Barry K. Weinhold
Meet Leo, The Kindhearted Lion–the mascot of the Kindness Campaign. When we started back in 1994, we selected Leo The Kindhearted Lion as the mascot for the Kindness Campaign. The Campaign began to grow and a number of schools adopted the program. Because we initially focused most of our attention on elementary schools, we looked for ways to convey the main ideas of the Campaign to younger children. That led us to began thinking about a mascot for the Kindness Campaign that could help us be more interesting to the children when we went to visit schools.
Someone involved with the Campaign suggested we talk to the people who ran the Robot Factory, a business in a neighboring community, that had produced national mascots such as McGruff, the Crime Dog; Smokey the Bear, for the Forest Service and a Dalmatian Dog, for Fire Departments. I visited their facility and they demonstrated how they could create life-like mascots on remote-controlled tricycles. Their technology allowed someone to talk to the children through the mascot while standing in the back of the room using a remote built-in microphone. They were even able to install a cassette tape recorder in the mascot that allowed Leo to sing our theme song to the kids.
The Lion King Movie Inspired Leo’s Name
At the time, the Lion-King was a popular children’s movie, so I thought maybe a Lion, usually seen as fierce, could also be a kind Lion-King, like in the movie. So the Robot Factory agreed to create a remote controlled robot for the Campaign that rode on a tricycle. We named him Leo, The Kind-Hearted Lion.
His head sits on a spring and bobs from side to side as he moves, making him look very lifelike. In fact, many adults on their first meeting with Leo seriously believe that there is a live little person with a lion costume on and riding around on a tricycle. As you can see from the picture, Leo has a personality of his own. His winning ways open the hearts and minds of children and adults alike about the importance of being kind to each other.
We were not able to afford to buy Leo outright, as he cost over $10,000. However, the owners of the Robot Factory were so excited about how Leo could help children, they agreed to rent him to us and deduct the rental fees from the his purchase price. Eventually we were able to pay for Leo and he became the official mascot of the Kindness Campaign.
I became Leo’s voice in conversations with children about kindness. I eventually realized that Leo was sort of an alter ego for me. When I spoke to the kids through Leo, it was as though the professor or psychologist disappeared and my own inner child came out to play with them. I had great fun talking to young children about being kind and watching them give Leo hugs and kisses. Over time the children actually loved all of his whiskers off and eventually we had to take him back to the Robot Factory to get a new set for him.
Leo Sings “It’s Cool To Be Kind” To The Children
We had a cassette tape player built into Leo and by the operator pushing a button at the back of the room Leo could sing to the children. Howard Kirstel, a local musician, composed and recorded a song for Leo to sing to the children when we went to their school. It was called, “Spread A Little Kindness.” Later another singer and songwriter, Francis Warman, composed and recorded a rap beat song titled, “It’s Cool To Be Kind”. Because Leo was so animated when he sang to the children most believed that Leo was actually singing to them.
I also trained others to be Leo’s voice. They also loved speaking to the children through Leo feeling the creative energy that made him come alive. Once an elementary school principal asked me to bring Leo to her school and talk to a group of three fifth grade boys who had been bullying and taunting kids on the playground. In a stroke of genius, she invited these three boys to head up the Kindness Campaign in her school. During my visit to this school, I showed these boys how to work with Leo and they took to him immediately. I still remember the day they were on stage with Leo and announced that Leo would be helping them lead the Kind and Safe Schools Initiative at their school.
Later, I took Leo to community gatherings, to the mall and other places where he could talk to children and adults about the importance of being kind to others. Here’s Leo at an Asheville Tourists baseball game. The Tourists were one of our Kindness Campaign sponsors .
Leo loved being on television! He often was interviewed on television about the Kindness Campaign and he spoke to the viewing audience about the importance of spreading kindness. Leo lives on in the hearts of those thousands of children and adults who listened intently to a Lion on a tricycle talk about being kind to each other and sing the Kindness Campaign theme song to them.