Recently I stood in the cold, relentless air in front of Market Basket in Lowell ringing bells for the Salvation Army. It was a great feeling seeing customers, who probably didn’t have a lot of money to spend, stuffing a dollar or whatever change they could manage into the slot atop the red bucket.
All the while my feet and fingers were freezing, but that didn’t matter because the spirit of Christmas was in the air. I started ringing the bells at 9:00 am and business didn’t start picking up until 10:00 am. I didn’t start feeling my feet until 11:00 am, the end of my shift.
I have one person to thank for giving me the opportunity to ring the bells for the Salvation Army, a person who personifies “paying it forward,” Kevin Willett.
I talk about the concept “paying it forward” in a career networking workshop and there seems to be some confusion among the crowd, so to simplify the concept I tell my attendees that the act of helping others creates good Karma. Further I tell them they should not expect the person you help to immediately repay the favor, because another person will step forward to help you. In fact, you may never receive reciprocation from the person you assisted.
Kevin who is the founder of Friends of Kevin, a business networking group, embraces the term “paying it forward” every Christmas season when he gathers his army of friends to ring the bells. When I asked him why he volunteers endless hours to organize this event and ring the bells himself, he told me he was once a recipient of the Salvation Army’s aid to people in need.
Kevin’s generosity extends beyond ringing the bells. His networking group not only helps businesses network, a few jobseekers are allowed to attend the meetings and deliver their elevator speeches. The goal is to expose jobseekers to business people who might have jobs to offer or know of companies that do. Kevin is a connector in the truest sense—he connects people to charities, and he connects business people to jobseekers.
Kevin spoke last year at our urban career center to a sold-out group of jobseekers eager to learn how to network. His presentation was a hit, and he made it clear that networking is a two-way street; you help someone and get help in return.
There are no hard statistics on how successful paying it forward is. Smart jobseekers simply understand that it makes common sense. It makes common sense because as you’re helping someone, another person is in the process of helping you. I’m convinced that the jobseekers who believe in paying it forward will receive the help they need. How do I know? Just ask Kevin Willett.