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Four Years at the Mount

Paying It Forward

April, 2014

Imagine for a moment that you are the first link in a chain. You reach out and hold fast to the second link, which in turn holds onto the third link, and so on. Without any one of those links, the chain ends, and without a first link to start it all, the chain ceases to exist entirely. This is the concept behind the "Pay It Forward" movement, where one act of kindness can be the catalyst needed to start a chain reaction of kindness in others. Before long, many lives are touched and the world is just a little bit nicer place in which to live. For April, our writers share how they have been impacted by the "Pay It Forward" movement. Their testimonies may just inspire you to start your own chain reaction.

Relay It Forward

Leeanne Leary
Class of 2017

"Pay It Forward" is typically seen as receiving a favor and then proceeding to do someone else a favor, with the hope that everyone will continue to pass on a good deed. As a result of this continuous good action, the world becomes a better place, with people doing things out of the kindness of their hearts. This idea, especially if the chain continues to grow, has the potential to spread so much happiness and love to the world because people will slow down and focus on others. The influence of this concept is everywhere. There is the movie, "Pay It Forward," which, for the record, made me cry all the way through. There are theme days and weeks at schools everywhere where students take the time to pass on acts of kindness while working against bullying and exclusion. There are social media pages simply dedicated to sharing acts of kindness from around the world Ė unusual favors that people document to encourage others to do the same. All of these embody the spirit of the "Pay It Forward" concept and help to promote this kindness.

There is, however, another way that "Pay It Forward" can be taken Ė more along the lines of making an impact. I witnessed this kind of paying it forward at the Mount St. Maryís University Relay for Life. Relay for Life works to raise money for the American Cancer Society. The event serves as a night of remembrance for those who have lost loved ones to cancer and a night of celebration of life for those who have beaten the disease. Mount St. Maryís Relay for Life as a whole literally "Paid It Forward" by raising over $26,000 for cancer research. However, much more went on that night than simply raising funds. Instead of just paying forward money, a donation, or a favor, everyone there paid a memory and an impact forward.

Everyone involved had been or is now a "caregiver" for someone battling cancer. These caregivers are parents, friends, classmates and anyone whose life has been impacted by someoneís diagnosis. Maybe it was the loss of a loved one, or maybe the strength they saw in the fight, but somehow cancer has changed their lives. Instead of sitting back and moving on or letting it ruin their spirit, everyone there that night chose to fight back against this terrible disease. This was their unique way of paying it forward. They felt a desire to take how they had been impacted and use it to impact others, to remember those who have passed, to celebrate the lives of cancer fighters, and to join the ongoing struggle against cancer.

There night consisted of games, dancing, karaoke, and much more. There were groups making friendship bracelets, selling cake pops, and all kinds of other creative prizes and snacks. There was non-stop walking around the track and high levels of energy everywhere. There was candy and soda to help participants stay awake, but most importantly there was hope. The night started with a speech by a Mount St. Maryís student who is a cancer survivor. She shared her story and talked about everyone who stood by her side, shaved their heads with her, and didnít lose faith in her fight. She took all the help she has received and all the love she has felt and shared it with everyone. She paid it forward by sharing her testimony with everyone there that night, and inspired us to continue the fight against cancer.

Another instance of paying it forward that night took place in a jail cell. Yes, you read that right Ė a jail cell. One set up by the Women in Science Relay team as a way to raise funds for the American Cancer Society. Relayers could put friends into jail for any amount of money, and the people in jail werenít allowed out until they could match that amount either from people walking by or other friends in jail. I actually made a few friends in jail that night. One such friend, a seminarian I was trapped with, raised over 40 dollars after being locked up for hour. As you can imagine, a lot of people got to pay it forward in the form of some light-hearted revenge once they were released.

