Jon Potter says his push to do good all started with a missed opportunity four years ago

By Rachel DeSantis Wendy Grossman Kantor
November 07, 2019 10:00 AM
(L-R) Jon Potter, Michael Moore
UPMC

Jon Potter won’t soon forget the wave of regret that washed over him in the moments after he turned down a woman’s request for a ride to a battered women’s shelter in the summer of 2015.

In fact, the incident was a “formative moment” for the 29-year-old handyman, who had been running a donation-based hostel at his home, letting people pick their contribution for their stay. Immediately afterward, he vowed to say yes anytime someone asked him for help.

“I always worried about what happened to that woman,” he tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday. “It’s a haunting thought that I could have helped her and I didn’t. I never wanted to feel that again.”

In the four years since, the Pittsburgh-based Potter has stuck to his resolution, and estimates that he’s helped more than 1,000 people with an average of about three or four good deeds per day.

He typically uses Reddit to complete his acts of kindness, often browsing the Pittsburgh subreddit in search of strangers seeking help with everything from installing an antenna on a roof to giving a teenager a much-needed ride home from a party in the early morning hours.

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Jon Potter
Courtesy Jon Potter

“With all the stuff going on in the news, to see people happy, complete strangers come up to you and give the biggest, most sincere smiles,” his wife Rachel Adler, 28, tells PEOPLE. “It’s nice to see that genuine happiness in people. You hope it extends to their own actions.”

Though Potter says his favorite good deed was the $2,000 he lent to a suicidal man who has since become his close friend, the one that left the biggest mark so far is the kidney he donated to retired health food executive Mike Moore, 58.

PEOPLE’s first-ever Kindness Issue is dedicated to highlighting the ways, big and small, that kindness can make a difference and change lives. Click here and pick up the issue, on stands Friday, Nov. 8, for more stories on the impact of kindness from Julia Roberts, Tiffany Haddish and other stars, as well as everyday people practicing kindness in their communities. To share the story of someone who’s done something exceptionally kind, email kindnessawards@peoplemag.com.

Potter learned of Moore’s plight on Reddit in January after his daughter used the site to scope out possible donors.

“The moment I heard his voice, I knew I wanted to do this,” Potter says.

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Though his family was hesitant at first — “This one was the peak of, ‘It’s scary,'”he says — they came around, and Moore received Potter’s kidney in August.

Looking ahead, Potter says he hopes to keep doing good for as long as he can.

“I just do it because it makes me feel good,” he says. “I get just as much if not more out of it than people I help.”

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