Waiting tables isn't such a bad job if you're serving generous customers like Benjamin Olewine III.
Melissa Mainier from Harrisburg, PA is a nurse at Pinnacle Health's General Osteopathic Hospital, but it wasn't too long ago that she could be found serving patrons at Peachtree Restaurant and Lounge. Her life changed when regular customer Olewine, a local philanthropist, decided to take a chance on her.
The two were engaged in some chit-chat back in 2010 when Mainier mentioned that she was working her way through college and had massive student loans. "He said, 'I'd love to help you.' I was like, help me? What is he talking about? He elaborated and he said if I needed help financially, he would be happy to help."
Mainier was skeptical, and turned him down - twice. The third time Olewine extended his offer, Mainier took him up on it and sent him her tuition bill. The next day, he returned with the bill and a check for the full amount. He went on to pay every single expense relating to her studies, from tuition to paying for books. Mainier estimates that he's paid around $30,000 over the years, all related to her education and career as a nurse.
"[My parents] were both so shocked when I told them, they couldn't believe it," said Mainier, who adds that her father passed away two years ago. "My dad was so happy for me. Both my parents were just so happy for me. I'm sure they would want to help me if they could."
Olewine is the third of four generations of his family to be involved in the food service industry and continue his family's tradition of giving back to the community. His father ran a grocery store in the middle of the Great Depression, and would often provide food for those too poor to buy it for themselves. The business grew over the years, and was handed over to Olewine to run before it was consolidated and sold to Sysco Foods in the late '80s.
In 2005, Olewine had donated $1 million to the culinary arts program at HACC, Central Pennsylvania's Community College. He also made major donations to help fund spine, bone and joint institutes, and had a wing named after him at Pinnacle Health's General Osteopathic Hospital. As luck would have it, that's the exact wing where Mainier now works full-time as a nurse, thanks to Olewine's generosity and kindness.
Mainier is currently working hard to receive her bachelor's degree from Drexel University. Olewine hopes she continues her education and earns a master's, and he's more than happy to cover the expenses for her to do it.
In fact, Mainier isn't the first student Olewine has helped out. She tells us that there are others - including another waitress from the Peachtree Restaurant - but that she may be the first stranger he's approached with the offer to pay for their education.
Olewine's kindness is not lost on this grateful nurse. "I'm going to continue to pay it forward for the rest of my life," she says.