When Lynda Burgman and her daughters, Kelly Burgman and Susie Brandt, attended The Oprah Show, they had no idea that they would start their own charity.
With $3,000 from Oprah's Pay It Forward Challenge, the women decided to help Maras, a poor Peruvian village that Lynda discovered while hiking the Inca trail in September 2006.
Lynda, Kelly and Susie quickly sprang into action to send boxes of clothing and toys to the village.
At home in St. Louis, Lynda passed out boxes to friends to fill with clothing and toys, and Susie invited her kids' friends over to donate toys they no longer played with. In Chicago, Kelly reached out to her co-workers for help and even held a box-packing party with her friends while watching The Bachelor!
The generosity of friends, co-workers and strangers astounded the women. Kelly's company, Hostway Corporation, donated $1,000, and Susie's company and Forest Pharmaceuticals, matched the $3,000! Mattel also donated toys.
Thanks to box donations from Crown Packaging and free shipping from FedEx and Arrow Cargo, the women were able to put the entire $7,000 towards starting a school for the children of the village. "They will give back to society by educating themselves and going out into the world and making it a better place," Kelly says.
In one week, the new charity—Kindness in a Box—shipped boxes to help 340 families. "My hope is after we get this charity started, it can become a model, not just for the children in that village in Peru, but possibly for children in a village in Africa, children in a village in India, children in villages all around the world who are needy," Lynda says.
Renschke Christians and her mother, Desiree Christians, used their Pay It Forward Challenge money to do several acts of kindness. First, Renschke paid for a stranger's purchases at a local Walgreens store. Then, she filled up a stranger's tank with gasoline. "It's actually kind of difficult. People really don't want you to buy anything. They're kind of resistant to the kindness," Renschke says.
Then, Renschke visited a family who had just adopted two boys, Connor and Daniel, from Russia. Their new mother, Sue, said she and her husband just found out that Connor needs minor surgery, and Daniel has hearing loss in both ears due to scar tissue from untreated ear infections. Renschke gave Sue some help with the children's medical bills. "Thank you for blessing us. Their medical needs are going to be, that's going to be our world for the first few months," Sue says.
The next recipient of an act of kindness was Riley, a student who volunteers with students with special needs. Renschke gave Riley money to rent a movie theater and have a party with drinks and treats for the students.
With the help of family members, Desiree donated the money she received from Oprah's Pay It Forward Challenge to a school for people with disabilities in Cape Town, South Africa. "We didn't realize so many people had it in their hearts to pay it forward. From the shipping company to the delivery person [who got the camcorder to South Africa], everybody involved in this process was just exceptional," Desiree says.
"We got a lot of people involved and a lot of people giving up their time and energy, and it's just been such a great experience," Renschke says.
When Sharon Velazquez was presented with Oprah's Pay It Forward Challenge, she says she was overwhelmed by the number of organizations she could help. After praying on it, she decided to donate the $1,000 to the local chapter of Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly in Miami, Florida, to help fund programs and provide Thanksgiving meals.
Little Brothers is an international organization dedicated to helping the elderly feel respected and not alone. It provides centers where seniors can have lunch, do activities or just visit with others. The organization also helps seniors with transportation and other services they might need. "I lost my grandmother about 12 years ago, and I miss her dearly," Sharon says. "And the thought of somebody being elderly and alone and not having anyone to go to just breaks my heart."
Sharon arrives at the center armed with a check, flowers, balloons and a subscription for O, The Oprah Magazine. There, she meets Evangelina, whose husband recently passed away after a battle with Alzheimer's. Evangelina says she's visited the center almost every day for three years. "This is the best medicine for me," she says.
Little does Sharon know, the seniors have a surprise for her! They present Sharon with red roses, just like their logo. The founder of Little Brothers used "flowers before bread" as his motto, and he would give the elderly a red rose before presenting them with food. Sharon is honored and promises this won't be the last the center sees of her. "We are going to be happy to adopt you!" one resident says.
Sharon calls the experience "life changing" and says she learned that even a smile can make a big difference. "I think this assignment helped bring out the best in people and helped us see how much need is out there," she says.