The night was long, but I was surrounded by acts of kindness and love the whole time. "Pay It Forward" gained a whole new meaning to me, and Iím sure it did to everyone else as well. The final act was at the end of the festivities, just as the sun began to rise. Everyone got a balloon, and even though a bunch popped along the way, eventually everyone there dedicated their balloon to someone who they knew or know with cancer. Some people had multiple names on their balloon, and others had only one, but each balloon was dedicated to a loved one. We all gathered outside for the balloon release, with each balloon representing the love that each person was going to pay forward. In some way, that balloon release was in itself the perfect depiction of paying it forward, because everybody was focused on someone other than themselves as the balloons disappeared.

Even though it may not be the textbook description of the "Pay It Forward" chain, and even though the focus wasnít on tangible forms of favors throughout the night, every person involved paid hope and love forward that night in the hopes that all those involved in the fight against cancer felt the impact.

Read other articles by Leeanne Leary

I Saw a City Invincible

Lydia Olsen
Class of 2016

This year I spent my spring break in Camden, New Jersey, with five other students from Mount St. Mary's University. Camden was once a city that thrived on manufacturing goods. It started off as a place for individuals and families who did not want to live within the city of Philadelphia. However, the industry crashed and nearly all of the factories moved out of Camden to other locations. The people within the city all began to move away and those who did not move away had difficulty finding employment. To many it seemed that the only business that ensured a high enough income was the sale of drugs, causing drug sales and use to increase as well as violence. In 2010, Camden had the highest crime rate in the nation. The same year it was also named the poorest city in the nation. Funding to Camden has been drastically reduced and the police force has been cut in half. Mayor Christie has said that he believes the rest of New Jersey should not have to pay for Camdenís excuses. There are no hotels in Camden, no movie theaters, and the last supermarket closed in September, making Camden an official food desert. Yet, the people of Camden are some of the strongest I have ever had the privilege to spend time with. Within the people of Camden, in their hearts, thoughts, words, and actions, there is always a glimmer of hope and an immense love for their city.

For the duration of the week our group stayed with an organization called DeSales Service Works in northern Camden. Through this organization we had the honor of meeting Father Mike, an Oblate priest who is originally from northern Virginia. When our group arrived at the row house we were going to be staying at, Fr. Mike offered to give us a tour of the city. We put our bags down and eagerly followed him as he led us through the alleys and streets, informing us about the struggles within the community and those living in it. As we walked along the sidewalks, people would enthusiastically call to Fr. Mike and inquire about how he was doing. It appeared as if everyone we encountered had had an experience with Fr. Mike at some point in time. He introduced us to two amazing men who both believe that if they had not met Fr. Mike and if he had not been so persistent in helping them, they wouldnít be alive today. It was instantly evident that Fr. Mike was constantly living his life through paying it forward to others. He is like a beacon of hope that many have reached out towards. He never fails to reach out back to those who seek him and help them find their feet to stand again. The two men now pay it forward in their own lives by doing service within Camden, sharing their stories, and becoming more active in the spiritual journeys of others.

Throughout the week we spent time at many different service sites within the city. Our group went to a local Cathedral for Sandwich Ministry, where we made and helped distribute lunches. On an average day the Cathedral feeds between 350-500 people. Also at the Cathedral, we helped to match socks with minor manufacturing flaws that were donated from the local sock factory, so they could be handed out to help those in need stay warm. While working with Sandwich Ministry, we met amazing people like Susan, who organizes and oversees all of the operations, and Erma, who has committed all of her time and energy to service. They both pay it forward not only through their work, but also through their pure passion for aiding to the needs of others.

Another day we had the wonderful opportunity to go to New Visions, a day shelter in Camden. On the day that we happened to be serving there it was snowing outside, which caused the amount of people seeking shelter to be higher than normal. We started out by helping to pass out breakfast, and then we were given the chance to interact with the guests visiting the shelter before lunch. I sat down next to a man experiencing homelessness and had a conversation I will never forget.

