Woman spends 19 years paying it forward with random acts of kindness
[Jan 22, 2022: Nicole Carter]
Rita Durgin of South Paris keeps a list of acts of kindness, a campaign she’s done for the past 19 years. (CREDIT: Rita Durgin)
Every year on her birthday, Rita Durgin of South Paris gives herself a growing list of to-do’s. On the day she turned 30 she resolved to commit 30 acts of random kindness. Her experiment has turned into a 19-year tradition that increases with her age.
“It started as a way to get me from dwelling on the fact that I was getting older,” Durgin said with a laugh during a chat with the Advertiser Democrat. “I went right from high school to marriage and kids. I was busy, busy, busy.
“Then I started looking at my life. Although I’m a mother, I hadn’t done much (else). It was a way to feel like I’m doing something worthwhile to help others. And make the world a better place,” she said.
Durgin was inspired to give random acts a try after a friend decided to celebrate her birthday as a day of kindness to others. Early on it took Durgin a week or two to complete her quota, which always matches her age. Over time she has stretched it out to a month or more. But once she hits her milestone she doesn’t stop doing acts of kindness, she just stops counting it.
“Now, I do little things all year,” she said. “It’s me now, it’s who I am. So I’ll intentionally do 49, and whatever happens after that is great.
“I tried it that (first) year and it gave me such a good feeling I decided to keep it going,” she said.
The acts are simple although some, like baking cookies for co-workers, require dedicated time and attention. Others, like pre-filling a vending machine with change, are quick and easy. Many, like volunteering or even just holding a door open for others, are free.
In 2014 she started making custom cards to let recipients know they were the target of an act of kindness. The cards say “for my birthday I am doing intentional acts of kindness and I ask that you please pay it forward.” They are numbered so she can track where she is in the process.
“In the beginning I just did it and hoped that people saw it,” she said. “With a lot of these, I won’t know how they turn out. Some I do, some I don’t. Some people have caught me leaving things on other people’s desks. Some have caught me leaving food in the break room.”
Between Jan. 5 and 14, Durgin’s acts included making a sandwich for a co-worker and ordering anonymous care packages for classrooms in Oxford Hills and one in far away Dexter, Maine. She left containers of soup for neighbors in her mother’s apartment building and brought cookies to work. She donated $50 to a local animal rescue, Miles to Freedom.
In the past she has left handfuls of her notes (along with money) at a deli in Lewiston with instructions for the counter person to take $5 off customers’ lunch orders, at their discretion. One of her favorite things was a purchase of gift cards at Walmart to be tendered to other customers.
“I never know how it works out, it’s up to them to figure out,” Durgin explained. “At Walmart I bought two gift cards and saw someone I know working there. I handed them to him and said, ‘look, if you see someone who looks like they need this, or you just want to get rid of them, whatever.’ He took them with a big smile” and was able to make someone’s day.
Durgin makes an effort to keep her acts anonymous. It’s not about getting a pat on the back but paying it forward. She estimates that this year it could cost as much as $500 before she hits number 49.
“But some acts cost nothing,” she said. “Sometimes I’ll just mail a card to someone I aspire to be like, or someone I really admire. I donate blood, that’s an act of kindness that I do several times a year. It costs me nothing.”
Durgin’s mission has rubbed off on those around her. Her three kids grew up watching her work at kindness and she sees them doing it now. She said her boyfriend has started paying for meals of strangers since they met.
“It’s what I hope this does,” she said. “I want to influence others to practice kindness.
“It’s kind of become my phrase. I post about it frequently. If everyone practices kindness the world will be a great place.”
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Note: Materials provided above by Nicole Carter. Content may be edited for style and length.
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