How Rylyn, 10, and Raegan Richins, 13, Turned Their Hometown Into the Kindness Capital of Kentucky
Raegan Richins and her little sister, Rylyn, were heading back to their home in La Grange, Kentucky, after a family outing in 2019 when they spotted a number of "Just Be Kind" signs posted in yards along the country road they were traveling down. For the two girls — who have two sisters with Down syndrome — the signs struck a nerve.
"We have siblings with special needs," Raegan, 13, tells PEOPLE, "and we both felt that people sometimes weren't as kind to them as they should be."
Hours later, when the family arrived home, the sisters dreamed up a plan to create their own colorful yard signs — bearing the simple message "Be Kind" — that soon touched thousands of residents in La Grange and beyond. Working on a picnic table in their backyard, Raegan and Rylyn, 10, use spray paint and wooden block letters to create their multicolored signs, which they sell for $10, donating the proceeds to local charities.
Their modest ambition of selling 65 signs has mushroomed into more than 3,000 signs, raising more than $40,000 for the Humane Society, food pantries and other organizations. Now visible in countless shop windows and front yards across the community, their creations urge folks to take a moment to be a little nicer to one another.
"Kindness just makes the world a better place," says Rylyn, who admits that she's still awestruck over a decision by the local city council and the mayor to make the city of La Grange "Kentucky's kindness capital" because of the girls' popular yard signs.
Adds Raegan: "An act of kindness doesn't have to be something big. It can be as simple as holding the door open for someone, which is what I do at school all the time and it always makes me happy."
The pair are featured in an episode of Home Town Kickstart Presented by PEOPLE, the new Ben and Erin Napier HGTV series honoring people who make a difference in their small-town communities. The episode, Love for La Grange, airs May 15, 8 p.m. ET on HGTV and streams on discovery+.
Helping others is something the sisters learned early in their lives when their parents — Rhonda, 51, and Ryan, 50, a police officer — adopted two children with Down syndrome after their brother Kallen, who also had the disorder, died shortly after birth.
When their eldest sister Kendall, 16, who also had Down syndrome, died last year after an illness, spray painting their signs helped ease the pain.
"It always lifted our mood," recalls Raegan, "when Kendall was sick."
The popularity of the girls' campaign earned them a spot on the Today show, where their message appeared on a massive video billboard over Times Square ("That," exclaims Rylyn, "was mind-blowing"), and now the two can be seen painting a mural in an upcoming episode on the new HGTV show.
What does the future hold for the two sisters who are focused on spreading kindness one cardboard sign at a time? Lots more signs, of course — along with t-shirts and cards (available on their website) and an upcoming book that they're now writing.
"I can't tell you how many of our signs we see each day," says Raegan. "But every time we see one, it makes us happy because we know we're spreading kindness."
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