Houlton students give money to strangers, ask them to ‘pay it forward’ (Bangor Daily News Story)

posted Aug 20, 2015, 5:59 AM by RSU 29 Webmaster   [ updated Aug 20, 2015, 6:02 AM ]
(By Jen Lynds, BDN Staff) HOULTON, Maine — When parents take their children to the grocery store, it sometimes turns into an experience where the youngsters beg the adults to spend money on candy, sugary cereal and other treats that the family does not often need.

But when adults walked into the Andy’s IGA in Houlton on Sunday, they saw an entirely different scenario, when student council members from the Houlton Southside School decided to distribute cash to strangers as part of a random-acts-of-kindness project. The only catch was that the students asked the recipients to one day “pay it forward” themselves.

It was an initiative that Leanne Faulkingham, a teacher at Houlton Southside School and the student council advisee, said Wednesday that she was thrilled to have been a part of.

The school educates students in third through fifth grade.

“We had been talking for awhile about a project that we could do at the end of the school year, and the students came up with this and were very excited about it,” she said.

The money came from funds the students had raised in the school store, which Faulkingham said the youngsters were diligent about opening and operating every school day.

“We had $150 in cash, and the students’ goal was to hand it out to certain shoppers as a random act of kindness and ask them to one day pay it forward to someone else,” Faulkingham said.

The teacher said 17 children accompanied her to the store on Sunday.

“We had practiced for a while in the classroom about what to say when we approached people in the store with the money,” she said. Then on Sunday, “we followed [shoppers] around and kind of observed them and just handed out between $20 and $40 to people who the students felt might benefit from it the most. Most people were just shocked.”

Faulkingham said the project came about as part of a yearlong initiative about learning how to give back to the community.

“I have been so impressed about how these students have just given and given and given all year long,” she said. “Besides the school store, we have had a family dance, and the kids have taken that money and put it toward the fundraising campaign to build a desperately needed new playground here at the school, and they brought in more than $700 from taking part in the Bridge to Hope breast cancer walk, paid money to wear certain items like hats on hat day, sold popcorn, and done other little fundraisers. They have just been fantastic about giving back and being in service to others.”

What was even more satisfying, however, was seeing how their service on Sunday affected others.

“There was one man there that I knew who was with his son,” said Faulkingham. “I knew that he really could benefit from the money, as he and his wife just adopted two young children from the foster care system. He accepted the money, thanked the children, paid for his groceries and then gave the change to his son.”

The best story of the day affected all of the children, according to the teacher.

“The best one was a woman who was there, and she tried to give the money away to some employees in the store,” she said. “But when she realized she could not, [because of company policy] she just said, ‘I have to tell you that we just moved to Maine from Massachusetts and we don’t have enough cash to go back there and pay for the tolls to get our one last load of belongings here to Maine, but now we do. This must be a sign that we are really going to like this area.”

Faulkingham said the woman hugged each of the students before she left the store.

“I asked one of the students how that made him feel, the feeling of giving,” she said Wednesday. “And he said that it made him ‘feel all fuzzy’ inside. And that was the point, to teach them the snowball effect of kindness and generosity and how giving just once can go a long way.”

At the end of the day, the generosity continued.

While they had planned to travel from the grocery store to Houlton Farms Dairy Bar to use some of the money to treat themselves to ice cream, the students quickly realized they had given all but $17 away.

And even though they walked quite a distance from the grocery store to the dairy bar and were hungry, the students either ordered baby cones to stay within their $17 budget or students who had brought along money of their own shared it with others.

“It was wonderful to see,” Faulkingham.