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Olson: Lend a hand, pay it forward

The nonprofit Pay-It-Forward House in Sycamore provides affordable housing for families whose loved ones are receiving extended care at Kindred Hospital.
The nonprofit Pay-It-Forward House in Sycamore provides affordable housing for families whose loved ones are receiving extended care at Kindred Hospital.

I knew we were in for it as soon as I saw the pile of dirt in front of Pay-It-Forward House at 719 Somonauk St. in Sycamore.

We were eight do-gooders from the DeKalb Leadership Academy who’d been sent to do some service work that morning. Sure enough, it wasn’t 10 or 15 minutes before my classmates Greg Herring, Liz LeMay, Mark Mattson, Carolyn Leist, Shannon Barnaby, Christina Seversen, Lindsey Engelsman and I were shoveling the dirt into buckets and wheelbarrows.

Some people carefully placed the dirt around the base of flowers and trees with little silver shovels. I’m of the school that if you’re working with dirt, you might as well be flinging it around with abandon.

Pay-It-Forward House is a nonprofit similar to the Ronald McDonald House. It provides affordable accommodations for people whose family members are receiving extended care at nearby Kindred Hospital. The average patient at Kindred stays about three weeks, and the cost to stay in a hotel room for that amount of time can be financially difficult for people.

They typically ask for a $5 to $10 donation per room each night, no matter how many people stay there. Since the house was founded in March 2005, they’ve helped people get almost 12,000 nights of rest, said Executive Director Jea Nae Remala.

At the house, they’re always looking for donations of microwaveable food items, snacks, cans of pop, paper goods such as towels, napkins, plates, and toilet paper, help with lawn care, cleaning, basic home maintenance and more.

“We go through paper towels napkins and Kleenex faster than you would ever know,” Remala said. “… Soda pop is another thing we just burn through.”

If you want to donate items, you can drop them at the house, which is usually staffed by volunteers from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, and from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Also, they always can use people to work 3.5 hour shifts at the house. There’s more information online at

“When you look around it looks like a home,” said Marge Johnson, the volunteer coordinator and garden chairwoman. “But it all came together by people like you doing what you’re doing today.”

It wasn’t long after that we were put to work.

For someone whose work mostly involves sitting behind a keyboard, it was refreshing to be doing some manual labor. It was harder work than I’d expected before I spotted the dirt pile, and I hadn’t dressed for it – but my teammates seemed to find it funny when I cuffed up the bottoms of my dress pants and pulled off my socks and shoes and pushed the wheelbarrow in my bare feet.

The sun was hot. It was dirty, sweaty work. And it felt good.

Helping to make Pay-It-Forward House look better was worth the sweat. If it makes the place look a little better for people staying in Sycamore under trying circumstances, it was worth it.

There are many opportunities to give of your time to help local organizations that help those in need, even if you’d prefer to do it without a shovel and a wheelbarrow.

You can mentor a child through the Big Brothers-Big Sisters program with the Family Service Agency, – they always need Big Brothers, the agency’s Executive Director David Miller says.

You could help orphaned animals at TAILS Humane Society,, help Feed’Em Soup ( to feed hungry humans, or get involved with the Day of Caring on June 21 through the Kishwaukee United Way, The United Way has many other partner organizations you can find through its website as well.

Some of my other Leadership DeKalb classmates also designed some new materials seeking volunteers for the Voluntary Action Center’s Meals on Wheels program. They do a good job making convenient, easy to complete routes you can generally do on your lunch break from work. Learn more at 815-758-5703, or

Sometimes people say they would like to get involved but don’t know how, which is a shame because there are a lot of organizations that can use the help, as the demand for services only seems to grow with each passing year.

If you have the luxury to give of some of your time, why not give it a shot? It feels good, especially at the finish.

A practical question: How long does a husband give the mother of his children something for Mother’s Day?

It’s not that I have a problem buying things for my wife – the wife is the best, seriously, and she deserves more than I can afford to give her – but you know, we’ve already got an anniversary that I usually can remember pretty quickly (and there’s no “Thanks for Bearing My Kids Day” on the calendar).

Do husbands stop doing Mother’s Day cards and gifts once their kids are old enough to shop on their own? Do you have to wait until they move out of the house, or just until they’re old enough to drive? Or do you just keep getting her things forever?

If you do stop, do you make some kind of announcement in advance, or one year do you just not get her anything and see if you get the cold shoulder?

There should be some kind of man manual to answer questions like these. If anyone can share some knowledge, help a brother out, would you?

Mom’s Day gifts: So I asked some people through the social media what they’d be getting their mothers this Mother’s Day. A few responses:

“As of … Wednesday, I am 13 days overdue with our second child,” Tina Brescia Holtz wrote on Facebook. “I am planning on giving my Mom and [mother-in-law] another grandchild by Sunday! I think they are going to love it!”

I hope everything goes well and that Tina gets something for Mother’s Day, too.

At St. Paul’s in DeKalb, they tweeted at me, “We are baking communion bread with our moms to use on Pentecost Sunday, May 19.”

My mom always loved it when I went to church with her.

“All my mom wants to do is hang out on the deck, so, we are going to make her fav: fish tacos with some yummy grilled vegs, and listen to some Motown!” Carly Marie wrote on Facebook.

It’s the simple pleasures. Let’s hope we get decent weather.

Heidi Pittsley of DeKalb tweeted: “My mom is Sally Pittsley and I plan on getting her just flowers because she is getting rid of a lot of stuff to get ready to have her house sold and move to Arizona.”

That’s too bad, Heidi. Tell her to watch out for scorpions. On the bright side, visiting her in the winter should be nice.

I hope all of you have a great Mother’s Day weekend. If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some shopping to do.

• Eric Olson is the editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841, ext. 2257, email, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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