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Wednesday, February 8,2012

Forward thinking

What would you do if a stranger gave you $50?

by Alyssa Firth

“I would probably laugh,” Bob Hoffman said. 

Yet giving away $50 to a stranger is exactly the random act of kindness that Hoffman, public relations manager for Michigan State University´s Wharton Center, promotes at his “ePIFany Now” events.  

The “PIF” in “ePIFany Now” stands for “pass it forward,” and the idea came to Hoffman, 42, in the form of an epiphany back in 2009. 

After being cut off in traffic one day, Hoffman said he got angry with the other driver for not paying attention to him. 

“I thought, ´Wait a minute, I’m not paying attention to anything else around me,´” he said. 

Hoffman said he began thinking about the way people end up stressing out over their busy lives and end up only thinking about themselves.

“We´re so isolated with everything going on in our life. Millions of other people have other stuff going on. We have to step out of that and treat each other nicely.” 

After some brainstorming, he came up with the first “ePIFany Now” event. At each event, a list of 100 random acts of kindness is given out to guests. Guests form into groups and go off to perform these acts. Some tasks include paying for someone’s groceries, paying for someone’s gas, doing yard work for a stranger, or the groups can come up with their own ideas.

After a few hours, guests come back to share their stories. 

The first event was advertised by e-mail to Hoffman’s friends only, but more than 250 people showed up for the East Lansing party. Since 2009, “ePIFany Now” has expanded to Grand Rapids, St. Johns and Naperville, Ill., with 11 events throughout the four cities.

Other Pay It Forward programs exist throughout the country, but Hoffman said what makes this group different is people coming back to share their experiences. 

“When people show up, many people come and say, ´I don´t why I´m here, but I feel like I should be,´” he said. “They have the epiphany (that) they can do this right now.”  

The acts of kindness have inspired others outside of the group. When one group offered to buy gas for a man who owned a Mercedes, the man declined the offer and bought gas for the other three cars at the gas station instead. 

Steve Hartman of CBS´ “On the Road” contacted Hoffman and said he was interested in coming to East Lansing for the ePIFany Now party on Sunday. It hasn’t been verified that a CBS crew will show up, but Hoffman said it doesn’t matter.

“What matters is that we´re getting people together to make a difference in other people´s lives,” he said.

ePIFany Now

Michigan State University Federal Credit Union 

3777 West Road, East Lansing

2-6 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12 Free

www.epifanynow.org

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