Random acts of kind­ness cul­mi­nate in kid­ney do­na­tion

Over four years, Pitts­burgh man has helped hun­dreds, maybe thou­sands, of peo­ple

The Morning Call - - FRONT PAGE - By Al­li­son Klein

Jon Pot­ter was fill­ing his car at a Pitts­burgh gas sta­tion when a woman ap­proached and asked for a ride to a bat­tered-women’s shel­ter. He said no.

She walked away, and he quickly felt a wave of re­gret. He got out of his car to look for her, but she was gone. Feel­ing ter­ri­ble, he vowed to be kin­der next time a stranger needed help.

A few weeks later, in the spring of 2015, he saw his op­por­tu­nity when some­one on a Pitts­burgh Red­dit group needed a hand in­stalling a tele­vi­sion an­tenna. Pot­ter, who is handy, did it for no charge and felt great about it. Then some­one on the same Red­dit group asked for a cat sit­ter, and he jumped at the chance.

“It snow­balled from there,” said Pot­ter, 29. “I de­cided that for the next year, if any­one asks me for help, as long as it’s le­gal and as long as it won’t harm any­one else, I’d do it. It sounds ridicu­lous, but I did it.”

Soon, he was com­mit­ting near-daily acts of kind­ness in the Pitts­burgh com­mu­nity: help­ing some­one repair vinyl sid­ing, mov­ing fur­ni­ture, fix­ing a leaky roof, chang­ing a grand­mother’s tire on the side of the road. All for free. He even raised $700 for a teen in his com­mu­nity who was in­jured while stop­ping a hate crime.

His one year of goodness was so ful­fill­ing that he has turned it into a four-year stretch of say­ing “yes” to random re­quests from strangers, gain­ing Pot­ter fame in Pitts­burgh for his hun­dreds — per­haps thou­sands — of kind acts, win­ning him awards, and mak­ing him the sub­ject of lo­cal me­dia at­ten­tion.

“There is this Red­dit lore of him,” said his friend Jo­hann Gulden­schuh, who met Pot­ter

when Pot­ter agreed to help Gulden­schuh and his wife move to the Pitts­burgh area in 2017. “There are all these leg­ends of these cool things he’s done, and they’re true.”

A hero on Red­dit

On Red­dit, per­son af­ter per­son gushes about how Pot­ter (user­name pgh­paraglid­ing) of­fered to help when it was most needed. Gulden­schuh is one of them.

Pot­ter upped the ante on his gen­eros­ity last week, do­nat­ing a kid­ney to a stranger af­ter see­ing on Red­dit that a Pitts­burgh fa­ther of two was in need of a trans­plant.

The man, Michael Moore, 57, had put out a plea on so­cial me­dia through his daugh­ters.

“What are the reper­cus­sions of giv­ing a kid­ney to some­one?” re­sponded Pot­ter, who saw the post late at night. “I’m at the point in the night where I’d be open to giv­ing a kid­ney to a stranger.”

Never one to back down from a good deed, he found out he could live a long and healthy life with one kid­ney. Then he got tested and learned he was a per­fect match for the man in need.

He had to do some per­suad­ing to get his wife of about a year, Rachel Adler, on board, but she came around to the idea. The surgery was Aug. 13, and both men are re­cov­er­ing and do­ing great.

“I’m just blown away by the fact he was will­ing to do it,” Moore said, de­tail­ing the many ap­point­ments, tests and rig­or­ous screen­ing process Pot­ter went through.

Handy, and free

In the months be­fore the do­na­tion, the two men met and be­came close friends. Per doc­tors’ orders, Pot­ter had to lose 20 pounds be­fore the surgery, which he did. He also over­heard Moore say­ing he was go­ing to in­stall a French drain in his back­yard and of­fered to help.

“He goes, ‘I won’t charge you any­thing for it,’” Moore said, laugh­ing. He in­sisted on pay­ing Pot­ter for his work.

Be­fore Pot­ter’s do-gooder life­style be­gan four years ago, he was a paraglid­ing flight in­struc­tor, and most of his work hours fell on week­ends. He was gen­er­ally free on week­days and had what he de­scribed as a bare­bones life­style. In­stead of try­ing to earn more money dur­ing the week, he made the de­ci­sion to ded­i­cate him­self to help­ing oth­ers.

It has had a pro­found ef­fect on Pot­ter, who says he has strug­gled with de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety since he was 8 years old. Last year, he was di­ag­nosed with high-func­tion­ing autism and said the re­al­iza­tion was a “huge puz­zle piece” in his life. He said that push­ing him­self to in­ter­act with peo­ple by help­ing them has given him new appreciati­on for oth­ers.