In her 20 years as a nurse, Kimberly Massetti has taken care of a lot of patients. However, when stomach pains ended up being ovarian cancer, Kimberly became a patient herself. Doctors performed surgery on the slow-growing cancer, and Kimberly was able to avoid chemotherapy and radiation. Two years later, she's doing great and looking for a way to help other patients.
Kimberly decides to give the gift of relaxation to people undergoing chemotherapy at the Moffitt Cancer Center in the Tampa, Florida, area, and she quickly goes on an iPod shuffle shopping spree! Kimberly spends $900 on 10 iPod shuffles and another $100 on relaxing CDs to load onto the music players.
Kimberly says the challenge helps her come "full circle" not only with her experience, but also with a family loss. Just a year ago, her father-in-law visited Moffitt once before passing away from a complication. "It's giving me some closure," she says.
On the day of the giveaway, local television stations and newspapers flock to the clinic to cover the big event. The clinic operations manager says this small gesture can make a big difference for her patients, some of whom undergo six hours of treatment at a time.
The patients are touched by Kimberly's gesture. "I thought, 'Well, what a great idea,'" one woman tells Kimberly. "Of course, I didn't realize that you had cancer and all. But just to think of us out here, that's wonderful."
At the end of the day, Kimberly is ready for more! "I intend to do this every year at the holidays and keep that experience fresh and alive in my home," she says. "It's been fantastic."
Francesca Muhlbaier used the challenge as an opportunity to teach children how they could help others, too. She asked students at Villa Cresta Elementary School in Baltimore, Maryland, to write essays telling how they would use $100 to spread kindness to someone in their community. The three winning essay writers received $100 to fulfill their plans to help the needy.
For the second part of her challenge, Francesca chose a project close to her heart. When Francesca was on a trip in Kenya, she saw firsthand the hardships that some people go through in order to get water to survive. "In these small villages where there was just no electricity, no running water, people walk miles daily to try and get water from these small water holes—it's just mud basically," Francesca says.
With help from her mother Ana Santa Ana and friend Laura Mullins—who each contributed her $1,000 challenge money to the cause—Francesca was inspired to make a difference for the villages in Africa—and did she ever! Francesca raised $12,225 for the charity Kids for the Kingdom, a group that helps build wells in Kenyan villages. A representative of the charity told Francesca that each well they build can provide water for a few thousand people!
"I'm just so honored to be a part of this very cool movement," Francesca says. "And I'm just so thankful that I was able to get this thousand dollars to start a movement."
Diane Mapes, of Chesterfield, Missouri, gave her $1,000 from Oprah's Pay It Forward Challenge to an organization that gathers clothes for neglected and abused children. And she helped even further by raising thousands more for the cause!
Diane met Phyllis Jones of the Helping Hands, Healing Hearts organization at her church. Phyllis, a mother of three, who has adopted an additional six children and is the legal guardian to another, started the charity in 1999 when she realized the great need foster children have for clothing and other items. "It's taking clothes that someone can't use anymore or [if they] don't have anyone to pass it down to, to pass it down to a foster child," Phyllis says.
In addition to providing clothes, Phyllis's organization also throws a Christmas party every year for children in foster care. This year, Phyllis is expecting about 1,000 children, and her goal is to give each child at least 10 gifts.
To raise additional money for Helping Hands, Healing Hearts, Diane started an e-mail chain asking for donations. Her goal was to match the $1,000 from the Oprah's Pay It Forward Challenge.
"It's almost like I'm on a kindness high or something, because I've been calling my friends like, 'Oh my gosh. This is so exciting.' I'm getting checks to give to Phyllis to help her out with her cause, and she is an amazing woman," Diane says.
Through her efforts, Diane was able to present Phyllis with a check for an additional $3,500! "I highly recommend that everybody go out and do random acts of kindness and just do good things for people," Diane says. "The world would be such a different place, and what a wonderful feeling you'll have every day."
For Connie Miller, doing Oprah's Pay It Forward Challenge was a very emotional experience. In August 2006, Connie's mother passed away. The night before she died, Connie's mother gave her a gift Connie will treasure forever. "The gift that my mother gives me by saying that she loved me the night before she died is very important to me," Connie says. "I want that gift to be given to another family."
In honor of her mother, Connie decided to give her $1,000 Bank of America gift card to Kairos Dwelling, a non-profit hospice center in Kalamazoo, Michigan. All services at Kairos are free of charge, and the center has become a model for others throughout the country.
