By ELIZABETH BRANTLEY
Last week, University of Mary Washington students were encouraged to “Pay it Forward” during a week of kindness and generosity created by the campus organization. From April 11 through April 13, COAR organized multiple activities to get students to spread love and learn about the pay it forward movement.
On April 11 and April 13, students from COAR spent their lunchtime in the University Center for Pay It Forward Week. Not only did they give away coffee to pep up students as finals near, but they also accepted donations of canned food items and toothbrushes that were donated to a local homeless shelter. These sweet and simple gestures helped to emphasize what this week was really about for COAR.
Paying it forward is all about trying to, “encourage random acts of kindness, when we can,” said junior economic major and COAR member Kelly Mason.
Furthermore, “it’s about doing something without expecting something in return,” said sophomore accounting major Reina Datta.
The sentiments of these two students were highlighted in the big event of Pay It Forward Week where UMW alumni Rich Specht spent Tuesday evening speaking about cultivating kindness. In the presentation, Specht told the audience about his personal journey towards becoming a kinder, more loving person and how his foundation, “Rees Specht Life,” helps others to achieve the same.
To begin his presentation, Specht let students into his world and shared the story of a tragic event that catapulted him into the Pay it Forward movement. In October of 2012, the day before Hurricane Sandy hit his Long Island home, Specht’s 22-month old son Rees drowned in the pond in Specht’s backyard. Then, the hurricane hit and destroyed the lawns of everyone in Specht’s neighborhood and affected the lives of countless others.
In the aftermath, Specht described a stranger coming to his door. This stranger had heard about what happened to Rees and wanted to help in any way he could. Despite Specht trying to turn him away, the man decided that he and his landscaping business would not only clear Specht’s lawn of debris from the storm, but also make it nicer than it was before and fill in the backyard pond. All of this was done without pay and with kindness.
From that point on, Specht knew his calling in life was to do for others what that stranger did for him. So, he started up the Rees Specht Life Foundation, named for his son. This foundation is dedicated to the simple idea of working together to create a better world for everyone without asking for anything in return.
“Value is in the act itself…There’s no dollar value to kindness,” as Specht puts it.
The Rees Specht Life Foundation regularly has food and toy drives, do presentations across the country to people of all ages and have, so far, provided 11 scholarships to high school seniors. The foundation also distributes small cards which contain a challenge for those who receive them, reading, “this card is a solemn promise to pay it forward and perform a random act of kindness…” As of the talk last week, Specht said his foundation has distributed around 360,000 of these cards worldwide.
For more information on COAR or to get involved in future events such as these, visit COAR’s page at http://students.umw.edu/coar/.