BWW Interview: Author Nick Katsoris Partners with COME FROM AWAY to Spread Message of Good Deeds
Nick Katsoris stumbled upon an idea for a children's book about a little lamb named Loukoumi that has expanded beyond its pages in spectacular ways. Now a foundation, Loukoumi spreads the message of good deeds far and wide, inspiring kids around the world to do good things in their communities and beyond.
The Loukoumi Foundation caught the eye of none other than the production team of Broadway hit Come From Away and soon enough Inspiring Stories that Make a Difference was on its way to shelves.
The new book, available October 22nd, features the stories of over 75 children who are having fun paying it forward for causes that mean something to them. The book also includes essays from over 20 students at Gander Elementary School-the town where Come From Away is set.
We caught up with Katsoris to talk about the amazing work his foundation is doing and how he's teaming up with Come From Away to spread the message of good deeds.
Loukoumi has grown from a book series into a sort of good deed based empire, how did that happen?
Someone called it like five years ago before the Loukoumi good deed movement even started, and at the time I think it was a little premature, but it's kind of become that, it's grown beyond even my expectations.
It started with the book series. I published the first book fifteen years ago. I'm an attorney by day but have always loved writing, and I had this idea to write a children's book. Someone brought us back a box of Loukoumi candy from Greece, it's like a jelly candy with powdered sugar on top. I said to my wife 'Could you hand me that box of Loukoumi, Loukoumi', it just came out of my mouth. We looked at each other and I said wouldn't that make a cute name for a children's book character? We toyed around with the idea, wonderd what kind of character Loukoumi would be, there's powdered sugar on top, how about a cute fluffy lamb?
A year later our son was born and I said I am going to write this book about a fluffy lamb named Loukoumi who goes around the world doing good deeds. I wrote it just for my son. I self-published the book, printed 2000 copies, did some Barnes and Noble book signings. Next thing I knew, the New York times wrote an article about the book and we hit number four on the Barnes and Noble bestseller list. It was unbelievable. It started with that.
There are now eight books in the series, each with a different lesson for kids whether it's anti-bullying, doing something nice, believing in your dreams. The most recent book we released earlier this year is about the environment and preserving the environment. It teaches kids good deed lessons.
When did that begin to expand outside of the book series to real world action?
The good deed movement began with Loukoumi's Good Deeds, which I released ten years ago this year. I was blessed that Jennifer Aniston agreed to narrate it on CD. She's the one who introduced me to St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital where we started donating proceeds from the book because all of the books benefit children's charities. We started a project called Make a Difference Day every October, and this was again ten years ago this month.
The first year we had maybe a couple hundred kids, the next year we were up to a thousand kids, and then about five years ago, USA today and the Points of Light Foundation presented an award to us for this good deed program. It was down in DC and I'll never forget, I was taking this train home from Washington, and I said to my wife 'I'm so inspired by this event that we just went to that this needs to be more. It needs to be a foundation. We're already doing all these projects, so we might as well turn it into a foundation and start doing more for kids.' That's when the Loukoumi Make a Difference Foundation started.
How has it continued to grow over the years?
Slowly but surely over the years we got involved with schools. Now we have over 350 schools that have a Loukoumi Good Deed of the Month curriculum. It's grown so much over the years that now Make a Difference Day has turned into Make a Difference Month every October. We have over 100,000 kids that participate from these schools and groups that we work with. It's growing by the day.
We're also opening up the Loukoumi Foundation Treatment Room and Literacy Program at St. Jude's. We wanted to do something tangible for the hospital, so we have a program where kids across the country make caring cards for the patients and then they donate $1, $2, something nominal, showing that together we can build something great. What this room is is a treatment room where kids are going to go for their cancer treatments but while they're doing this for several hours at a time, instead of having them play a video game or watch a movie, we have reading instructors come in. These kids get uprooted from their schools for several months at a time, and then when they go back to school they fall behind. This Loukoumi Foundation Room at St. Jude's is going to be a treatment room where they get treatment, but they'll be able to catch up on their studies at the same time. And what's great is this isn't sponsored by some huge corporation, it's sponsored by kids donations. It's the kids that are doing this.
It sounds like the movement has really hit on something the world needs right now.
The world really does need this. Our kids learn about history, math, and science in school but what gets overlooked is that they need to be taught how to be good people. That's what this world is missing. We live in a crazy world right now and I think a lot of our kids don't really understand what's going on. The lesson of this good deed movement is so simple, but it's so powerful. It's just teaching kids to make a difference in their own ways.
We don't tell kids what they need to do, we leave it up to them. That's the beauty of this book Inspiring Stories that Make a Difference. There are essays from 75 kids who were not told to do something good, they did it because it's something they have an interest in whether that's helping an animal shelter or a family member had cancer and they're raising money or doing something for a cancer charity. They're doing it because it means something to them. It's not work. The beauty of it is that we do all these projects and the kids have fun doing it.
We have these good deed busses that we do in four cities where we get a school bus and I invite kids in each city to get on the bus and we do different stops. We'll clean up a park or we'll go to an animal shelter or a nursing home. Now we have these busses not only in New York, but in Boston and Chicago. I'm really excited because we're doing one up in Gander, the town that Come From Away is based on. 21 of the kids from our new book are from Gander Elementary School. These kids weren't born on 9/11, but they heard the stories of what their parents and grandparents did. What we're going to do is visit all the spots that are featured in Come From Away, and the kids are going to be doing good deeds in all these spots thereby passing on the good deed movement from their ancestors to the new generation.
How did this partnership with Come From Away and the kids in Gander begin?
One of the producers, Judy Abrams, had come to me to ask me a legal question in my lawyer job. She looked me up on the internet and saw everything I was doing with the Loukoumi Foundation. We spent the first hour and a half not talking about her legal question but talking about the same threads of kindness that run through the Loukoumi Foundation and Come From Away, and she said we need to do something together.
This book is something I've always wanted to do but it's been on the back shelf for a couple of years, so I said why don't we unite forces? Both the play and the Foundation are all about kindness and spreading good deeds, let's publish this book together. They loved the idea and have been so supportive and embraced it from day one. Then we got the kids from Gander into the book and one thing led to another.
I can't tell you how excited I am for this book. If you read each essay on its own, it's impressive in its own right. But when you read all 75 of them together, and you see what these kids, these kids who are 9, 10, 11, 12 years old, what they're doing, they're doing the most impressive things.
I can't wait for these stories to get out there so people can read them and see what these kids are doing and then inspire others. That's the purpose of this book is to tell these stories, but to inspire other kids to get on board and do something really cool. And that's the thing, kids see these things and then they want to follow. They want to do something really cool.
Inspiring Stories that Make a Difference will be released on October 22nd, highlighting Make a Difference with Loukoumi Week. Learn more about the Loukoumi Foundation and their upcoming projects at www.loukoumifoundation.org.
Production Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy