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It’s the ‘little things’

Pay it Forward Friday is Oct. 1

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Harper Lovin, then 14, left, and Kaylin Willingham, then 14, granddaughters of the late Rev. Al Henderson, hold a sign together inviting the community to stop by for pumpkins, apple cider and doughnuts. It was the family’s way of paying it forward for the overwhelming support they say they received following the death of Henderson in October 2019.

Two years after the death of the Rev. Al Henderson, his legacy of serving the Fort Dodge community will live on with the second annual Pay it Forward Friday on Oct. 1.

The event was started last year by the community organization created by Henderson, Serving our Servants, along with St. Paul Lutheran Church, as a way to honor the late pastor on the anniversary of his tragic death.

The mission was simple — spend a day committing small acts of kindness across the city. The Fort Dodge Police Association handed out gift cards to unsuspecting customers at Dunkin. The owners of the Dariette purchased coffee for customers at Central Perk and Dessert. Henderson’s family passed out apple cider, doughnuts and pumpkins. Countless other members of the community found a myriad of ways to spread kindness in their own ways.

This year, Henderson’s family is organizing a fundraiser to sell T-shirts and sweatshirts for Pay it Forward Friday.

The shirt fundraiser will support the Domestic/Sexual Assault Outreach Center’s Homicide/Other Violent Crimes Program. The program supports victims and survivors of violent crimes with resources following the crime and through the trial. Their support often includes providing hotel rooms during trials for witnesses who aren’t part of the family and can’t receive compensation benefits, or food and gas cards to help witnesses because compensation doesn’t pay for meals.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
The family of the late Rev. Al Henderson gathers for a candlelight vigil honoring the beloved Fort Dodge pastor at City Square Park. Over 100 people gathered to show their support on the one-year anniversary of Henderson’s death. The community spent the day paying it forward in various ways to honor the selfless way in which Henderson chose to live his life.

“They were so helpful to us throughout the process,” said Kandi Lovin, Henderson’s oldest daughter. “D/SAOC is an irreplaceable resource that brings empathy and experience to a process that can be lengthy and frustrating. To navigate it without them would be terribly difficult.”

It’s hard enough after losing a loved one to a violent crime, dealing with the grief, but then adding the sometimes complicated judicial system on top of that can make it so much more difficult.

“We think they are a great resource,” Lovin said of the Homicide/Other Violent Crimes Program. “But they’ve lost some funding and we want to be able to make sure they are a resource for other families that may end up in the same circumstances where we’ve been. Our family has had a lot of support, but we want that for other people, too.”

Needing the services HOVC provides isn’t something anyone ever hopes for, but Lovin said she and her family were grateful to have had the support from those who understand the impact of violence through these last two years.

The HOVC program serves a 15-county region in northern Iowa.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Miranda Parrish, then 5, a kindergarten student at St. Paul Lutheran School, admires the stem on a pumpkin she picked up at the Henderson’s house for the Pay It Forward Friday event in 2020. The Henderson family provided free hot apple cider, doughnuts and pumpkins to the community to pay it forward in honor of the Rev. Al Henderson, a beloved Fort Dodge pastor who was killed Oct. 2, 2019.

“With facing budget cuts, we’ve had to cut a lot of different areas and any money that we can get and donations will really help,” said Marie Harvey, HOVC program supervisor. “We’re very grateful that they have chosen us to be a recipient.”

Deadline to pre-order the Pay it Forward shirts and sweatshirts is 11:59 p.m. on Sunday. Orders can be made at https://payitforward2021.itemorder.com/shop/sale/?saleCode=M5TAJ. These shirts will be available in time for Pay it Forward Friday. Another order for the shirts will open at a later time, Harvey said.

The shirt fundraiser isn’t the only way members of the community can get involved in Pay it Forward Friday.

“The beauty of Pay it Forward Friday is you can do whatever you want,” said TJ Pingle, president of Serving Our Servants.

SOS will have some Pay it Forward Friday business cards printed with the SOS logo, the phrase “Carry on in love and joy” and one of Henderson’s favorite bible verses printed on them for members of the community to give out while they do acts of kindness on Oct. 1. The cards will be available starting next week at Shimkat Motor Co..

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
A pumpkin with the words “Carry on!” written on it is displayed in a wagon at the Henderson’s home in 2020. "Carry on" is a phrase Henderson would often say at the end of a conversation.

“It was a huge success last year when we did it for the first time and I know I had tons and tons of people talking about it, sharing it on social media with the hashtag #PayitForwardFriday,” Pingel said. “It was just a really great feel-good day of giving back and honoring Pastor Henderson.”

SOS will have some things planned to share kindness with local law enforcement and first responders, Pingel said, but the opportunities to pay it forward around town are nearly limitless.

“The easiest one people think of is paying for someone else’s food — that’s a great idea, but it doesn’t even have to consist of money,” he said. “It can be helping your neighbor carry in groceries, or picking up trash in a local park. It can be just simple gestures like grabbing the door for somebody. I think in this day and age, we lose a lot of that personal connection and just helping somebody with the littlest things can brighten their day.”

Lovin said seeing the impact made on Pay it Forward Friday last year meant a lot to the Henderson family.

“Last year, it was so helpful for us because it was the first anniversary and we were all kind of dreading that day and what it would be like to kind of relive that day again,” she said. “And it was such a positive, rewarding day. For us that was important because we didn’t want this to just be about how Dad died, but how he lived and how the community has been amazing.”

The Henderson family will be handing out “kindness kits” in the afternoon on Pay it Forward Friday, Lovin said. They will also be accepting cash and gift card donations for the HOVC program.

When Henderson was alive, he tried to help every person he came in contact with, Pingel said.

“That’s kind of the essence of this whole thing — help somebody,” he said. “You never know what someone is going through and what little thing can turn their day around. He changed hundreds and thousands of lives by just doing the little things, and that’s something we all can do.”

Henderson died after a violent attack outside his church on Oct. 2, 2019. His killer, Josh Pendleton, was convicted of first-degree murder and first-degree robbery and sentenced to life in prison last month.

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