2018-10-05 / Front Page

You just have to start at one

Story and Photos by Cathy Cobbs

One might wonder about a baby blue school bus decorated with hundreds of brightly colored encouraging statements plastered all over it travelling down Gervais Street last week. One might just shrug a shoulder, lift an eyebrow, and keep on going down the road. Others might vow to later look up the website printed on the side of the bus www.onemillionactsofkindness.org later after arriving safely at the home or office.

Or, one might chase the bus down, honk the horn (gently) and ask the driver to pull over to tell his story. That’s what this “one” did. And that’s how I met Bob Votruba, who is travelling all over the United States with his 11- year-old, one-eyed Boston terrier, Bogart, trying to spread his message of kindness to everyone he meets.

And the catalyst for his journey? One of the greatest acts of violence in recent history— the shooting of 49 students at Virginia Polytechnic Tech on April 16, 2007, by Seung- Hui Cho, an undergraduate student at the university. Thirty-three people died, including Cho, who turned the gun on himself as police stormed Norris Hall, where he was hiding after the rampage.

Bob Votruba and his dog Bogart, an 11-year-old English bulldog, are on a journey through the United States promoting kindness. He stopped in Columbia recently.Bob Votruba and his dog Bogart, an 11-year-old English bulldog, are on a journey through the United States promoting kindness. He stopped in Columbia recently.
“I drove from Cleveland, Ohio to Blacksburg, Virginia, right after the shooting and spent time with families of the victims and many who were affected by the shooting,” Votruba said. “I thought, ‘what kind of hurt did that person suffer that was so terrible he was drawn to do something so horrible?’”

Votruba also considered how one would combat that kind of violence, and the only answer he came up with was “kindness” but with a twist.

“What if each person in the world tried to do one million acts of kindness in his or her lifetime?” Votruba asked. “And it wouldn’t have to be a big thing every time— it could be an intention, saying hello to someone every day, opening a door—just that simple. Instead of doing one kind thing a day, what if you did 10 or 11 kind things? That might just add up to a million at the end of a lifetime.”

That’s when Votruba decided to take his idea on the road.

He loaded up Bogart and took to the road in a bus with more than 450 inspirational sayings written all over it—things like, “If you see someone without a smile today, give them yours,” and “judge others with only goodness from your caring heart” and a personal one from Bob’s daughter, “Dad, don’t ever stop doing this—Lizzie V.”

That was 10 years ago. Since then, he’s been to 48 states, spreading goodwill in both official and unofficial ways. Sometimes he talks to school groups or churches or other organizations. Sometime he organizes initiatives, like anti-bullying bike rides across the country. Other times, like during his stint in Columbia this week, he merely stands at an intersection with a sign.

The sign says, “Remember to be kind— you might save someone’s life.” Votruba held it up at the intersection of Bull and Gervais on Monday night, September 24, for five hours and on Tuesday morning for a few more. He said it had a profound effect on passersby and motorists.

“I had the most amazing conversations with people,” he said. “Just a simple sign like that—it gets such a reaction.”

On his website, www.onemillionactsofkindness.org, Votruba writes he was concerned “for the world in which all kids will live.”

“A great way to create a safer, more caring world is for everyone to start their lifetime goal of One Million Acts Of Kindness. So I bought a bus, had about 60 family members, friends, and neighbors help paint it and began a ten- year journey with my Boston Terrier, Bogart, to college campuses across the country hoping to convince as many of you as possible about this much needed movement for this world. I love you guys too much to sit back and not do anything about this.

“If you hear something often enough, you start to believe it,” he continued. “The world today so often adversely affects children. Some of them may even start to believe they are part of a deteriorating culture awash with greed, mass consumerism, and low self-esteem. Most of us think changing the world is impossible. The world is too big…too many people in it…too many problems to solve. Let’s start smaller. How many kind thoughts of others can you have in a day? How many people can you encourage? How many people can you help in small way? Now we’re onto something.”

After our conversation, Votruba posed for some pictures, shook some people’s hands, and hopped back on his bus, headed to Savannah and points beyond. He said he will be back to Columbia next year. It will be interesting to see what the sight of a man with a sign, a bus plastered with graffiti, and a one- eye dog may do in the meantime.

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