| Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
It began in the simplest way. Over lunch with girlfriends, Debbie Tenzer listened as they argued over the state of the world – war, crime, schools in Los Angeles – and how they felt helpless to change anything.  Ms. Tenzer found herself resisting that view – and began to think what she could do.  “OK, I can’t fix needy schools, but I could give them my children’s old schoolbooks,” the mother of three recalls telling herself.  “I can’t end the war, but I can send a phone card so a soldier can call home and feel comforted.  I decided then I’d find a way to do one nice thing for someone every week. 
Tenzer, a marketing professional, started with small gestures of kindness on Mondays, her own most difficult day.  Friends soon suggested she post these activities on a website, and DoOneNiceThing.com was born.
Now she communicates with “nice-oholics” in 53 countries – people inspired by the website to pour tons of school supplies into Afghanistan, meet the needs of students fleeing hurricane Katrina in Mississippi, send sweaters to help people endure the bitter winter winds in Iraq, and so on.

The site set up in 2005 has grown gradually by word of mouth, and it’s taking over her time.

“I love it – it’s my rocket fuel!” she says in a phone interview.

Her Monday gestures buoyed her and others so much that she stayed with that plan, posting a new project idea each week, with many suggestions coming from a growing Web membership.

“I don’t believe there is any small nice thing,” she adds. “Some things are less labor intensive than others, but you never know the impact you can have.”

After Katrina devastated parts of Louisiana and Mississippi, Tenzer brought some unusual help to students at Jefferson Middle School in Columbia, Miss. The school itself survived the storm, but homes and trees in the community were severely damaged. Meanwhile, families who had lost everything poured into Columbia from New Orleans and the coast.

What did the assistant principal ask for? Belts.

“Who ever thinks about belts?” Tenzer asks. “But if you’re 12 and need a string to hold up your pants, a belt is something to get excited about!”

That wasn’t all, of course. People from across the country also sent school supplies and backpacks.

“Debbie and DoOneNiceThing were just a ray of sunshine in the storm,” says assistant principal Angie Burkett. “They met needs we couldn’t meet at the time … and continued to help for a couple years.”

Another initiative that has galvanized ongoing support began in 2006 with an e-mail from a soldier deployed in Afghanistan. Maj. Walter Woodring told of schools being rebuilt and increased safety in western Afghanistan, but of students not having any supplies, not even pencils.

People were urged to send a large ziplock bag containing a notebook, pen, two pencils, a pencil sharpener, a healthy snack, and a small toy. Tenzer managed to get on Fox TV to talk about it. That helped open the floodgates.

“The project is still going, and people have sent 70 tons of school supplies so far,” she says.