Editor’s Note: The following is one in a series of articles being featured in the Bangor Daily News that will highlight a local Pay it Forward movement with stories or ordinary people benefiting from acts of kindness and how they choose to pay that kindness forward. These will be featured on the Positively Maine page. The subject of this story has asked that his real name and those of this children not be used.
It was June in Maine, a time of sweet green grass and the smooth surface of the Penobscot River sparkling in the sun. But for area resident Doug and his sons, Cody, 8, and Craig, 6, the glow of summer had dimmed. Doug was now a single parent, since his wife and the mother of his sons had left their marriage. Doug was faced with a tough new reality to deal with, including his emotionally upset sons, one income instead of two and fact that school was out and his sons needed care. His income was adequate for the family’s basic needs, but not for the additional expense of providing child care during the summer months.
Doug recognized that in the wake of their mother’s leaving, his sons needed to spend the summer in a setting that provided stability, continuity and predictability as well as fun. He felt certain his sons would find safety and security at a Bangor Y summer day camp. Even though he couldn’t afford to send his sons to camp, he decided to approach the Y anyway.
“They were a sweet family,” recalled Marie Stewart, Bangor Y membership and marketing director. In the course of discussing possible options for assistance, Stewart told Doug and his sons about funding available through the Pay it Forward program. Doug agreed that he and his sons could, indeed, extend a kindness to someone else in return for the kindness of camp funding they would receive through the program. That evening he and his sons repaired a broken railing for an elderly woman in their neighborhood, he told Stewart the next day.
“They got it; the dad and his sons, as young as they were, really got the idea of Pay it Forward,” Stewart said.
Rick Bernstein of Bangor provides the impetus for the Pay it Forward program. He and his wife, Heather, were inspired by the message in the film version of Catherine Ryan Hyde’s novel, “Pay it Forward,” published in 2000. The program enlists agencies such as the Bangor Y to implement the Pay it Forward principle in its mission. In that way, the age-old principle of “do unto others” manifests itself in everyday life.
With his sons going each day to Camp G. Peirce Webber in Hampden, Doug was able to catch up on bills he owed and go to work without worrying about the safety and well-being of his sons.
David Hamel, director of Camp Webber, said going to summer day camp was for Cody and Craig, “almost like a carnival every day, filled with joy. They were excited to be there. Their dad would drop them off each morning, watch them get on the bus and wave to them as the bus left for camp.”
“Our camps were overflowing this summer,” said Mike Seile, Bangor Y chief executive officer. “No children were turned away [for lack of ability to pay]. We’re proud of that fact.”
At one point, Camp Jordan staff had to order 16 more mattresses and build 16 more beds one Friday to accommodate campers who were to arrive at the Ellsworth facility the coming Sunday.
“The availability of scholarship funds, including Pay it Forward funding caused an upswing in attendance,” Seile said.
But Pay it Forward funds are used for many other things besides camp, Stewart said. The fund was used to purchase new shoes for a woman when hers fell apart and she had no extra money to replace them. It has provided a bus ticket for someone whose car broke down and the means to buy a present for a parent. Each recipient agreed to Pay it Forward in whatever way they chose.
“In that way,” Seile said, “one act of kindness can generate a hundred others throughout the community.”
Seile and Stewart said they may never know what those acts of kindness were since it’s left to fund recipients to decide how they will pay it forward, but they see such action as a ripple that keeps going, strengthening communities in the process.
“Pay it Forward is an easy conversation to have — we’ll help you, you help someone else,” Seile said.
Seile said that loosening policies and procedures has made it possible for staff members in positions of leadership at the Bangor Y to respond immediately when confronted with a need.
“That way we see the need and just do it,” Stewart said.
Seile and Stewart said they have been changed by their exposure to the Pay it Forward philosophy.
“If I see someone needing to cross the street, I stop,” Seile said.
“I recognize how very fortunate I am in my life,” Stewart said.
As for Doug’s sons, they re-established their relationship with their mother and are doing well. Doug has custody of his sons and continues to work at his job in construction.