Samford University alumnus Billy Ivey is living proof of the statement, “You don’t have to do something grand to do something great.”
What started as a way to make his own children smile, laugh or think every day turned into a platform called Napkinisms that has reached thousands of people.
Every day, he writes silly notes on napkins and packs them in his children’s lunches. He started posting them on social media, and they went viral. As he continued to post the notes on social media, he went from hundreds of Instagram followers to more than 10,000, and his Facebook album of the napkins has been shared almost 60,000 times.
Suddenly, it was not just about his kids. He received messages from people all over the world thanking him for the inspiration and the special childhood memories that were brought back to life through Napkinisms.
“I don’t think people are following the napkins so much as they are following the idea. It’s not what I’m writing; it’s that I’m writing. It reminds people of stories or things that their family used to do or when people took time to make their day brighter,” said Ivey.
One woman even told him she was reconsidering her decision not to have kids because she never knew having a family could be so fun.
As his kids’ summer break rolled around, there was no need for packed lunches and notes, so Ivey considered ways to keep the momentum of the Napkinisms movement going. He previously worked closely with Chick-fil-A marketing, and through his connections with the corporation, his friend proposed a plan.
“My buddy from Chick-fil-A said ‘what you’re doing is making a difference. You help share a smile every day, and I would hate to see that stop’,” Ivey said.
The Chick-fil-A Foundation provides free lunches to needy kids in the inner city of Atlanta, Georgia, every week. Partnering with the Chick-fil-A Foundation, Action Ministries and the Boys and Girls Club, Ivey began to write on napkins to be placed in each free lunch. The lunches are delivered directly to neighborhoods and summer schools to needy kids.
“The foundation said it needed 300 notes in the next few days, so I sat up three nights in a row and wrote 300 messages. Most of them were very simple, or silly or simply ridiculous,” Ivey said.
“It’s special that a $10 billion company allows its foundation to do something like this to inspire kids. A company that serves millions of people every day allowing this is pretty remarkable,” he continued.
Over the next couple of weeks, the foundation needed 900 more notes, so Ivey started a website where Napkinisms supporters can submit notes to help him fill lunches. To date, Ivey and his followers have provided more than 2,000 messages to help put a smile on kids’ faces each week.
Ivey has never looked at this as an opportunity to do anything other than brighten people’s days. In the future, he would like to write a book and see Napkinisms keep growing, but right now, he is focused on simply sharing a smile every day with his followers.
“I’m not trying to change the world through this,” he said. “I just hope I can change someone’s day, and let kids know that somebody thinks they’re special. I know now how significant that can be.”
The Chick-fil-A Foundation’s summer lunch program has concluded, but Ivey is still scribbling on his napkins and -encouraging others to join him at his site, napkinisms.com.
Billy Ivey is a 1996 Samford graduate and former director of alumni programs. He is a writer and brand strategist at an ad agency in Birmingham. Samford has a decades-long relationship with Chick-fil-A, the Truett Cathy family and their family foundations.
Erin Bognar is a senior journalism and mass communication major and served as a summer intern in Samford’s Division of Marketing and Communication.