MACHIAS, Maine — Some students at Machias Memorial High School began an experiment last week in the spirit of the 2000 film “Pay It Forward.”
Their teacher, Christy Alley, leads a Jobs for Maine Graduates class. The JMG program helps identify barriers to students so they can complete their education and join the workforce after graduation or go on to postsecondary education. A four-credit course like English, mathematics or history, the class helps students develop personal skills in communications and leadership and others they will need in order to succeed in the workplace or in the education arena.
Each year Alley works with the Jumpstart Our Youth program, which teaches students how philanthropic efforts support communities. With funding provided by the Unity Foundation, each class receives $1,000 it can award to a community nonprofit organization whose primary purpose is to serve children.
In the course of teaching her students about philanthropy, Alley learned of Lanette Pottle, a Robbinston woman who operates a part-time business as a motivational speaker, trainer and consultant. Pottle also is the founder of a charitable nonprofit dubbed Positivity Nation. One of her initiatives, called Kindness to the Power of 10, involves participants giving $10 to a stranger, telling them about the initiative, and asking the stranger to do the most good they can with the money.
At Alley’s request, Pottle addressed her class a few weeks ago. “You don’t have to be famous or rich to do good in the community,” Alley, whose class also viewed the movie about a boy who starts a good-will campaign, explained in an interview this week. “I thought she was a good example of that.”
“You don’t have to be a Bill Gates or a Stephen King to do good in the world, to be philanthropic,” said Pottle, recalling this week what she told the class in her earlier visit.
Pottle talked to the students about Kindness to the Power of Ten and another initiative, the Happy Grants program. She shared a video with the students that inspired Pottle to launch Kindness to the Power of Ten. The video depicted four people in Portland who were selected at random to receive $10 to help someone else, and what they did with the funds. The students also completed a writing assignment on the topic of what they would do if they were given $10 to help another.
Last week, Pottle returned to the class with $10 for each student. Alley distributed the money to her students on Thursday with the charge to use it to help someone else. The students are free to pursue a project different from those they described in their earlier writing assignment.
“The idea of the initiative is to empower people to make a difference,” said Pottle. “When you combine kindness with trust, something magical happens.”
Of course, there is an “element of trust involved,” noted Pottle, that the recipient of the $10 will use it for good. “It multiplies the kindness factor because you’re building on trust,” she said. There is no guarantee the gift will be used as intended, “but it’s really about the intention,” added Pottle.
She launched similar projects at Robbinston Grade School in 2010 and the results were “quite phenomenal,” said Pottle. Kindness to the Power of Ten also has been embraced by adults and people beyond Maine, she noted.
Funding for the class project came from a past recipient of a Happy Grant who was not able to completely utilize the grant funds to execute her project. A Happy Grant is an award of $250 to a student for a project to help improve their school, organization or community. One previous recipient, Brianna Jack of Baileyville, only 9 years old when she received the grant, started a nonprofit organization, Maine Books for Maine Kids. Vivian Nokes, 10, a student at Princeton Elementary School, received a Happy Grant to create a children’s garden in her community. Pottle, who raises funds in order to be able to award the grants, has made five Happy Grants so far.
Pottle, 46, overcame a number of challenges in her own life prior to launching her business. Employed full-time at the Hannaford’s supermarket in Machias, she conducts some of her business online over the Internet.
On her website, Pottle acknowledges that she holds “no fancy degrees,” although she has more than 20 years of training and experience in human resources and is a Dale Carnegie graduate. She describes herself as previously being troubled by low self-esteem, a single teen mother who grew up on welfare, surrounded by alcoholism, burdened by financial problems, verbally abused and threatened and depressed. However, she successfully changed the course of her life.
“And I just want to remind you,” Pottle told the students Thursday, “that what you do with that really is up to you. Just as if I met somebody on the street and gave them $10 and they didn’t know who I was, it’s about the intention that you give that money with.”