His name was Abraham, and he had just celebrated his 55th birthday. We immediately started talking as if we were old friends, laughing with each other and sharing stories. He told me about his impressive bowling career and his dream of opening a sandwich shop he would name Honest Abeís. We talked about our families, my sisters and his children. We discussed God and how we feel Godís presence in our lives. Abraham introduced me to his friends who he calls his family, and I was honored to hear about their life challenges and triumphs. A woman named Alice came and sat down with us and mentioned that her feet had gotten wet in the snow. Abraham immediately reached into his backpack and said, "Well, I have just the thing." He pulled out a pair of socks that a member of our group had matched together the day before. Abraham handed the socks to Alice while she thanked him greatly, and he smiled back at her. Abraham had a personality that radiated happiness and kindness. He was easy to talk to and one of the best listeners I have ever known. Abraham has a drive and determination that is unparalleled. He has been one of the most inspirational people I have met in my life. He not only paid it forward by forever inspiring and impacting my life, but also by constantly being there for those around him and putting others first.

Spending a week in Camden, New Jersey, caused me to grow in more ways than I thought possible. I had so many life-changing experiences, and I know itís a time I will never forget. The stories I mention here do not even begin to encompass all that our group experienced throughout the week. Entering Camden, I was convinced that it was a city in ruins. By the end of the week I had a completely different vision of the city that the members of the community helped me to see. Yes, Camden faces a lot of challenges and continues to struggle, yet I would argue any day that Camden is one of the strongest cities that has ever existed. The city lives off of paying it forward. The community is full of people who are constantly giving, only to receive and then give yet again. Etched in the side of the city hall building is Walt Whitmanís famous quote and the city of Camdenís motto: "In a dream I saw a city invincible." Camden is indeed invincible because the community continues to fight to keep itself afloat by continuously paying it forward.

Read other articles by Lydia Olsen

Wise Lessons Learned

Kyle Ott
MSM Class of 2015

Every person has a mentor, someone that transcends the role of boss or teacher and becomes someone from whom you can truly learn. Iím not talking about learning in the sense of book learning, or the simple regurgitation of facts (shout out to "Work as Flow" from Freshman Seminar!). Iím talking about true learning: the life lessons that only come from those who possess the wherewithal and wisdom to lead others to where they need to be.

Now I may be blessed with astronomical good looks, incredible talent, and the self-deprecating sense of humor that makes both those previous statements a joke, but I have never been blessed with all the answers. Sure, I could muddle my way through life, never really worrying about the consequences or striving for more, but I didnít. Instead, I found people who I knew possessed of the kind of intelligence that I could only dream of and the kind of leadership qualities that I not only admired, but also wanted to emulate more than anything. This month, the "Four Years At the Mount" writers were challenged to pay it forward through our writing. I decided to do this by paying tribute to the people who matter most to me, my mentors. Those few people who saw something in me that no one else, not even I, could seem to grasp. This newspaper, despite all of its amazing qualities, is far too short for me to thank all of the amazing people to whom I owe my success in life. So before I begin, let me tell those teachers, friends, and spirit guides that I may not mention you by name, but you already know who you are.

Itís fitting that the first mentor I should mention by name is Mike Hillman, the editor of our newspaper and the man who brought me on when I had just entered Mount St. Maryís University as a wide-eyed little freshman. I owe Mike a lot of things. He got me my first paid writing gig and opened my eyes to the wide range of opportunities before me. He continually offers untold amounts of joy at our banters back and forth. One running joke in particular is that after three years on the newspaper, he still canít remember my actual name to save his soul, a joke made all the more hilarious by the fact that Iím the only man on the "Four Yearís At the Mount" staff, and one of two men on our college staff period. Despite all the laughs, Mike has given me the lesson that Iíll never forget, and it was one that was far more serious than I could have anticipated. The summer after my freshman year with the paper I got a very long email from Mike. At first I thought the email was filled with comments about my latest article. Instead, it was comments about my performance as a member of the staff, and let me tell you, they werenít pretty. Mike was disappointed at my commitment to the paper, at the perceived lack of gusto in the way that I worked and wrote for them. He said that heíd considered firing me several points throughout the yearÖnot exactly banner statements about my first year on the job. Mike kindly presented me with a choice, though unstated, incredibly clear. I could get my act together and work or I could leave.

