Pay It Forward: Saving the world one person at a time

March 17, 2008
“Everybody’s going somewhere,” my grandmother once said. “And everybody needs something.”

It takes a mighty big person to receive that something, only to turn it over to someone who needs it more.

The Sun-Gazette and other Pennsylvania newspapers recently recognized a need throughout the state to encourage random acts of kindness in our Keystone cities.

This Pay It Forward challenge, now is in its second week, adopts the concept first described by Benjamin Franklin in a letter written in 1774. In it, Franklin would lend an amount of money, if — and only if — the lendee agreed to pay him back by later passing that money to someone else in distress.

“This is a trick of mine for doing a deal of good with a little money,” he concluded.

School-age children, their parents and teachers are encouraged through the Pay It Forward Foundation to adopt the idea of performing tasks for others that they otherwise may not be able to do on their own. In 2006, Oprah Winfrey gave a camcorder and debit cards containing $1,000 to 300 of her audience members and challenged them to record their acts of kindness for one week.

Although we may not be able to reach the millions that Oprah can, the Sun-Gazette, along with more than 60 other newspapers that are part of the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association Foundation, was inspired by her efforts to make a difference — even if only one person at a time.

“This effort provides a chance for individuals to do something they wouldn’t normally be able to do,” said David Troisi, editor of the Sun-Gazette. “Most people don’t have $750 in their pocket to just give away. This is a chance for them to do something they wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.”

The 2000 Kevin Spacey film, appropriately titled “Pay It Forward,” posed the question, “Can good deeds save the world?”

Troisi said he doesn’t know the answer for sure, but likes to think change can start with each individual.

“They (good deeds) can certainly make our world better,” he said. “A lot of people would do more if they could, and I believe this provides an opportunity for them to do that.”

One good deed may not move mountains, but that single act of kindness could start a social movement that might tug at the heart strings of even the most stubborn man.

The Sun-Gazette and the Pay It Forward campaign challenges you, our readers, to reach into your hearts to come up with the most thoughtful way to spend $750. That proposal should be submitted to the Sun-Gazette for a cash prize in that amount to be “paid forward” to those who might benefit from the deed. Ideas could include cleaning up a picnic area, paying for someone’s heating oil or using it in a creative way to raise more money for a good cause.

A feature article also will be written about the winner and continued coverage will be provided as to how the good deed is unfolding.

Future Pay It Forward challenges are a possibility, Troisi said.

“We hope it’s so successful that there’s a call for it,” he added.

For official rules and information about entering the Pay It Forward challenge, visit payitforward.sungazette.com (no www. is necessary), mail your request to Pay It Forward, Williamsport Sun-Gazette, 252 W. Fourth St., Williamsport, PA 17701 or call 326-1551 or 800-339-0289, ext. 1127.

An entry form is available on Page C-8 of this edition and will run every day through March 31, which also is the last day to submit an entry. The entry form also is available for download on the newspaper’s Web site. The cash will be awarded to the most deserving idea by the end of April.

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