By: Laura Collins
Opinions abound on whether all of our new technologies increase or decrease our connection as human beings. We may grumble about the sales clerk too busy texting to notice us, but would the Arab Spring have been possible without Twitter? Social networks may encourage too much public sharing, but they also help us find lost pets or gather prayers for sick family members. The ways we connect in the age of exponentially expanding social media (pinterest? evernote? what next?) can increase the time we waste on trivia (you have seen the sloth babies, haven’t you?) or enhance the ways we get to know our neighbors.
Two local women decided to take this issue of using technology to make deeper human connections into their own hands with a creative new business SoulKu. Elisa and Allison met at a book club. You know, one of those old-fashioned, face-to-face gatherings of people who read words on paper. (Well, maybe some of them read on their Kindles.) Out of that context of reading stories their new idea for sharing stories began.
SoulKu was born from their desire to find a way to connect friends and strangers around the world with words and stories of inspiration. They decided to use technology to encourage people to connect at a deep, heart-felt level. SoulKu kits are sets of beautifully designed laminated cards with encouraging messages that can be left for friends and strangers to find. When somebody finds a SoulKu card, not only will they receive the wise words on the card, but they will find instructions for a website where a personal (though anonymous) message has been left for them. On the website they can respond to the message, add their own story, join in a community conversation and, if they desire, pass along the card for a new person to find and to connect.
SoulKu is a sort of greeting card meets blogging, an inspirational online Secret Santa. Here’s how it works: you buy a set of cards, each one numbered. Then you go to SoulKu.com and register your cards and type in a personal story or your own words of motivation. Next, you leave your cards around to be discovered by a friend, neighbor or stranger. The hope is that whoever finds the card with its lovely message will also follow the instructions to the website where they’ll find your personal message. And then, perhaps, they’ll send you a return message and even pass along the card to be discovered again.
When I met Elisa and Allison for coffee one morning, their excitement for this work bounced off them like light off aluminum foil. They squirmed with energy and finished each other’s sentences as they told me their story. When they began imagining a business together, they had a completely different concept. After taking the business foundations class at Mountain BizWorks, they decided to pare down their original idea. Their core mission was inspiring people, but what would that look like?
“I have to be sedated to watch the news,” Elisa says. “It’s so awful. Allison and I really believe that it is small acts that matter, that can make a difference. We knew we had to do something positive.”
As mothers, the two women felt a duty to the next generation, to creating the world they want their children to inherit. The details were still fuzzy, so, after graduating from their business class, they took a meditation class together. When they started meditating every day, their dream began to take shape. Suddenly they found themselves on a wild journey. People began showing up to help them: graphic designers, photographers, marketers.
Because SoulKu was birthed in Asheville, North Carolina, Elisa and Allison made an extra effort to use local vendors. The cards are created with one hundred percent, eco-friendly paper, and wrapped in fair trade packaging, created in small batches from bio-degradable banana trees. Ten percent of all SoulKu profits go to charity.
“We wake up every day wondering how we can give back,” Allison said. “We have good-news Monday on our blog. Every Friday, we will give back by taking the SoulKu cards to a business and putting that business on our blog. We are so excited about giving back to the community, finding companies that share our philosophy, and discovering organizations to support.”
The two women moved to Asheville after living out West, Allison in Colorado where she worked in risk-management insurance before becoming a stay-at-home mom, and Elisa in Los Angeles where she moved from her actress/waitress period to running an acting school for adults and producing music videos. Now they each have two elementary-aged children, all best friends. Even their husbands and their dogs have become friends.
SoulKu works for their lives. They wrote their family life and children into their business plan. It’s all about finding balance. Allison said, “I still feel like I’m fully available to my children. I go on field trips and pack their lunches.”
The two friends gave me a SoulKu kit to try. I carefully placed the cards where I knew my neighbors would find them – in a bathroom sink at a local coffee house and on a car windshield. My experiment was not without kinks. I never heard from one of my neighbors, so I checked to see if she had seen the card I left for her. “I did, but I thought it was an ad, so I didn’t pay much attention. But it was so pretty that I saved it.” She remembered where she had kept the card, followed the instructions to the website, and fell in love with what she found.
I wondered if the card I left on a car had also been tossed aside but, several weeks later, I received a response to my online message from a woman who was clearly struggling and had been deeply moved to find the words of love and courage I left for her. I wrote back more words of hope and have thought of her often in the days since. I don’t know her and she doesn’t know me, but through this small act of kindness, she found a ray of light in a dark moment. I get a little teary even now thinking about it.
It’s those little moments of human connection that keep Elisa and Allison pursuing this dream. As Elisa told me, “We can’t just sell this. We must live it. And we want to!”
You can learn more about SoulKu and find where to purchase the kits locally by visiting the website: SoulKu.com
Laura Collins lives with her son and their dog in West Asheville, where she writes, leads rituals and retreats, and spends too much time online trying to avoid videos of sloth babies. She is the author of Sacred Separations: The Divorce Ritual Workbook and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.