Gary Cheney, committee member and co-organizer of the sixth annual ShareFest 2012, gets a gleam in his blue eyes when he talks about the newest dimension to the 11 days of giving, which started Sept. 1.
Manning the semi-trailer parked in the lot at St. Jude Catholic Church for collections dropped off to benefit a family or a face unknown, Cheney said "we have tokens" for people who volunteer or donate in one way or another during the event that for New Lenox residents is known as 11 days of giving.
The tokens read: "Congratulations! You've received a 'Youmanity' token and have been selected to start a chain of kindness."
Unlike the chain letters that fill the Email inbox, these tokens are intended to celebrate the act of kindness and to actively encourage others to pass along a similar sentiment. The idea stems from the "Pay It Forward" movement that was featured in a book authored by Catherine Ryan Hyde and later in a movie of the same name starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Haley Joel Osment.
The tokens, which were donated by Aviva Insurance Corp., are likened by the company to an annuity that's going to mature and pay its clients back later.
Tied to a website called youmantity.com, the campaign is designed to capture the distance and result of one token at a time. It begins, said Cheney, by handing out the token to individual volunteers who have worked in one way or another to support ShareFest. The recipient is asked to register the number imprinted on the token on the youmanity.com website and then to pass it along to someone else that he or she encounters in the act of kindness.
And like a chain letter, each token recipient registers the number and the total acts of kindness can be tracked and counted.
"While many could spend time debating the impact, we have seen some unexpected results" from this unity that Cheney calls a "labor of love."
For instance, he said, "it was unexpected to see businesses like Lowes and Target step up and offer free material" along with team of employee volunteers. "We didn't have to ask them," he said. They sought out ShareFest.
This willingness and enthusiasm has spread and taken the community by storm. The thunder, in this case, is quiet. However, rain drops of kindness are falling on the New Lenox Township Food Pantry; at individual homes where work projects are scheduled, at the Will County Forest Preserve Clean-up campaign, at Village Hall where a Job Fair is planned and at Spencer Point School Campus.
"To have 70 organizations (and churches in the community come together unified on the same goal at the same time seems to be something that most (of the committee members) thought was unexpected," he said.
For a number of years, Cheney has participated and led project teams to individual homes. He reflected on the case of one elderly woman whose home has been on the project list for several years. She kept offering me money for ShareFest, he said, "but I wouldn't take it. She was on a fixed income and didn't have the money to keep up her home.
Finally, a priest at St. Jude Parish pulled him aside to shed light on the woman's insistence that Cheney take her donation and use it to help others. "I didn't get it," said Cheney, "but the priest said it was the woman's way of participating (rather than being a recipient only) in ShareFest."
Then it dawned on him, he said, "I was (unintentionally) denying her full participation in ShareFest." A $100 donation for her was like a $10,000 donation from someone else. Her donation took effort and sacrifice, and that's exactly what she wanted to do.
Former recipients of ShareFest have crowded the roster of volunteers these days. Now, Cheney said, he has a better grip on the "pay it forward" movement. These folks benefitted in one way or another from someone else's sweat. They appreciate it, and they want to return the favor.