Not so long ago, an 8-year-old Morgan Guess was suffering in silence.
Morgan had fallen into depression because a student at school was bullying her. She never imagined that, three years later, she would receive state and national recognition for helping lead Paducah on a path toward a kinder culture.
"I was just trying to get through it, honestly," said Morgan, now 11.
With the support of mother Susan, Morgan Guess found a way not only to get through it, but also to help others cope with bullying. After Morgan shared her story on YouTube, the two co-founded the Guess Anti-Bullying Foundation and worked to bring other anti-bullying voices, such as director Lee Hirsch and author Jodee Blanco, to Paducah.
They've also started the Paducah Kindness Council, which met Tuesday afternoon at the Murray State University Paducah campus. The group's goal, Susan Guess said, is to inspire, educate and motivate people to realize the impact of intentional kindness, and to empower individuals to act according to that awareness.
The meeting of the Kindness Council brought together a variety of like-minded students, administrators and other community members to brainstorm ways to promote kindness in Paducah. Attendees broke into three groups to discuss how to introduce kindness through social media, community projects and school activities.
One group proposed a community-wide kindness day. Another brought up a kindness challenge to be instituted through social media. Still others considered using school newspapers as a forum to write kind words about others. The council adjourned with a plan to meet again at 4 p.m. May 15. Susan Guess hopes that the projects can come to fruition by August.
In the meantime, Morgan and Susan Guess will head to Washington, D.C., for this weekend's Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Morgan is among about 100 youngsters selected for the award, which honors students who have shown exceptional commitment to community service.
The recognition is one of several the soft-spoken Lone Oak Intermediate student has received this past year. Gov. Steve Beshear awarded her the Kentucky Youth Volunteer Service Award, and she was named the Kentucky Association of Gifted Education's 2013-2014 Distinguished Student of the Year. But she said she's most proud of being able to bring Hirsch to Paducah for a screening of his film "Bully."
Susan Guess believes their efforts have made a difference.
"I think this community is much more open to the conversation. They realize it's not about the schools; it's happening everywhere," she said.
Morgan says her journey has shaped her into a more confident person. She's put her struggles behind her and found purpose in the anti-bullying cause.
"I wanted everybody to get help in this situation. Not just the people who were bullied, but the people who are the bullies, too, to be better people," she said.
Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641, or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.