As a first semester freshman, Derek Price had an idea. What if he created an initiative encouraging random acts of kindness? Buy a cup of coffee or a slice of pizza for someone else to cash in; spread a smile and some happiness someone else’s way.
After a lot of planning and hard work, that’s exactly what he did. The program, called ONU’s One for You, officially launched on January 25 in Northern on Main and Viva Maria’s.
The idea is that anyone can go to either NOM or Viva’s and ask the cashier or waiter if they can purchase an item for the pay-it-forward program. They will then pay either $1.29 for the coffee or $2.25 for the pizza slice, and be presented with a stamped post-it note. They can then write a message on the note if they choose, and hang it up in a designated area of the restaurant.
To redeem an offer, simply take a post-it note from the wall and present it to the cashier or waiter.
By buying a post-it note you are guaranteed to be helping someone from your community. You could have just bought a free coffee for your neighbor, your professor, your roommate, your friend from school, or someone else you know,” Price said. “I think the beautiful thing about this program is that it is directly benefiting the community around you.”
It all started in a freshman orientation class, when Price was required to complete some community service for an organization he believed in. However, the limitations of not having a car, being very busy, and not knowing much about Ada community opportunities in general led him to his own service opportunity.
After seeing some post-it notes at the store, Price remembered a story he had heard about a guy from Wall Street quitting his job to open a pizzeria in Philadelphia. One day someone had come in and asked to buy a buy a slice of pizza for someone less fortunate, which led to a pay-it-forward initiative that took off.
“This one story of kindness is the basic idea behind my entire program. I figured if it could work in Philly, why couldn’t it work here?”
With the initial idea in mind, Price ended up meeting with Robert Alexander, professor of political science, to discuss its feasibility and decide where to go from there.
“I immediately thought it was a great idea and indicated that I thought he should pursue it,” Alexander said. “I have not seen students take such an approach in the past and I have been really impressed by it.”
The planning process for the program was an uphill process, though. Price cited organizing the program as “one of the wonkiest and wackiest experiences of [his] life.”
After his discussion with Alexander, Price reached out to Director of Community Relations Chris Burns-DiBiasio, who then pointed him in the direction of David Dellifield and the Ada Chamber of Commerce.
“There was only one problem with that,” said Price. “They meet at eight in the morning at the community center in Ada. A building that is probably about a mile or a mile and a half away from my dorm room.
“On the day of my meeting with the chamber, I got up, got dressed, and mentally prepared myself for what was to come. I then got on my Razor scooter and scootered my way to the community center. I must have made for a very strange sight as I rolled down Main Street on a light-up children’s scooter with my tie flapping in the wind.”
Despite this initial challenge, the meeting went well. Price said the Chamber helped him narrow his focus and decided to endorse him.
During this time Price worked to spread the word further around campus and town. One way to raise awareness was by hosting two free donut nights, where he hand-made 100 donuts each time and used them to lure people in to talk about the program.
“In case you’re ever thinking about utilizing this tactic, I would strongly advise against it. You will smell like cooking oil for days and it’s much more fun eating donuts than it is making them,” he said.
Many organizations and individuals eventually supported his idea after hearing about it. Polar Merchandise even reached out to him and helped design a program logo and purchase the stamps to be used on the post-it notes.
Although the process of seeing the program to fruition was extremely stressful, Price admitted it was a lot of fun and that everything eventually fell into place.
Alexander cited Derek’s success as a result of his research and openness to feedback from others throughout the process.
“I’m really proud of the work Derek did on this project,” Alexander said. “Watching an idea move into a reality is a very satisfying thing. That is a testament to his hard work.”
Within the first two days of launching, there had been over 30 sticky notes purchased. The program’s Facebook page has also received over 150 likes since its takeoff.
Some have questioned whether a program like Price’s is necessary in Ada of all places, but Price believes that even here in our small town a program like this can have a hugely positive impact.
This program sponsors small acts of kindness, which is something you can never have enough of. It’s more than just aid to those that are less fortunate, it’s a smile and a free cup of coffee for the guy that forgot his wallet, it’s the assurance that someone still cares [for] the woman who is having a rough day. My program is simply a helping hand to those people. We all have bad days and hopefully this program can make someone’s day just a little better.”
Another benefit Alexander cited includes both encouraging students to venture out in Ada and frequent local businesses, and have community members visit the often student-populated NOM.
“Interaction between the town and the university would be a major win for this program. A strong ONU-Ada connection is good for both students and community. In the long run, I hope students can see that they aren’t tourists during their time here, but see themselves as citizens of the town as well,” he said.
Price hopes to see the program continue to grow, gradually becoming adopted into the culture of ONU and the town. He said he’d like to think that a program promoting acts of kindness wouldn’t have an end date, and is hopeful that it may even spread to surrounding areas.
“I know that this will be difficult and some might see it as impossible, but I have a lot of confidence in this program and even more faith in the community,” he said. “I think this program will help change the community one post-it note at a time.”