Connie tours the four-bedroom facility and meets with Kairos Dwelling Director Sue Shaw. "It's a community that cares for one another and it's a family, and we just are here to support our family and to support each other through the dying process," Sue says. "It's really truly a celebration of life at Kairos."
When sisters-in-law Hope Blauner and Wendi Silverman returned home to Chappaqua, New York, they were full of ideas for their Pay It Forward Challenge money. They settled on two local organizations: Neighbors Link, which provides education and employment opportunities to Latino immigrants; and the Northern Westchester Shelter, which offers help to victims of domestic violence.
Through Neighbors Link organization director Carola Otero Bracco, Hope and Wendi heard about Friday night dinners—a time for families to socialize while having a meal together. Following dinner, parents participate in workshops and a children's Head Start program. Inspired by the program, Hope and Wendi sent an e-mail to friends asking for donations of books and crafts for the children's area. In just two short days, they had enough donations to fill two SUVs!
Hope and Wendi also gave the program a $200 gift card to Staples for office supplies and another $200 gift card to Target for paper goods. They also donated $600 to send one of the Neighbors Link volunteers to computer training.
They were so inspired by the tireless commitment shown by Carola and job bank manager Louisa that they wanted to surprise them with something special. Armed with donations from local businesses, they presented the women with a shopping spree at a clothing boutique, a makeover and hairstyling from two salons, and dinner for two!
Next up, Hope and Wendi went to The Northern Westchester Shelter to put the rest of their Pay It Forward Challenge money to good use.
Since opening in 1997, the shelter, a non-profit organization that provides a safe haven for domestic abuse survivors, has averaged between 103 and 165 residents per year. Executive director CarlLa Horton told Hope and Wendi the shelter was having trouble finding funds to finish a remodeling project to fix the wear and tear on the home. To help relieve the financial burden of the remodel, Hope and Wendi decided to throw a kick-off party for the shelter's "Adopt-a-Room" project. People from all over the community were invited to come and show their support. They even got a letter from their Chappaqua neighbor Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton on the eve of Election Day!
The response to their invitation was beyond their wildest dreams. Friends came up with pledges of money, time and materials to help remodel the shelter, and Hope and Wendi were once again struck by the generosity of their community. So far, their efforts have raised over $20,000 for the "Adopt-a-Room" project.
With the money they had left, Hope and Wendi surprised a few deserving people in their town. An employee of the Chappaqua Market who always had a smile and a kind word for them received a gift certificate for a manicure, as did a friendly woman at the pharmacy. And finally, the ladies treated the hard-working men of the Chappaqua Fire Department to some well-deserved pizza!
Chicagoan Libby Allen decided to take her money back home to Dayton, Ohio, to support three animal shelters—the Montgomery County Animal Resource Center, the Humane Society of Greater Dayton and the Success Shelter.
Libby's first step was getting Chris Parlet and the IAMS Corporation involved. Through the IAMS Friends for Life Fund, they challenged people in the community to match Libby's donation to help animals in need. Libby spread her story through interviews with local TV and radio stations, hoping to triple her donation.
Staff members at all three shelters welcomed the donations, saying that the money would go a long way to help their animals. "It provides over 2,000 meals for the pets we have here [and] up to 200 spays and neuters. We are just so happy to receive this donation," Mark Krumpf, director of the Montgomery County Animal Resource Center says.
Libby says that gratitude expressed by the shelter employees was overwhelming. "They came up to me and kept thanking me and thanking me. I felt like I couldn't really accept their thanks because it wasn't really my money. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time." And spending all that time in the shelters led to another development for Libby—a brand-new puppy!
Tanya Adams and her daughters, Britney and Christy, decided to use their Pay It Forward Challenge money to help a local family in need. Tanya heard about a woman who had taken custody of her six grandchildren, ages 7–14, and was raising them on her own. With bills piling up and plumbing problems in their home, Tanya knew the family could use their help. "I'd love to give her the money and make her day," said Tanya. "So that's our challenge."
Tanya, Britney and Christy surprised the family with dinner, but that wasn't all! The even bigger surprise was the $1,000 gift card for the family to use any way that they needed. The grandmother was overwhelmed. "There's just not enough words in the English language to even explain what it means to us, because of all the love and the kindness that's been shown to us," she said.
