The countdown to a billion acts of kindness has begun.

On Thursday, about 500 educators and community leaders gathered at the Hyatt Regency Orange County to kick off the Orange County Department of Education’s One Billion Acts of Kindness initiative. Hosted by Orange County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Al Mijares, the event featured author and neurosurgeon Dr. James Doty as the keynote speaker.

As the name of the campaign suggests, the long-term goal is to register one billion good deeds. But the broader objective is to promote civility, character and positive school climates in Orange County — and hopefully beyond.

Superintendent Mijares called Thursday’s presentation “perhaps the most important event the Orange County Department of Education has sponsored.”

“You may ask why,” he told the audience. “Because kindness is a virtue that powerfully manifests character, and character defines who you are.”

kindness1billion2In the days, weeks and months ahead, all kind acts can count toward the goal of one billion, regardless of where they occur. And they can be recorded in one of two ways — by posting to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #kindness1billion, or by visiting the website www.kindness1billion.org and clicking on the designated button. There’s even an option for schools and community organizations to submit multiple acts at once.

As for what constitutes an act of kindness, that’s mostly up to you. Examples may include welcoming a new student to school, allowing a car to merge ahead of you in traffic, writing a note to a friend or family member, or volunteering at a local animal shelter. Each action must simply make a positive impact with no expectation of reciprocity.

In 2013, the Anaheim Elementary School District took part in a successful citywide effort to carry out a million acts of kindness. Superintendent Mijares said there’s no reason not to go for a billion.

“If a billion can be reached in dollars, then it can be reached in acts of kindness,” he said, before introducing the keynote speaker.

Dr. James Doty is a clinical professor in the department of neurosurgery at Stanford University and the director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford’s School of Medicine. He’s also author of “Into the Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon’s Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart.”

Doty described growing up poor in Lancaster, where he was raised by an alcoholic father and a mother who was chronically depressed and paralyzed by a stroke. His life, he said, was chaotic and unfocused until the age of 12, when he met a woman named Ruth in a local magic shop. In the weeks that followed, she took him under her wing, teaching him a number of meditative techniques to relax his mind, visualize his goals and embrace compassion.

Doty told the audience that humans as a species are hard-wired to care for others.

“When you do a kind act to another, it is a double reward,” he said, “because when you do that, science has shown those regions in your brain that are associated with reward increase their metabolism.”

This won’t be the last you hear about the One Billion Acts of Kindness campaign. Check back with the OCDE Newsroom for updates and features on some of the kind acts taking place throughout the county. For more information, including resources and learning opportunities for educators, students and parents, visit kindness1billion.org — and be sure to watch the brief video above.