Sometimes social media is nasty. I mean really, truly, ruin-a-person’s-day nasty. It gives people the opportunity to say whatever they want with little, if any, filter.

Some people need excitement in their lives, so they try to “stir the pot” by being downright rude. Then they wait and watch to see how the world will react via the anonymity of the Internet.

What if all that energy was spent on something positive?

I got an email that simply said, “This seems like a good one for you if you’re in need of some ideas.”

Boy, was that person right! Below that one sentence was a series of photos, screenshots actually, taken of an entire conversation between a bunch of strangers on Facebook.

The first post was from a young man named Dustin who had gotten a new job but was still going to be $50 short for rent. He had one week to make up the difference, so he was asking if anyone knew of quick work – snow shoveling or yard chores – he could do.

People responded with all kinds of ideas, like donating plasma, being a pizza delivery driver, or contacting short-term employment agencies.

Then one woman bravely said this: “I know I’m just a stranger to you, but we are here to help our neighbors. I can give you a loan and you can pay me back.”

And then 45 minutes later, the same woman came up with an even better idea and posted this:

“I know that there are many other people out there, like me, who would like to help but perhaps don’t have $50 to give. Well, how about $5?

“That’s all it would take, 10 people to give $5 in a ‘random act of kindness’ or ‘pay it forward’ gesture, and this man would be covered without anything to repay.

“I’ll start… #1.

“Let’s show everyone what North Dakota is made of. Who’s going to be #2?

“Ready? Go!”

One minute later, she had her second donation. Four minutes later she had her third. In less than an hour, all 10 spots had been claimed by people wanting to help a total stranger.

The woman who came up with this brilliant act of kindness is Michelle Hjelden, a paramedic from Fargo. When I asked her why she did it, this is what she told me:

“I was simply compelled, by my faith and who I am, to act on behalf of Dustin.

“I know how warm a heart feels when you give selflessly. It makes me feel a warm, peaceful/soothing inner ‘spark’ that signals to me that God is pleased, and through that he makes me so much more thankful for what I have. The yearning to maintain that special feeling keeps me constantly striving to be a better person and keep that ‘spark’ aglow, because to be honest, not many other things beat it!

“I knew there were others on that post who also wanted to feel that way, but perhaps couldn’t do it by themselves. I could have helped Dustin directly on my own, but I knew that many more people would be affected with that ‘spark’ if we all worked together by giving a little bit.”

People whom Michelle had never met dropped off donations one by one. There were smiles and hugs and many warm feelings as Michelle recognized that special spark in each of their eyes.

And then, she got to give the money away.

“A young, timid … boy ascended my stairs with his hands in his pockets, shoulders shrugged upward as if embarrassed, and head humbly bowed.

“He’s a good kid who needed restored faith and trust in others, and he got it.”

Dustin wasn’t on the Internet looking for a handout. He was looking for odd jobs to make some quick cash to pay the rent. He got the money, but perhaps more importantly, he got the money wrapped in kindness, empathy and a vote of confidence with a gift tag that said, “We see you. We’ve been there. We know you’ll find your way and help others in the future, but today, let us help you.”

Thanks to one woman’s clever idea, many people got to be part of something that was about much more than the money, and at the same time prove that the world – even on the Internet – isn’t such a bad place after all.

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.

Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s Men’s Head Basketball Coach Saul Phillips. Her columns run every Saturday. You can also get a Daily Dose of Inspiration from Nicole at