business model

Spreading Kindness Part 2: How


I studied art in college. The art history professor at our little liberal arts school had enough personality to fill the redesigned 1950’s gym that was our art building. He was loud, proud, and British. He was also endearing.

When I built enough rapport to playfully slug his shoulder while at the Chicago Art Institute my senior, because he deserved it for some playfully arrogant statement he made, I felt on top of the world. He smiled, received my slug, and continued on with some brilliant description of the painting in front of us.

I loved his class. Except it was right after lunch. We called it “art in the dark,” because rarely did anyone make it through class without snoozing from the dim lights and a full belly.

I remember the day we talked about Michelangelo--the maverick, the genius, the renaissance man. In his eloquent and blunt way, with his British accent of course,  he told us about how Michelangelo would sit and stare at a block of stone for hours. Literally a whole work day.

Can you imagine that today? He would have projects funded by the Pope and what did Michelangelo do? He stared. One day he was asked about this bizarre practice and his response was: “I’m looking forward David.” Then slowly but surely he found him.

And boy, did he find David in all his lusciously carved glory.

I got to the “how” of Khesed by staring at the mental health canvas in my mind, looking for Khesed. The biggest roadblock to people seeking mental health and wellness support? Accessibility and affordability of services. The is true for most everyone, not just the poor.

Every human deserves quality healthcare and that includes behavioral health. By eliminating the greatest roadblock, accessibility which includes affordability, kindness can spread.

The curves and nuances of our business model slowly took form:

  • Generosity from those who believe in our mission.

  • The Khesed Subsidy Program™ considering the whole person, not just rapport of finances. This program we are supporting with research and accountability.

  • Partnerships with business, churches, organizations, and clinicians who believe in social impact. They believe in it so much that they want to use to transform their community with Khesed.

  • Our free initial consultation focused on getting clients directly connected to help within one business week, even if they do not work with us.

  • Staff support and collaboration structured to help us live out Khesed in how we relate to each other…

Each example above was like an additional paint stroke, texture, and hue that eventually created Khesed.

Yvon Chouinard, the Founder of Patagonia, who I deeply respect as a literary mentor, wrote about delinquents as truth-tellers in his business memoir, Let My People Go Surfing. He wrote, “If you want to understand the entrepreneur, study the juvenile delinquent. The delinquent is saying with his actions, ‘This sucks. I’m going to do my own thing."  

I found solace in this quote when forming Khesed.

I often hear from people, when I tell them the two-sentence synopsis of Khesed, “I never heard of a model like this. I have heard of benevolence funds, sliding scales, but not a whole package like this to eliminate inaccessibility to care, and the way you spread because of generous organizations within the community...and it’s a wellness center?! I love the integration of care.”

“Me too,” I say with a smile.

“How does it work?!” They ask, intrigued but their eyes also often speak to their skepticism.  “Surely it’s too good to be true,” they say.

So, I tell them about different strokes I made on the Khesed canvas.

Of course it sounds more eloquent that the grind of time, frustration, drafts, standing back, getting lost in the forest of reflection, conversations, sketches, more annoyance with need for accessibility of care, watching how people still seek refuge in their communities. Seeing empty parking lots at churches during the week, and all the other life-giving and difficult experiences that influenced each stroke.

Each stroke slowly but surely built the living and breathing organism of Khesed Wellness. And! We just celebrated celebrated our first year as an organization. How great is that?!

Everything we do is about spreading kindness. That includes kindness internally and externally. We have a stellar Board of Directors leading our organization. Our unbelievable clinical and wellness team have hearts of kindness, not-to-mention amazing skill-sets as therapists and practitioners.

Our nation is overdue for a solution based in kindness, reciprocity, and longevity. We’re here, that’s our how.

Reciprocating Kindness Part 1: Why?


Context first and then we will talk principle.

First, I intentionally chose one of the most guttural-and-difficult-to-pronounce-in-English words for the name of this organization for a reason. The word is that important. In fact, it was that important to the Ancient Hebrews where this word originated.

Khesed means loving kindness. To better capture the translation, it can mean reciprocating kindness. Khesed isn’t just a good feeling of loving kindness, it’s a lifestyle. Kindness is a generous quality, and when we get it, we want more. We also seem to want to produce more.

Growing up in Southern California I spent my childhood along shorelines. I love laying on my stomach just where the water last licks the sand and rushes back into the deep. If you lay still enough, long enough, with your belly on the sand and your chin laying on your hands, you start to see a whole world unfold. It’s amazing how that happens when we slow down.