Iím still here.

The lesson I learned that day was that the truth hurts, but the best medicine in the world is the truth. I was given an option to earn the position that Iíd always claimed Iíd wanted, or let this incredible opportunity disappear. It wasnít enough to just be a skilled writer. I learned the hard way that I had to be a hard worker, and thatís a lesson I havenít forgotten since.

The next lesson is a little lighter than the one that Mike taught me, but still just as important. Much like my lesson in hard work, this one occurred during that important transitory time of my freshman year. During my second semester I was positive that, despite my tender age, I had figured out how the world worked. I was in my Renaissance Literature class with my soon-to-be mentor Dr. Carol Hinds. Dr. Hinds was and is a sort of legend on the Mount St. Maryís campus. People go to her for advice and guidance, but before I knew any of this, I was some obnoxious freshman who barely bothered to read the material for class (in my defense I did read Henry V and The Rape of the Locke). Somehow, without having read a single other text from the class (this is probably a gross exaggeration but hey, itís a story for a reason), I managed to dominate class discussion. One day we were locked in the throes of an intense debate about the human behind Frankenstein (I got about 15 pages through that one). I was crushing it if I do say so myself. My points were tight and well argued, and I managed to leave a few people speechless. I was feeling pretty proud of myself when, by chance, I made eye contact with Dr. Hinds, and she gave me this look. There wasnít anything special about that look but there was something in it. In that moment, all of my pride turned into stunned appreciation.

She knew.

This whole time I thought I had been really slick, that I had somehow managed to get the best of this woman who had been teaching since before I was even born, but in one look I realized the truth. She was the one who had gotten the best of me by a long shot. Not only did I have a lot to learn, but I was also nowhere near as smart as I thought I was at first. I never missed another reading assignment. A few weeks later when we had to ask a faculty member from the department of our major to be our mentor, I jumped at the chance to see if Dr. Hinds would mentor me. To this day she still acts like sheís utterly shocked when I show up on time and am prepared for our one-on-one meetings. Iíve been blessed to continue to learn from her and it all started when she taught me one of the most important things anyone can learn: humility.

I guess this brings us to the last mentor, and if I had to pick one more person and what she taught me, itís my mom. Sheís my greatest mentor, my number one editor, and one of my best friends, and you know whatÖsheís amazing. I might be a 20-year-old husky dude with a thick beard, 13 Resident Assistants who come to me for advice, and two underclassman authors who send me their articles for editing, but I still turn to mush around my mom.

So whatís the lesson there? Some things never change.

The next time you go out and you see the person in your life who has made a positive change, go and thank them. Remember that you owe a lot to the giants who have come before you and cut a path for you. Until next time, Iím Kyle Ott, wonít you sit and read for a while?

Read other articles by Kyle Ott

What a Change You Could Make

Nicole Jones
Class of 2014

It was a Sunday morning, the busiest day at Bob Evansí Restaurant. The kitchen was fully staffed and the floor was cluttered with seven waitresses flitting from table to table. I was among them. One of my tables was ready to order. It was a booth seated with two middle-aged couples; their hair was greying around the edges, ready to blend in with the sea of elderly couples that traditionally graced the restaurant. They were regulars, but I had never served them before. I politely asked for their order, and they chimed off one-by-one.

"A waffle with blueberry topping, please."

"Iíll have the Farmerís Choice with scrambled eggs and hash browns."

"The same for me."

"Iíll have the Southwestern Omelet, please."

I nodded, jotting everything down in my notebook and asking if there was anything else I could get for them this morning.

"That will be everything for us," said the gentleman who ordered last. He was wearing a black suit and a neck brace. The suit was typical of him but the brace was new. I wondered vaguely what might have happened to him. "But is there anything we can buy for you today?"

