This story was adapted from a nomination to the Reader’s Digest “Top 10 Nicest Places in America” contest: a crowd-sourced effort to uncover corners of the country where people are still kind and respectful in an era of cultural and political divides. If you know of a community, business, or nonprofit where kindness prevails, then be sure to submit a testimony or anecdote here before the June 5th deadline. (GNN will be one of the judges!)

St. Cloud is only the 8th biggest town in Minnesota, but it might be one of the kindest places in America – and the city’s inspiring spirit of compassion is best exemplified by its mayor.

St. Cloud has become more diverse with newly arrived immigrant families moving into our community – which is why in 2015, Mayor Dave Kleis created Dinner with the Mayor to create a safer, more engaged community.

Every month, Kleis invites 7 unknown residents to his house for some open conversation and a home-cooked bowl of chili. People enjoy a simple meal, share their personal stories, learn about other people’s lives, and discuss issues of interest.

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To date, over 120 people have shared a meal with the mayor. As a result, employment opportunities have been created, lasting relationships have been established that transcend race and class; and many of these individuals now serve on the City’s boards and commissions.

“If you’re only hearing from people willing to speak at a public meeting, you’re missing things,” Kleis told The Star Tribune. “Government should be open and transparent and that means accessibility. … If you do that on a regular basis, you create that trust. Nothing can fester.”

The mayor not have any kids or spouses, but his fellow council members jokingly say that he is “married to the city” and he is constantly “leading by example” in creating a friendlier community.

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Another example of the infectious kindness displayed by the city is the Neighbor of the Month program that the city created in 2015 to recognize people doing good deeds. Nominees can be an individual, homeowner, renter, family, business, or organization that is recognized by their peers as being a great neighbor or community builder.

Even the local kids – such as Sophina the “Cookie Girl” – are especially kind.

Sophia is an amazing eight-year-old with Down’s syndrome. For years, she has been friends with area police officers and firefighters, delivering homemade chocolate chip cookies. She has become so loved by police officers that they pooled their money to buy a little electric squad car for her. Sophina’s love affair with the people who keep us safe everyday continues to grow so she delivers more and more cookies.

Adapted with permissionfrom Tammy Campion’s submission to Reader’s Digest. To learn more about GNN’s part in searching for the Top 10 Nicest Places, click here.

Share This Inspiring Story Of Community Compassion With Your Friends – Feature photo by Mayor Dave Kleis

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