Seemingly random, simple acts of kindness spread joy to others

Iowans pay it forward

Tonya Dusold and Michelle Rodenburg celebrated their 30th birthdays by committing 30 random acts of kindness including making these headbands for babies at a local hospital.
Tonya Dusold and Michelle Rodenburg celebrated their 30th birthdays by committing 30 random acts of kindness including making these headbands for babies at a local hospital.

If you were in the Iowa City area on May 12, you may have been the recipient of what you thought was a random act of kindness.

Longtime friends Michelle Rodenburg and Tonya Dusold spent the day plugging expired meters, handing out gift cards, leaving quarters in candy machines and buying ice cream for strangers in North Liberty, Coralville and Iowa City.

The 30 acts of kindness were to celebrate their 30th birthdays. It was, Dusold says, the best way to welcome a new decade.

“We had a blast,” she laughs as she recalls tossing a bag of quarters in a basket at a laundromat.

The plan was to place the quarters in someone’s laundry basket, but the questioning looks they received prompted them to toss the bag in a basket when no one was looking, Dusold said.

“We were laughing so hard when we got to my car, I had to stop driving until I calmed down,” she says.

The left “kindness cards” to accompany their good deeds.

“Please enjoy this random act of kindness,” the cards read. “Now it’s your turn to pay it forward.”

To “pay it forward” means to reciprocate a good deed by doing something nice for someone else. The concept has been around for decades, but found new life after Catherine Ryan Hyde’s novel, “Pay it Forward,” was made into a movie starring Kevin Spacey.

The University of Iowa’s Students Today Leaders Forever organization embraces the practice each spring with students traveling to various cities to complete public service activities during their week away.


Last year, 30 UI students participated in the Pay It Forward Tour. They painted a YMCA in St. Louis, helped clean up and spray paint tiger and lion enclosures at a Wildlife Refuge in Eureka Springs, Ark., and cleaned a history museum in Trinidad, Colo.

“To work at each and every service project for simply three or four hours seemed like such a small task, but when we met all of the people who ran the facilities, their gratitude for our time we spent there was immense,” says Megan Sempkowski, a UI junior from Worth, Ill.

Dusold, who lives in Ankeny, has been on the receiving end of acts of kindness, be it a free cup of coffee or quarters in the carwash.

“It’s kind of a nice little gift that makes your whole day,” she says.

Each contributed $75 to the project, which purchased $5 gift cards to Starbucks, Fareway and Target.

“It wasn’t the amount that struck people, but the gesture itself,” says Rodenburg, who lives in North Liberty. “You forget how sometimes even the most simple things mean more than some grand gesture.”

The pair cut in line at the movie theater, purchasing tickets for the senior couple behind them. The woman asked what they were doing. Her response after they explained was complete joy.

“She told us that she and a friend started the ‘Pay It Forward’ curriculum for the State of New Jersey schools,” Dusold says.

“She was just over the moon, so excited to see people doing it,” Rodenburg adds.

The friends don’t know if all their acts of kindness resulted in someone paying it forward, but they hope some people found inspiration in their efforts.

“It’s just so simple,” Rodenburg says. “When I first told my husband about it, he said it was a great idea, but that we should be doing something like this all the time. It really makes a difference. You have no idea what kind of impact a kind gesture will have.”

Ready to pay it forward? Here are some ideas:

Leave a copy of a book you’ve read in a restaurant or coffee shop for someone to enjoy.

Bring treats to an office — your office, your child’s school or your dentist’s.

Volunteer at your local animal shelter.

Compliment a stranger.

Pay for someone’s coffee.

Pay for the car behind you in the drive-thru.

Leave quarters in the machine at the carwash.

Visiting a foreign country? Give what’s left of your currency to someone who lives there.

Let someone cut in front of you at the store.

Offer your letter carrier something to drink.

Shovel a neighbor’s sidewalk.

Stock up on cheap umbrellas. Pass them out the next time it rains.

Donate coloring books and crayons to a hospital’s pediatric ward.

Write letters of appreciation to groups who are helping the community.


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Take flowers to a hospital and give them to someone who hasn’t had any visitors.

Open the phone book, pick a name, and send them something anonymously.



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