The question startled me. I was here to serve him. I had been at this job for a month and a half and never had anyone offered to buy me a meal. I was just supposed to bring meals to them. I must have looked like a deer in headlights during the time it took for me to process his question. I shook my head and smiled.

"No thank you, sir."

Though I hadnít taken the gentleman up on his offer, he had just committed an act called "paying it forward." To pay it forward means committing an act of kindness towards another person. This act can be as small as holding the door open for someone or as dramatic and unexpected as offering to pay for someoneís meal. The theory is that your act of kindness will inspire others Ė the person you helped and anyone who may have observed Ė to spread kindness as well. These acts are not done for personal reward, but simply because to be kind is to demonstrate love towards others, and every person deserves to be loved.

That same Sunday, a father came in with his five-year old son. The boy had an origami book and was folding a paper crane when I took their order.

"Thatís pretty neat. What do you have there?" I decided to connect with the little boy. He held up his book.

"Itís origami," he said excitedly, starting to flip through the pages to show me what other creatures could be made from paper.

"Cool! Are you going to make one of everything?" I asked.

"Uh-huh. Dad got it for me," he nodded.

"Well, he sounds like a pretty cool dad. You keep it up, and Iíll come back to see what youíve made."

The boy beamed up at me before concentrating on his next fold. He later put aside his origami when I served him his chocolate chip pancakes, but when I dropped off the check, I made sure to give him a little more encouragement.

"The next time I see you, I bet youíll have finished that entire book."

I didnít think any more about it and took the next tableís order. Business as usual. I was punching an order of all-you-can-eat pancakes into the computer when a little face popped around the counter. It was the boy. I smiled.

"Well, hello again."

He stretched his hands out towards me. I carefully took the paper from him.

"For me?" I asked.

He nodded and said, "Have a nice day!"

"Thank you!" I waved as he walked out the door and I marveled at the little paper bird in my hand. Thatís when I realized my encouragement had meant something to that boy. I had only said a few words to him, but it had left a positive impression. In turn, his small gift had made my day.

I decided to share these stories with my friends the other day, and it opened a floodgate of pay it forward stories.

"I bought someoneís meal at 7-Eleven once," said my friend, Matthew Steele. "She was obviously very poor. She was paying in all change, and she was at the point where she had hundreds of pennies she was counting out. She clearly didnít have the money."

"My family was out walking in Baltimore once, and we found twenty dollars on the ground," said Nicole Vanagas. "We continued walking, and we came across this poor crippled man sitting on the ground, and we gave him the money. He teared up and said, ĎYou just bought me meals for the week.í He was so genuinely grateful."

"We had a very old neighbor in her 90s," began Olivia Gorman. "She had an at-home nurse, but she lived alone. On Thanksgiving Day my father suggested that we take Thanksgiving dinner over to Ms. Johnson, but when we got there, we found out she was a vegetarian. Dad had us bring the food back, and we prepared her a vegetarian meal. Unfortunately, we couldnít get her over to our house, but my sisters and I sat with her while she ate Thanksgiving dinner."

Matthew had a second, even more incredible story, but this time it wasnít about himself.

"My great uncle was the mayor of Shiremanstown," Matt explained. "He would do a lot of little things for other people. He would visit the prison and volunteer at shelters. Then simple things like buying people ice cream cones and such. Anyway, when he died there were over 2,000 people at his funeral. It was amazing because we got to see all the people that he touched. Everyone loved him."

Itís amazing how simple acts can touch peopleís lives. Many times we never know what an impact we may have had on a person until, like Matthewís great uncle, we have passed on. He left behind an inspirational legacy that teaches us not to withhold kindness from others. Your one simple act of kindness may be the encouragement others need to pay it forward. If we can keep that chain reaction going, we can begin to make this world a kinder place to live in.

Read other articles by Nicole Jones

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