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Pay it forward

May 11, 2010

I just received an email from a former student (we’ll call him Jay) sharing the good news about a business he started building and selling sheds. He’s already sold four sheds and has been seeking advice on expanding his business. I directed him to some sources of information last week and he was writing back to let me know how it panned out.

In the email, he also mentioned that he spent the winter chopping and delivering wood to persons of low income using a saw he purchased after trading in a used vehicle I’d sold him last school year. When I moved to Montana, I bought a used Olds Bravada that promptly broke down on me; when Jay overheard me talking about it with a colleague, he offered to buy it from me and have his cousin tow it off of Menholdt Chevrolet’s lot so that I wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore. We agreed on a price of a couple hundred dollars, which Jay paid in installments – $25 here, $25 there, whenever he had a few spare dollars left after purchasing food and other necessities for his family on pay days. He finally made his last payment sometime this past fall and received the title for the vehicle, which he ended up selling since he couldn’t pull together the money to fix it (he’d been hoping to fix it up to replace his old truck).

The neat part about this story is that the day Jay came to me with his final payment, I’d been debating whether to offer one of my students $75 to help her pay the filing fee for divorce papers; her husband had left her for another woman but wouldn’t file the papers, leaving her without a source of support for her and her kids while she was in school because TANF (welfare) benefits weren’t available to her while she was still married (since theoretically her husband should be supporting her). I wanted to help her out because she had demonstrated a good work ethic in my class, but I wasn’t sure about getting involved with students personal financial affairs – I could end up broke pretty quickly going down that road. But when Jay came to me with cash in hand, I took it as a sign that I should help my other student with her filing fees; I promptly turned the money over to her so she could finalize her divorce and move on with her life. When I handed her the money, her eyes lit up and she gave me a huge hug before running to the court to file the papers that day.

So Jay used the money from selling my Bravada to purchase a saw to help get wood to low-income persons during the winter, and I used the money he gave me to help a student in need. May the circle of kindness continue unbroken…

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