BANGOR, Maine — The idea of Pay It Forward took root at Hope House several years ago, said Manager Ann Giggey, when Rick Bernstein, advocate for the concept in the Bangor area, introduced it at the shelter, which provides a bed, a meal and social services to those with addiction and mental illness.
“Since then,” Giggey said, “fifteen or 20 of our guests have paid it forward after receiving some very basic things, such as a bus ticket, new sneakers or help with obtaining an identification card.”
One of the people paying it forward was Brian Leighton, 49, of Bangor, who grew up in Kingman. Leighton, a slender man with lively blue eyes and a pleasant manner who loves to fish and hunt, heard about Pay It Forward from one of the volunteers at Hope House when he requested a fishing license.
“I wasn’t interested at first,” Leighton said. He thought Pay It Forward had something to do with money, something he didn’t have much of. He was in the process of getting back on his feet after losing his job at a sawmill, and was dealing with a variety of health issues.
After he received $27 for a Maine fishing license, Leighton got to thinking. It occurred to him there was a way he could pay it forward. He had an extra fly rod, one he rarely used. He took the rod and reel to Hope House and requested that it be given to someone who liked to fish.
“It had to be a fly rod,” Leighton said, explaining that fly fishing requires a fisherman to be active and use both hands, activity that would help the person focus on fishing, making it less likely he’d “hang out in the woods and drink, or get into trouble some other way.”
“Pay It Foward gives a person the chance to help someone else,” Leighton said. “It helps your own self-esteem to help someone else. It made me feel good to do it.”
Giggey said another man at the shelter wanted to go home to Rhode Island. He requested a bus ticket. He told Giggey he would pay it forward by baking cookies and brownies, holding a bake sale and donating the proceeds to a charity that benefits those with cancer. Giggey has no way of knowing whether the young man did what he said he’d do, but “the pay it forward seed was planted,” she said.
She recalled that another guest at Hope House wanted a membership to the Bangor Y. That man paid it forward in a quiet way, she said. He came to Hope House on a regular basis and began to assist a frail, elderly man who needed help with shaving and getting his hair cut.
Hope House, established in 1973 for those struggling with the disease of alcoholism, operates under the auspices of Penobscot Community Health Care. It serves as an emergency shelter for those dealing with catastrophic life crises such as addiction or mental illness. It offers a warm, safe place to stay the night, food and social and medical services. It has 69 beds, 20 of those reserved for women. But, Giggey said, the need for beds far surpasses 69. On the night of Jan. 9, an additional 13 people found shelter there.
The shelter serves three meals a day and provides medical services, group support, clinical therapists and assistance with housing. Groups address smoking cessation, solutions for homelessness, addiction, personal empowerment, wellness and mindfulness, dealing with anxiety, anger and emotional management and illness education. Art therapy also is offered.
Since the shelter has no food budget, Giggey said, it relies on the community at large to fill that gap. Groups, organizations and businesses, including the Seventh Day Adventist Church of Hermon, Anglers restaurant, Texas Roadhouse restaurant, Columbia Street Baptist Church, People’s Bank, Job Corps, LaBree’s bakery and many area pizza places, which donate slices of pizza for a pizza night, provide food at Hope House.
“We are blessed by the community,” Giggey said, noting that Hope House can always use more organizations or groups willing to provide and serve a meal.
As for Leighton, he now has his own apartment, though he maintains connections with Hope House for therapy pertaining to his health issues. It’s likely he will continue to pay it forward.
“I try to help anyone that needs it,” he said. “What goes around, comes around.”