What does it mean to really “Pay it Forward”? And how do partners of Michigan Cares for Tourism achieve this through the tourism industry? Read more to find out how one Michigan town takes the responsibility of both giving back and paying it forwards through a unique program.
In February of 2010, during the economic downturn, the City of Holland hit the national headlines when it was named the Second Happiest City in the US Gallop-Healthwise Well-Being Index. This recognition piqued the interest of ABC journalist, Diane Sawyer. “How can a small town, in a state known for its high unemployment rate and nasty winters, beat out so many other cities in the happiness department?” So she – and her cameras – visited, our then Mayor, Kurt Dykstra, toured the city, sat down with locals and found the answer in the sense of community, neighbors helping neighbors, over 100 volunteer-based organizations and 170 churches, and the caring philanthropy of Holland.
Ramona Scott, from Brooklyn, New York, watched Diane’s report on the evening news and was so impressed with the way the community of Holland expressed contentment in the face of hardship that she sent the Mayor a $250 check instructing him to distribute it in increments of $25 to those who could use a boost. Ms. Scott’s generosity inspired the citizens of Holland, who began sending checks to augment the Ramona Scott Fund, which eventually evolved into the creation of Pay it Forward Holland.
The website, www.payitforwardholland.org was created and numbered cards were made available to be handed out along with random acts of kindness – any form of giving imaginable. The cards direct the recipient of the random act to the website, where the kind gesture can be recorded and used to inspire others to pay it forward. The thought being that “together we can build on Ramona Scott’s humble act of kindness, creating an endless wave of compassion that resonates around the world.”
Recording the act of kindness on the website, along with the numbered card, allows the person to watch the many acts that follow from their one kind gesture. These acts can cost little or no money. Some of the suggestions on the site include leaving treats on someone’s doorstep, letting someone cut in front of you in line, sharing your favorite book, shoveling someone’s sidewalk, or picking up someone’s tab in the drive-thru.
Following her donation and the ensuing wave of giving, Ms. Scott was invited to the Tulip Time Festival by Councilwoman, Nancy DeBoer. The Holland Area Visitors Bureau and other local businesses donated everything from frequent flier miles to meals to lodging to make Scott’s visit possible. When her plane landed at Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, Ms. Scott was greeted by Mayor Dykstra and Holland town crier, John Karsten. She was stunned by the greeting and went on to enjoy her visit which included participating in tulip Time’s Parade of Bands. Scott says being generous doesn’t have to involve having a lot of time or money. Her advice: “Just get started. Little things mean a lot.”
The Visitors Bureau went on to manage the Pay It Forward card program sending out cards to individuals and groups from around the country wishing to join in the movement. We’ve followed cards that have traveled to locations as far reaching as the Grand Caymon Islands, Nevada and Maryland, and even noted someone receiving his card along with a free beer at the Hard Rock Café in Cancun, Mexico. Most, though, stay in West Michigan and include everything from a girl making her sister’s bed to someone’s prescription being paid for at Walgreens; as well as a local company giving five cards and five ten dollar bills to each of its employees, asking them to go out and “bless some people.” One individual attached Meijer gift cards to 44 PIF cards and handed them out at thrift stores and an Aldi’s Grocery Store. A 5th grade teacher in Philadelphia, teaching lessons on character, requested cards for each of her students and then followed up with all of the things they did to Pay It Forward, like taking out the neighbors trash, picking up an elderly neighbors mail and helping a blind woman on to a bus. Big or small, these acts of kindness have been an inspiration and a terrific reflection on one small Michigan town.
The story had a very unique beginning, brought about by a little press, a wonderful woman in Brooklyn, NY and then an entire community of caring people in the City of Holland. The CVB did not start this journey but is happy to keep it going with the manpower to follow-up, print cards, and the hope that it the idea continues for years to come . . .
In 2000, Holland also commissioned a local artist (Carolyn Stich) to create a “Holland-centric” Christmas card. In 2013 the proceeds from the cards began to be donated annually to one local non-profit or organization that could use a “boost”. The funds went to the Windmill Island Restoration Fund (2013), Part Theatre Capital Campaign (2014), Project Clarity (2015) and Friends of VanRaalte Farm- home of the Civil War Muster (2016).
(Submitted by Sally Laukitis, Executive Director Holland Area Convention & Visitors Bureau)
We are in awe of the continuation of this project and are proud of the efforts of Holland CVB. From one profit to another, Michigan Cares for Tourism says thank you for contributing to the betterment of society.