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Character Counts pushes ‘Pay It Forward’ program

October 17, 2010
By SANDY MICKELSON, Messenger staff writer

Sometimes a movie you're really enjoying kicks you in the heart at the end.

That's what happened to me a while back when I ran across the 2000 movie "Pay It Forward" based on the book by Catherine Ryan Hyde and starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Haley Joel Osmont. I knew the concept, just had never seen the movie.

I even made popcorn.

If you've never seen it, find it and watch. You likely already know the whole idea of "Pay It Forward" because that idea swept the country - do something nice for someone and ask that person to pass on the favor, doing something nice for someone else. A way to make the country better, one favor at a time.

Last year during National Character Counts week, the local Character Counts, part of Trinity Regional Medical Center, gave six organizations $50 seed money each and asked them to "Pay It Forward," to do something nice for someone and see what happens.

Character Counts Coordinator Pam Bunte said six organizations were chosen to parallel the six pillars of character - trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.

First American Bank raised money to buy 800 DART bus tokens for women in shelter at the YWCA.

Iowa Central Community College Student Ambassadors raised about $300 for the Stamp of Support program to send packages to service people overseas.

Citizens Community Credit Union raised more than $500 to send care packages to service people in Operation Thank You.

Fort Dodge Ford raised more than $800 for Pride in Community Appearance, then donated about $1,000 more in tools and volunteer hours.

Hy-Vee handed out candy to customers with notes attached saying to smile or have a good day. One customer, after getting this, handed the clerk $10 to apply it to the bill of the next customer.

Frontier Communications added its own $50 to the seed money to buy coffee at both McDonald's restaurants for customers throughout the week. McDonald's added a like amount to double the treats.

"Our investment of about $300 turned into more than $4,000 through generous acts of kindness, and it became contagious as people realized you don't need a lot of money to 'Pay It Forward,'" Bunte said.

This year the organizations from last year chose six more to continue the program, she said. So, Character Counts will provide seed money to the Noon Kiwanis, Casey's General Stores, Fair Oaks Middle School sixth-graders, the boys' and girls' cross country teams at Phillips Middle School, new students in the Iowa Central Community College Student Ambassadors and La'James International College.

"Because this is an initiative through Character Counts, which is Trinity Regional Medical Center, we've asked all our employees and their families to 'Pay It Forward,'" Bunte said. "No money, just an act of kindness."

I've heard it takes about 21 days for something to become a habit.

Perhaps this "Pay It Forward" program shouldn't end at the end of this week. Maybe Mayor Bemerich should have proclaimed three weeks instead of one Character Counts week in Fort Dodge, then at the end of that time, being nice would be a habit.

Now, that's something to think about.

So long friends, until the next time when we're together.

Contact Sandy Mickelson at (515) 573-2141 or



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