Random acts of kindness – IB staff sets out with $25 each to “pay forward”

IB Publisher Jody Glynn Patrick blends work and life in this very clear departure from both her column for In Business magazine, and the other bloggers. Awarded national recognition for her previous work as a newspaper columnist, she brings us all back "Closer to Home" with her insights and remembrances. A nice place to be "After Hours." Check back often! Read Full Bio

In the July edition of IB (print magazine), you’ll read what our staff is doing to celebrate every issue we publish, but I’m giving you a sneak peek at the results of our latest celebration, wherein we did “Random Acts of Kindness.” Participating employees (we didn’t ask folks to cancel vacation plans to do it) set out with $25 each to spend in the community at large – anonymously. Our staff was given a couple hours off to go and find the perfect opportunity to spread some unexpected joy, and I’m proud of their doggedness in doing good deeds!

Three times the fun

Jessica, Terri, and Karen set out as a team. However, first Karen did her homework – she went online and researched area charities to check into their boards of directors.

“I checked what they did with the money, of course,” she admitted. “But even the ones where I believed they had a great mission, like Care Net, where I would give my own money, well, I set that aside based on the board. Instead, I went for Porchlight, a group supporting homeless vets, where I didn’t recognize any person with deep pockets sitting on their board.”

The trio made the donation in person on Brook Street, and Karen was amazed at how much the donation was valued. “We want to know who you are,” the recipient repeated to Karen numerous times. “We want to send you a thank-you card.”

“It’s an anonymous random act of kindness,” Karen told her – a behavior that, for all the buzz there is around the concept, still remains a mystery to folks on the receiving end of one.

Terri agreed. “What amazed me the most was how everyone reacted to the idea of a random act,” she reported, “how they insisted that they needed to ‘know who you are’ to ‘appropriately acknowledge the gift.’ They said no one had ever done that before – given something to strangers for no reason – and it really caught people off guard. And that’s what made it so fun!”

They still had money, so the women stopped at a hair salon featuring inexpensive haircuts. The owner did not understand that Terri wanted the next person to get a free haircut (no one was at the salon at the time) for the $15 she was offering him (which included tip). “Yes, I’ll cut your hair,” he told her, with a strong foreign accent. She thought she wasn’t clear. “No, for the next person to come into your store,” she said.

“I know – for next one. I cut your hair for free now,” he insisted. Both were trying to do random acts and laughing over the joint confusion that caused. (She passed on the cut, since no direct thanks was to be accepted.)

“Give these flowers where they are most needed”

Next stop was a Copps grocery store, where Jessica bought three plants. Then the ladies proceeded to St. Mary’s Hospital. Parking fees are $5 for a full day, and Terri slipped the attendant an extra $5 to “pay for the first person you see who really needs to park a full day.” When the woman understood what Terri was trying to do, she reached out and took her hand. “Who ARE you?” she repeatedly asked. “I can’t believe you’re offering to do that for a stranger,” she said, obviously delighted. “Do you want a receipt?” – all the while, holding Terri’s hand. No receipt necessary. This assignment was based on trust.

At the reception area, our trio asked the woman attendant to please give the flowers where they were most needed. “She really did not understand the idea at all initially,” Terri reported. “But when she did, she was no longer a gatekeeper – she was in on the fun. ‘We’ll get on this right away,’ she assured. She talked about how she’d approach the nurses to see who most needed flowers that day and assured us she’d take care of it. She said it hadn’t happened before, but obviously she was excited to be a part of this experiment and spread joy that day.”

With a few bucks and some change left, the ladies ducked into The Nitty Gritty and looked at the birthday roster. They added more money of their own to put $15 down on Kelly’s dinner – a stranger having a birthday. “Who ARE you?” the waitress kept asking Terri.

“Just tell her to have a happy birthday,” the ladies laughed. (Kelly, happy birthday. The mystery is revealed.)

Did you get a free park pass this past weekend?

If you were at Governor Nelson State Park, you might have been the lucky beneficiary of Sarah’s decision to tell the park salesman to give the next person who appeared before him a free $25 park pass for the season. He said he’d already sold several that day, and was going to work until 10 p.m. and so, he assured her, he’d be able to spend her money and surprise someone. He, too, wanted to know who she was, why she was doing it, and he seemed excited to be in on the adventure.

Found money

Tom wanted to support the working man or woman with an unexpected and unacknowledged spiff, so he went to Capitol Square, where he hopped from coffee shop to restaurant to outdoor vendors. Five times he put a fiver in the tip jar without asking for service. A great example of hit-and-run kindness.

Likewise, Carol had a bright idea. She had asked for five $5 bills, too, and she took her stash to the young adult section of the Meadowridge branch of the public library. There, she scanned the displays to see the hottest titles in juvenile literature and tucked a $5 bill in five books with those titles. So if your child or sibling was the lucky one who found loot in the Calvin & Hobbes book, secretly thank Carol.

Not as easy as it seems

Jan had a hard time doing her good deed. She wanted it based on need, and she wanted to spend her allotment in a small town. In Little Chute, there was no car behind her car in the McDonald’s drive-through – but she left $5 in a tip jar at an ice cream place. There was no one behind her in line at Culver’s in Beaver Dam. So she gave up that idea and went to Walmart. She soon spied a young family and asked the adult male if the beautiful children were his. “Yes,” he told her, and she promptly handed the dad $20, explaining it was a Father’s Day gift.

It was hard for him to understand why she was handing him $20, due somewhat to a language barrier and her attempt at explaining the Random Act of Kindness Experiment, but as she walked away, his two little children jumped up and down with excitement as he explained what happened to them and to his spouse.

Serendipity chooses the recipient

Paul was thinking about helping the homeless or people needing bus transfers, but while having dinner at The Coopers Tavern, he heard about a little girl who was abandoned in China at age 2, adopted in the U.S. by two women (one who died of breast cancer, the other of lung cancer), and now needed a college fund. “I think she’s about 11 now, but I thought about how the money could help support her, so I gave it to that cause,” Paul said. “I wanted to leverage the gift over time.”

Pay it forward

About the time Paul was dining, I was having dinner with my husband at Cracker Barrel (his choice for Father’s Day). A few tables away, a young couple asked a waitress to take their picture with their camera. There was no child in evidence, and they seemed to be college age, so I didn’t automatically assume they were celebrating Father’s Day too. But I did automatically assume that the day, or their meeting, had some special significance.

“They’ll really never forget today, if some anonymous someone bought their dinners,” I whispered to my husband. “And maybe someday way in the future, one of them will see a young couple asking a waitress to take their picture, remember what happened after that, and buy a dinner for them! Consider the ripple effect potential!”

And so, though the young man insisted the waitress must have picked the wrong table to deliver the random act of kindness (they were the only young folks among a restaurant full of old folks at that time and he didn’t know anyone in the joint), he finally agreed to just accept a random act of kindness and celebrate it. Seeing that, Kevin and I slipped out of our seats, paid two tickets, and left laughing. We’ll likely never forget that Father’s Day, either!

Looking for a fun team-building activity? I highly suggest Random Acts of Kindness. What started this year as an Experiment has been upgraded now to Annual Event.

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