A Lowcountry pastor and 50 members of his congregation are changing lives one deed at a time, setting off a ripple effect from Hilton Head Island, S.C., to Michigan.
About three weeks ago, the Rev. Michael Carr of Central Church on Hilton Head Island encouraged parishioners to reach out to those in need in their community. Inspired by Pay It Forward, the novel in which 12-year-old Trevor McKinney conceives of a plan that he hopes will change the world, the Rev. Carr handed out 50 envelopes to members who were interested in participating in a "Pay It Forward" project. Each envelope contained a letter explaining the project, a response form and $50.
In the story, Trevor decides to do a good deed for three people who cannot repay him. Instead, the recipients are encouraged to "pay it forward" by helping three other people. In turn, those three people are expected to help three people, and on and on.
"The concept of paying something forward instead of paying it back is a phenomenal concept," the Rev. Carr said. "The ultimate goal is obviously for people to be good stewards of what they receive and to change what people think about their own lives."
Nearly anyone can make a tremendous difference in someone's life by adding creativity and passion to their deeds for others, the Rev. Carr said. He discouraged his congregants from simply buying groceries for someone. Instead, he asked them to make the most of their talent and look to "God to direct their thinking to accomplish something noteworthy in someone's life who cannot pay them back."
The Rev. Carr especially likes the practical stewardship paying it forward provides for churchgoers and anyone else. In the first two weeks of the project, two congregants turned in their response forms, one person who benefited from an act of kindness visited him, and another sent him an e-mail from Michigan.
The Rev. Carr initially wanted the response forms back by the end of May, but he expects the project will continue for weeks and maybe months.
"It might be something that I might do for the next 10 years," said Charles Pankratz, who attends Central. "It's not just a one-time program for me."
Mr. Pankratz, a retired podiatrist, embraced paying it forward as payback, unlike the characters in the novel and film. The good deeds he carries out are attempts to pay back the people who've supported him in his life. They're also opportunities to show his gratitude to the main source of his good fortune.
"I am trying to repay not only other people, but mainly the Lord. I'm trying to do that by helping some of his people who need help," he said.
So far, Mr. Pankratz has paid five times the original $50 to three people. His first recipient was his Moss Creek Plantation neighbor Dottie Hickok, who's having difficulty paying for medical supplies.
For five years, Ms. Hickok has traveled from Hilton Head to Emory and Duke universities for diagnosis and treatment of a condition that's created ulcers all over her skin. The ulcers began appearing after she had surgery on a toe that had turned black, and now some doctors believe a staph infection from that operation caused the ulcers.
The condition requires Ms. Hickok to wear bandages on sores that constantly drain, she said. Both legs from the knees down to her feet and on her face from both temples to under her chin, over her mouth and under her eyes are covered with bandages. She also takes two pain-relief pills, a hypertension pill and more than five vitamins daily.
Ms. Hickok estimates she's accumulated $30,000 to $60,000 in medical bills over the years, so any financial help she gets is appreciated. On the same day Mr. Pankratz was given the $50 at Central Church, he wrote a $250 check for Ms. Hickok.
"It was like a breath," she said of the unexpected gift. "I was thrilled."
She was so grateful that she went to see the Rev. Carr at his church.
"I wanted to thank him," Ms. Hickok said. "I wanted him to see me and my book (photos of medical condition), so he could see who he was helping."
The Rev. Carr also heard from another person Mr. Pankratz helped. Mr. Pankratz and his wife, Carol, live part time in Harrison Township, Mich., and attend church in New Baltimore, Mich. Jim Knoop, 62, is a member of the Michigan church who was experiencing financial hardships, so the Pankratzes gave him a $250 check.
Their third check will pay for a full-page advertisement in a brochure that's being printed as a fund-raiser for the church, Mr. Pankratz said.
To pay forward for the help she's received from Mr. Pankratz, Ms. Hickok says she plans to write a book. The book will focus on her experiences with medical professionals and share what she has learned about getting results from physicians in the limited time they have for patients.
While some physicians wanted to help her but couldn't pinpoint her problem, others said her condition was self-inflicted and required a psychiatrist, she said.
"The patients have to know that they have to be brief but knowledgeable," Ms. Hickok said.
The Rev. Carr has written a new chapter to the Pay It Forward project, asking churchgoers for creative ways to show their appreciation for public servants each week. Using newspaper advertisements and letters of appreciation were two suggestions.
Employees and support staff at Hilton Head Medical Center & Clinics were recognized the first week of May. Last week, Hilton Head Island town employees were sent thank-you letters, and law enforcement officers are the object of their gratitude this week. Educators will get their due next week, the Rev. Carr said.
The professionals were selected because their work is not about getting rich, and they often work without recognition, he said.
"They're doing what they're doing because that's their heart. They're not in it for the money per se," the Rev. Carr said. "We're surrounded by these people every day. They do all kinds of things to enhance our quality of life every day, (but) they're invisible. I personally felt like that was a void in our community."
"The concept of paying something forward instead of paying it back is a phenomenal concept. The ultimate goal is obviously for people to be good stewards of what they receive and to change what people think about their own lives."- The Rev. Michael Carr