“I trust a lot more now than I did in the past,” he said. “I trust peo­ple’s in­ten­tions more.”

Two years ago, he for­mal­ized what he does by cre­at­ing the web­site Pitts­burgh Good Deeds, where peo­ple can ask for help and also vol­un­teer their ser­vices. Pot­ter now works as a handy­man, and when he quotes his clients a price, he tells them to pay what they can. He said enough peo­ple pay the full price to keep him afloat.

“I get what I need,” he said. “I’m not very re­li­gious, but at this point I def­i­nitely be­lieve there’s an or­der to my life and there’s an or­der to the uni­verse, and I be­lieve the or­der is good.”

Are some peo­ple he’s help­ing scam­ming him? Maybe. He said it doesn’t mat­ter.

“It’s worth the risk of get­ting scammed, com­pared to the pos­si­bil­ity of help­ing some­one or sav­ing some­body’s life,” he said.

Fear of be­ing scammed? Nah

He gave a re­cent ex­am­ple of a fa­ther who posted on Red­dit that he was think­ing of killing him­self be­cause he was go­ing through a separation from his wife and he needed an im­me­di­ate $2,000 to pay his bills.

“Ev­ery­one was like, ‘This guy is a scam,’” Pot­ter said. “I was like, ‘It might be true. What if he’s re­ally go­ing to kill him­self?’”

Pot­ter ended up go­ing to the man’s house and lend­ing him the money — the most he has ever lent out — and said the man was ex­tremely grate­ful and is al­ready start­ing to pay him back.

“It’s very sober­ing,” Pot­ter said. “No one else was go­ing to help this guy. In the past, I never would have said yes.”

An­other ex­am­ple: Early in his kind­ness blitz, some­one posted on Red­dit at 1 a.m. that a friend who had just grad­u­ated from high school had lost his wallet, was stuck at a party and needed a ride home in the swel­ter­ing sum­mer heat. Pot­ter said other Red­dit users were giv­ing the guy a hard time, say­ing “find your own ride” and “who is go­ing to give you a ride at 1 a.m.?”

“Ev­ery­one was bash­ing on him,” Pot­ter said.

But Pot­ter had a feel­ing about it. He put his Rot­tweiler in his car in case he needed pro­tec­tion and picked up the teen. On the ride home, Pot­ter ended up talk­ing through some of the teen’s prob­lems with him.

“He said he didn’t want to go to col­lege — he just wanted to stay around town and sell drugs. I told him, ‘Maybe you don’t want to do that,’” Pot­ter said. “We talked for 30 min­utes about his doubts. He sent me a note later and said thank you.”

Pay­ing it for­ward

And Pot­ter’s gen­eros­ity has in­spired oth­ers. When a lo­cal group awarded him $500 for be­ing an ex­em­plary com­mu­nity mem­ber, he posted about it on Red­dit — “I have $500 that I’m giv­ing away” — and asked who needed the money.

Sev­eral peo­ple re­sponded that they needed help, and oth­ers con­tacted him to do­nate more money.

In the end, he had $1,500 to dis­trib­ute. He posted that he used the money to help two peo­ple get bus passes for work transporta­tion, buy gro­ceries for sev­eral other peo­ple, pay a gas bill for an­other, buy new shoes for a strug­gling nurse with foot trou­bles, con­trib­ute to a ser­vice trip in Costa Rica — and for many other causes.

Pot­ter said help­ing oth­ers has brought on a big turn for the bet­ter in his own life, es­pe­cially by keep­ing his de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety at bay. He highly rec­om­mends his un­usual life­style and likes en­cour­ag­ing oth­ers to help peo­ple when they can.

“Even me, with all these hin­drances,” he said, re­fer­ring to his autism and anx­i­ety. “If I can do it, you can too.”

“I de­cided for the next year, if any­one asks me for help ... I’d do it.”

— Jon Pot­ter, 29, Pitts­burgh

COUR­TESY OF RACHEL ADLER/HAND­OUT

Jon Pot­ter, of Pitts­burgh, re­cov­ers Aug. 13 af­ter do­nat­ing a kid­ney to a man in need.

COUR­TESY OF JON POT­TER/HAND­OUT

Jon Pot­ter, 29, of Pitts­burgh, is known for per­form­ing acts of kind­ness, such as fix­ing rot­ted porch posts for free.

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