As soon as Starbucks at the Stony Brook University Medical Center opened at 6:30 a.m., Rich Specht handed employees $500 in Starbucks gift cards to give out to customers.
Thursday was international Pay It Forward Day, the perfect day to spread some kindness.
Specht, whose Sound Beach family lost their 22-month-old son Richie — nicknamed Rees — on Oct. 27, 2012 after he drowned in a pond in his backyard, has been spreading acts of kindness in his son’s name.
Specht gave the employees 100 $5 Starbucks gift cards along with business-size cards with information about his son and his family's mission to pay it forward, in hopes that they too pass along the kindness.
“We decided to have it here because this is where Rees was born,” said Specht, 39, an eighth-grade science teacher at Great Hollow Middle School in Nesconset for 14 years. “When you lose someone you love, you need a way to remember them. I love the idea of people doing small acts of kindness in honor of my son. It puts a smile on my face.”
Before learning the reason, there were some skeptics. Some customers just didn’t understand why someone would give them a free $5 gift card. Others were flabbergasted, yet pleasantly surprised.
Lloyd Bragg, a registered nurse and database administrator in the cardiology department, received a gift card. Bragg, who sipped his iced green tea, has work in pediatrics for 20 years, so he’s seen the effect losing a child can have on families.
“It’s pretty great they’re doing this for us,” said Bragg, 54, of Hauppauge. “Something like this has never happened to me. And they’re taking something so tragic as losing a child and turning it around and doing nice things for others. It’s a wonderful idea.”
Another customer, Diane Biondo, who was just in quick to grab some coffee after her daughter delivered a baby boy earlier that morning, was also randomly selected to be given a gift card.
“I teach elementary students and I believe that core values like respect and kindness need to be taught at a young age,” said Biondo, of Middle Village. “We forget to help each other. When someone is taken away so early in life it takes great strength to pick yourself back up again. What this family is doing is incredibly brave and noble.”
Soon after Rees’ death, his family created a Facebook page called “ReesSpechtLife,” and later formed a foundation committed to making the world a better place by asking the community to do random acts of kindness in his son’s name.
The family continues with its mission two years later. Specht just penned a children’s book, “A Little Rees Specht Cultivates Kindness,” to be available on Amazon May 6. And on June 6, Smithtown High School West is hosting a concert to benefit the Richard Edwin-Ehmer Specht Memorial Scholarship, which awards $1,000 scholarships to Smithtown East and West high school students.
“With the loss of a child one of two things happen,” Specht said. “The loss brings you down and wrecks your life or you transcend the loss and you do something positive with your grief. My next goal is to make Rees’ birthday on Dec. 19 National Kindness Day.”