Then, if you let your eyes dance a bit in-and-out of focus, like we do in those rare moments of rest, you start to see glimmers. The sand suddenly has layers of color and texture. Then, you see the gold flecks dancing among the rest of the bland-colored bits of sand.

Reciprocating kindness is like the specks of gold in the sand of our lives.

My love for watching the ocean quickly grew toward my love for watching people, and soon, talking with people as they wade through their depths. The therapy room felt as sacred as the layers of sand beneath my bare feet, watching the water dancing back-and-forth with the deep blue.

Kindness is what allows the gold of therapy to shine. The kindness of safe space to process. Space where the only motivation for the therapist is the client’s well-being. Space to be fully human.

At it’s best, the therapy room is one of the kindest places on Earth. I don’t mean kindness that always feels good. I mean kindness that calls forth the client’s well-being; holding space for the twists and turns of the process.

Which is why it felt like such a whiplash every time I stepped out of the therapy room, and entered the chaotic nature of the mental health industry. It took about a week after grad school, immersing myself in this profession, to realize:

Most people can’t afford counseling.

Most people don’t get help for weeks because clinicians are overloaded and underpaid.

Most people don’t have sufficient insurance coverage for treatment.

Most people don’t know where to access help.

Most people can’t find a counselor that stays in the industry for long.

Most people aren’t able to find much help at all.

That feels drab doesn’t it? It frustrating, ridiculous, even unkind.

Kindness is “the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate,” according to Google. The mental health industry doesn’t feel very friendly, generous, or considerate. Which makes me sad, because I think this industry is filled with generous therapists ready to help.

So I began asking myself, “How does kindness start?”

It starts with believing in generosity. There is an abundance of kindness waiting to pour from us and sprout across our world. Abundance is an oasis that feels like a mirage to most people.

Imagine that time you needed help and someone said call this person they can help. And then you called that person and they said, “I can see you tomorrow.” And you found a way to make it work with your schedule, maybe reached between your seats to find cash for payment, if it was involved, because you were that thirsty for help.

Then you met that person and there was something about their presence that drew you in. Help didn’t turn out to be what you thought, you didn’t feel fixed, but you felt drawn in. They were present with you, believed in you beyond your performance, they saw you. They drew you in and they made you want to spread what you got in that space. You felt as if you found treasure.

The ocean, the therapy room, this kind of story and many more like it, led me to dream:

What if everyone has an abundance of kindness waiting to be tapped, wanting to help those who feel tapped out?

What if a mental health and wellness center’s mission was to provide affordable and accessible care, because the lack of affordable and accessible care feels most unkind when in the depths of life?

What if mental health and wellness practitioners were given a place to thrive in an environment that felt kind in-and-out of the therapy room?

What if businesses, temples, churches, and organizations (who have plenty of unused space) had a way to use space as a mental health and wellness center, making a tangible social impact in their community?

Basically, I kept layering kindness until it was a sustainable business model.

As I considered the different parts of a business model—how to keep the lights on, how to create a healthy work culture, how to engage our clientele, how to be a life-giving addition to a burnout industry—all of it, I knew it needed to be kind from beginning to end.

It’s amazing how an abstract word from an ancient tribe can transcend into a Colorado nonprofit believing that reciprocating kindness can transform mental health and wellness in our nation. And I believe we will.

A couple of weeks ago our team took a one day retreat. I talked with our counselors about creating an ethos of kindness in our organization. I think most assume their workplace will be kind but few experience it. Choosing a business model of kindness is actually terrifying and the hardest kind of work. Why?

It requires our whole selves to show up and believe in kindness, everyday.

In a world that leans on frameworks, forecasts, and fears, we choose kindness. In the unknown, we choose kindness. In the hurt, we choose to respond in a way that creates more authentic kindness.

In an industry that doesn’t feel kind, we believe kindness will change its’ trajectory. Above all, kindness is what brings us together when we feel divided in our relationships, in our world, and even within ourselves.

Everything Khesed does has the goal of manifesting more kindness in our world. It gives light to fractures. Or as my dear friend Kristin, who also happens to be on our board, quoted to me this week from the great Leonard Cohen:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Kindness reminds us of light in our darkness.

Khesed Wellness exists because we believe in a lifestyle of spreading kindness. It’s the only way I know how to see light in such a dark world. I believe people are always drawn to light, even when they’re running from it.

Khesed exists because we believe that experiencing kindness can transform how we see the world, and even ourselves, especially as we ebb-and-flow with life.

That’s why.




Heather Nelson, MA, LPC, NCC