Powerful Ways We’ve Paid It Forward
Ten years of empowering our employees to make a difference in their communities and the world have given us some pretty powerful stories – stories that stick with us and in many ways, change us.
Here are some of the stories that left the biggest impression on a few of our company leaders.
Making a Difference for Micah
As Bell Bank’s chief culture officer and Pay It Forward program coordinator, Julie Peterson Klein is continually learning about opportunities to Pay It Forward.
The project that stuck with her the most was for Micah Johnson, a high-school student in her hometown of Milnor, North Dakota. He had been diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, which can affect a person’s mobility. Despite his struggles, Micah maintained an upbeat outlook on life and inspired his classmates and teachers.
After several people from Milnor wrote to Julie, nominating Micah for a Pay It Forward donation, not only did she donate her Pay It Forward funds to him, but she also recruited some of her co-workers to join her, giving Micah an even bigger gift.
Wanting it to be a surprise, Julie arranged to talk about the Pay It Forward program at the school. During her presentation, she said she was also there to Pay It Forward to a deserving person in the audience. She had people holding large signs with letters on them, and the students had to arrange the letters to spell out the name of the recipient.
Micah and his family received a check for $8,000 to help make their home and vehicle more accessible, along with video games and North Dakota State University basketball tickets and shirts.
“The money is great, but what’s even more special is once you give the donation, a relationship is formed and your hearts are connected forever,” Julie notes. “As the Pay It Forward coordinator, I’m totally a changed person. You can’t help but become a better person after hearing all of these stories. We all have the ability to add value and goodness in the world every single day, and the Pay It Forward program has been a way to do that.”
Helping a Customer Get Back on His Feet
Our board chairman Richard Solberg’s most memorable donation was one he made to a customer who had overdrawn on his account, and the account was eventually closed.
He received a phone call from the customer’s father, who wanted to make an appointment for him and his son to meet with Richard, so the man’s son could look Richard in the eye, apologize and make arrangements to pay the bank back.
It turns out the customer had been involved with drugs and spent some time in jail. He was out of jail, no longer using drugs, had a job and was trying to get rehabilitated. Richard decided to use his Pay It Forward funds to help the customer straighten out his life.
“He and his dad were both incredibly grateful,” Richard remembers.
The next year, Richard found out the customer was involved in Jail Chaplains, a program that provides inmates with spiritual guidance and support, so he made that year’s donation to Jail Chaplains.
“The thing that’s so surprising is how much $1,000 means to people at certain times in their lives,” Richard remarks. “There are a lot of needs out there, and there are a lot of worthy causes. I hope that Pay It Forward can continue for many years to come.”
Finding Unique Needs
Michael Solberg, Bell’s president and CEO, likes to use his Pay It Forward dollars to support individuals who need help. Sometimes he sends his funds to someone he’s read about in the newspaper.
“Some of the best stories are people investing in people they’ve never met and have no relationship with, but know they need help,” he says.
But the story that has really stuck with him is one that also surprised him the most. The first year of the program, employees pooled their funds to buy 80 beds for kids in the community who don’t have them.
“What shocked me at the time was how many kids in our community went to sleep in a pile of dirty clothes without a bed,” Michael comments. “This program continues to open our eyes to the needs around us. In general, banks are some of the most generous givers in communities across the country. The magic of this program is it’s not our board or owners who are deciding where to invest the dollars. It’s every one of our employees. There is no way we would find these unique needs in our community without how seriously the employees take finding great people and needs to invest in.”