Mom and Son Pay It Forward With Daily Good Deeds

Do one good deed a day.

That’s what waitress Shannon Leavitt and her 10-year-old son Kaden of Pocatello, Idaho, have promised as part of their “Pay it forward” campaign. The duo wants to help spread acts of kindness throughout the world.

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Their deeds include buying strangers tanks of gas, carrying someone’s groceries in a shopping mall parking lot, buying notebooks for neighborhood kids, and purchasing another person's meal at a drive-through restaurant. Leavitt once paid for an elderly couple’s dinner at a Chinese restaurant and gave her coat to a young girl who was shivering while she walked to school. The person on the receiving end always gets a simple white card from Leavitt and Kaden that reads, “Pay it forward.” On the back of the card, there's another message: “Please do a good deed, whatever it may be. Then pass this card to that person and tell them to do the same thing ... pay it forward.”

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Leavitt lives in a mobile home with her husband David and their three children (Ashton, 13, Kaden, 10, and Lindsay, 6) and makes $3.35 per hour waiting tables at the Sandpiper restaurant. She’s always taught her children to be altruistic—every day after school, she asks, "What good deeds have you done today?" but she came up with the idea for the cards only seven months ago. “We had just gotten home from the grocery store and Kaden saw an elderly woman taking out the trash,” Leavitt told Yahoo! Shine. “He ran outside and dragged her bag down her driveway. It made me so proud. I wondered, ‘What if we make this into something?'”

The next day, Leavitt and Kaden went to FedEx/Kinkos and printed 200 business cards. “Kaden carries his cards to school,” said Leavitt. “He’ll hold the door open for students, help teachers roll crates of books down the hallway, and he once helped teach a class.”

Leavitt also gleaned inspiration from her favorite movie, “Pay It Forward” (2000), in which an elementary-school teacher played by Kevin Spacey teaches a young boy named Trevor (Haley Joel Osment) to be charitable to others. Each time Trevor does a good deed, he asks the recipient to "pay it forward."

“The other day, I saw a teenager pushing his car down the street because he ran out of gas,” Leavitt said. “So I drove him to the gas station, paid for his gas, drove him back to his car, and gave him a card. He was amazed. Another time, while at the store, I saw a bunch of tough-looking kids trying to pool their money together for a large soda. I paid for the soda and gave them a card. They straightened up and called me ‘ma’am.’"

Generally, Leavitt doesn't know whether people do, in fact, pay it forward. However she recently witnessed the fruits of her labor. “I was waiting tables, and these two guys were sitting at the bar, having drinks,” she said. “I paid for one round and handed them a card. They thought it was the coolest thing ever.” Fifteen minutes later, she was ringing up a $115 check for a family when the two men at the bar flagged her over and paid for their bill. “The mother wanted to cry,” said Leavitt.

The rest of Leavitt’s family has gotten into the act. "Lindsay wants to carry the cards too, so I’m thinking of a way for her to participate,” said Leavitt. And her husband, David, carries the cards with him. Recently, while at the driving range, he bought a round of golf balls for a mother and son who were playing nearby.

“I never expect anything in return — you have to give because it makes you feel good," said Leavitt. "It doesn’t take much time or money to do something nice. We’re going to see how far we can take this."

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