, then looked at his three children, aged 15, 13 and 11 at the time, and realized “the world is a scary place to raise kids.”

In response, Votruba started a sticker campaign called “Sow Only Seeds of Love.” To his surprise, the grassroots campaign took off on the Internet and kids everywhere began putting the stickers on their books, cars, lunch boxes and more.

Another life-changing event further spurred Votruba to do good four years ago when he learned of the Virginia Tech shootings. Votruba said it was while he was wondering what went wrong and how people could treat each other this way that he came up with the idea for a goal of kindness. Votruba said people do not usually think of kindness as something that could be a goal, but one of the greatest acts a person can do is to help someone who is down to feel good about themselves again.

But how to get the message out? Votruba decided to make huge sacrifices. He got rid of his worldly possessions — his house, car, furniture and even most of his clothes — bought an old school bus on Craiglist, painted it and took to the road. The “Sow Only Seeds of Love” campaign became “One Million Acts of Kindness.”

For the last two-and-a-half years, Votruba has traveled all over the country speaking to children and adults alike, visiting schools, organizations and anyone else he could find to spread his message of kindness. The sacrifices have not always been easy, Votruba said, as the majority of his funding is out-of-pocket and the bus is sometimes still more than 100 degrees inside when he tries to sleep at night, but the sacrifices have allowed him to find other causes that need attention.

Votruba met with fate once again in the form of a young woman in Jacksonville, N.C., who told him how she was sexually abused between the ages of 2 and 16 by her uncle and stepfather. Votruba learned more about domestic abuse and childhood sexual abuse and the numbers horrified him. Votruba said four women die every day in the U.S. from domestic violence, which is like three jumbo jets crashing every year. Votruba, himself, has eight sisters and a daughter, so the subject touched him deeply and prompted him to take action.

“You don’t get bitter, you do something about it,” Votruba said.

Votruba decided to add a new message to his mission: stop domestic violence and childhood sexual abuse. He plans to ride his bicycle across the country in a circuitous route from Coney Island to Los Angeles, a journey of about 8,400 miles that will take approximately seven months.

Nathan Reitz, documentary filmmaker from Denver, Colo., heard about Votruba’s journey across the nation and decided to document it. Reitz said it was a subject that touched him and he wanted to get involved because it’s a subject that is often neglected.

“Nobody talks about it. There’s no real public forum to talk about them,” Reitz said.

Reitz said listening to the stories people tell was probably the most difficult thing about the project because of the disturbing content, but it has not deterred him. Reitz estimated he has accumulated about 30 hours of raw footage so far.

After Votruba reaches Los Angeles, he plans to begin another bike ride from there to Jacksonville, Fla., to raise awareness for two organizations dedicated to soldiers wounded or killed in battle — Wounded Warriors and Officer Down. In addition, he plans to continue the bus drive all over the country. Even though he will probably never reach one million acts of kindness in his own lifetime, Votruba said he will keep going.

“This is something that will never end, even long after I’m gone,” Votruba said.

More information about One Million Acts of Kindness and Votruba’s journeys is available on the official website, onemillionactsofkindness.com

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