Thanks again to our generous donors, we are thrilled to announce two winners of our Kindness Award, Peter Mutabazi and Valerianne Hinkley. Both of them go above and beyond to help others and we’re blown away by their compassion and selflessness. Their acts of kindness have rippled out and touched the lives of so many. They’re incredible and we’re so proud to have them as part of our MKRO family.
Winners receive a certificate of appreciation and $250. We tell them kind people tend to neglect themselves, so take this money and spread kindness to themselves.
Peter Mutabazi, (Charlotte, NC) grew up in poverty in Uganda with an abusive father. Fearing for his life, at the age of 10, he ran away from home and lived on the streets of Kampala for four years until a young couple took him in, fed him, sent him to school, and made him feel like he mattered.
Peter not only went to high school but continued his studies in college, and then get a scholarship to study in the United Kingdom and the United States. Since then, he traveled to 101 countries working with World Vision, a humanitarian organization that advocates for children in need all over the world. Peter said, “The kindness of one family changed the course of my entire life and I knew in my heart that I wanted to do the same for others.”
He began taking children into his home to give back what was so freely given to him. He’s fostered 22 children between the ages of 2 and 17 and adopted one, his son, Anthony. Peter said, “Family is everything. But that does not mean ‘Family’ has to be blood-related. Family comes in all shapes and sizes, and I am very grateful for the family I have created with my foster children.”
Peter not only fosters kids but he has become an advocate for the foster care system, speaking out, sharing his story, presenting workshops providing information on foster care and adoption, spreading global awareness, and working hard to raise funds to get the word out and help with the needs of the children. There are currently over 400,000 children in foster care today. Peter’s message is that every one of them has potential. Every one of them deserves love.
Peter never owned a pet but he noticed how dogs had a way of providing relief, comfort, and safety for his foster kids. He said, “I’ve never experienced any other kind of counseling or therapy more powerful. Our kids are often the victims of trauma. That trauma is something they live with and we work with daily. No amount of words that I could say could ever replace what a dog can do with no words, no pretense – just the unconditional love a dog feels for kids.” So Peter’s family continues to expand as he added two dogs to the family. This also gave him an idea for helping kids and raising funds.
Peter created a website called, Now I am Known, to bring a message of hope to the hopeless, the same message he needed so badly to hear as a child. Through this site, they sell an adorable stuffed dog with a bandana that carries the message, “Now I am Known, Seen and Heard” in addition to affirmations such as “you are brave”, “you are enough”, “you are not alone”, “you matter”, etc. For every stuffed dog sold, one stuffed dog is donated to a foster care agency, encouraging and uplifting the kids who receive them. The proceeds from the sale of the dogs support Peter’s advocacy work, so he can continue his speaking tours highlighting the needs of the kids and the foster care system.
In addition, Peter just finished writing his autobiography, Now I am Known, How a Street Kid Turned Foster Dad Found Acceptance and True Worth, which I can’t wait to read when it comes out this August.
Peter said, “Being a foster dad is my calling, and has truly taught me to not judge until I understand and honor the connections foster children have with their biological parents no matter the circumstances. After having strangers love me, give me opportunities, and a home, and show me I had potential in life, I knew it was also my calling. To make others feel known, heard, and, above all, remind them that their parents cared for them as much as they could. To heal and bridge the gap while the rest falls into place. To love unconditionally.
Valerianne Hinkley, (Farmington, ME) 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Maine at Farmington, has always looked for ways to help others. She spent hundreds of hours each year bringing smiles to strangers with her projects. She placed appreciation flowers with messages on vehicles, in teachers’ school boxes, and on doors. She made goodie baskets for both police and fire departments thanking them for their service. During covid, she placed homemade stress balls on vehicles of medical staff. She made holiday decorations for nursing homes, and she knit and donated over 300 newborn hats.
But her biggest project is her Be Bold Stand Up To Bullying project, which she started in 2017 to help raise awareness after she became the target of bullying in her freshman year of high school.
From glares, cyber messages and posts, to snickers and side comments, She struggled with what to do. “After leaving school early a couple of days and having thoughts of not being good enough I decided that enough was enough. I thought to myself, this isn’t who I am, and if I am feeling this way, there are more students that are feeling this way.”
She went back to school and started the Positive Post-It Note Project where she put her positive words on posters all around the school and over 800 post-it notes on the school lockers with messages of “You are worth it”, “You are loved”, “You are awesome”. She has continued her positive post-it notes in college during covid by placing them in the bathrooms of dorms.
Valerianne has also gone before the school board to talk about bullying which led to the Student Code of Conduct Policy being updated to include Bullying and Harassment. She researched Maine Bullying Laws and has been in contact with the Maine Department of Education to help better understand the laws and policies so she can help educate others.
In the United States one out of every five students ages 12-18 report being bullied during the school year. Approximately 160,000 teens have skipped school because of bullying.
Valerianne wants to make sure all bullying victims know they are not alone and through her Be Bold Stand Up To Bullying, she is helping them find their voice.