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Pay it Forward at Acadia Hospital

Posted: 02/28/2014

The concept of “Pay it Forward,” based on a movie of the same name, is familiar to many.  The idea of Goodness Gorilladoing something thoughtful or kind for another, without any expectation of payback, but with the hope that the person receiving the kindness will in some way “Pay it Forward” has a certain appeal.

A local business consultant and philanthropist, Rick Bernstein is the driving force behind the “Pay it Forward” program at Acadia Hospital and a number of other area non-profits.  He provides small grants to each organization and asks that staff use the money to enrich clients’ lives with no expectation of reciprocity but a hope that sometime in the future the person will “pay it forward” by doing a small act of kindness for someone else.  According to Rick, “I believe everyone can make a positive difference in someone else’s life. Pay it Forward encourages each of us who have been on the receiving end to pass the kindness on to someone else who’s in need.”

Since this program’s inception at Acadia in 2009, countless people have been touched by it.  The program was initially brought to life in the Pediatric Outpatient Services department, but its effects have been felt throughout Acadia as patients and staff have lived its core principles on a daily basis.  This past winter, an 11 year old in the Pediatric Outpatient program had no shoes that fit his growing feet.  With the help of Pay it Forward funds, the boy received two new pairs of shoes and immediately proclaimed that with one pair, he would be able to help shovel his disabled neighbor’s driveway.  The thought of being able to help someone less fortunate than himself brought him a great deal of joy.  Furthermore, his story, when shared at a meeting, prompted staff to bring in spare winter clothes to have on hand for other patients in need.

“Pay it Forward” has spun off in other ways as well. Decha Bailey, an LCSW who works in the Partial Program at Acadia Hospital developed a session plan based upon the story of the Goodness Gorilla’s from Chicken Soup for the Little Soul. Discussing empathy and random acts of kindness, each child is given several “Goodness Gorilla” stickers and are instructed to hand out a sticker each time that they observe a kind act being performed.  One child was observed to hold the chair for another in the cafeteria and the recipient of the act did not have stickers to give as they were not part of the program.  No one observed the act either, so the young man awarded a sticker to himself. He reported to the group, “it really doesn’t matter if anyone sees you, you know you did it!”  Our patients, big and small, are helping each other out of the sheer joy of being kind.

Rick and his promotion of Pay it Forward, both through his financial resources as well as his personal energy, have quietly helped many organizations and individuals and the ripples from his initial actions are felt on an ongoing basis.  Acadia feels fortunate to be a beneficiary of Rick’s vision and we look forward to living “Pay it Forward” for many years to come.

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