The grandchildren had a message of their own—"Thank you, Oprah!"
Karen Acerson got her entire Utah community involved in Oprah's Pay It Forward Challenge when she chose to "serve those who serve." Karen says several businesses and community members pitched in cash and donated goods and services, bringing the total amount to more than $9,300! "You know, it's really been hard to spend [Oprah's] money because a lot of the businesses that I called … have said, 'You know, let us just go ahead and donate that,'" Karen says.
First, Karen donates $500 to RoseAnn Gunther of the Genesis Program for Aid to Chad, Africa. "I believe service begins with our family then our neighbors, the community, state, nation and the world. The world is last, but I firmly believe if we all make some type of contribution we can cover all the bases and bless the world, too," RoseAnn says.
Karen then focused on Greg and Holly Richardson, who, in addition to their own children, have adopted children from several different countries around the world—including some kids with special needs. Karen presents the family with a check for $300 for Christmas presents. She also gives them a Thanksgiving dinner, a basket of baked goods and a free dinner at a local pizza restaurant—but that's not all! Karen got the whole family year-round passes to Thanksgiving Point, a family-friendly gathering spot that has gardens, a museum, a movie theater and other attractions.
Next, Karen decides to help Joanna Lyons, whose husband Jeffery is serving in Iraq. To give Joanna some much needed time off, Karen enlists family friends to babysit their three children—all under the age of 4! Joanna also receives a spa treatment, passes for various family activities, $100 for Christmas presents, several prepared dinners, and toys for the kids. And, community members volunteer to pitch in and repair the family's front steps.
For her next good deed, Karen uses donations from community members and a local business to help remodel a bathroom for Vasanti Dusara. Vasanti helps with the day-to-day care of her two adult children—both of whom are physically disabled. Karen presents the family with bathroom accessories, $200 for Christmas presents, prepared dinners and other items. "Thanks very much, Oprah. We really appreciate whatever you have done and everything you have done for all those needy people," Vasanti says.
To complete her challenge, Karen surprises 83-year-old Bertha Davidson. Bertha suffers from scoliosis, so to help keep her mobile, Karen gets a stair lift donated by a local medical supply store. The lift will help Bertha get up and down the stairs in her condo. Karen then gives Utah Jazz basketball tickets and year-round passes to gathering spot Thanksgiving Point to the family of a teenage boy suffering from leukemia.
Karen says those she helped during Oprah's Pay It Forward Challenge remind her of her mother's care of her father, who has encephalitis, and her sister, who has cerebral palsy. "This was a perfect opportunity for us to help other people in those very same situations, and I appreciate the opportunity a great deal," Karen says.
For her Pay It Forward Challenge, Delores Adams of Southfield, Michigan, surprises three strangers. Delores approaches two employees at a Meijer grocery megastore and presents each one with a $200 gift card. "Maybe that will help you start your Christmas shopping!" Delores says.
Delores then goes to a Salvation Army shelter parking lot and approaches a woman leaving the building. The woman, who suffers from arthritis and is the mother of 13-year-old twins, tells Delores she is struggling to get by while working a part-time job. Her hope is to find full-time work so she can take better care of her family. To help her on her journey, Delores gives the woman a $600 gift card to Meijer.
"I know she was very appreciative of it, and I really feel that this day made a great impact on her life. I hope that's the beginning of something brand new for her," Delores says.
Jana Allison of Cantonment, Florida, said she wants to divide her $1,000 to help as many people as possible. She spends about half of the money on study Bibles for a local teen ministry in Pensacola, and then takes pizza and sodas to a homeless shelter in Pensacola.
Jana continues her challenge by doing random acts of kindness for complete strangers. She buys flowers and puts them on the doorsteps of an apartment complex for senior citizens. "They're not going to know who they're from, but hopefully it will brighten up someone's day," Jana says.
With her husband's help, Jana gives food to a homeless man named William, who was standing outside holding a sign asking for help. William says he has been on the streets for 30 years, and he was grateful for the food. "God bless you, lovely lady, and may God be with you. Happy holidays," William says.
Jana then gives groceries and a $50 gift card to Wal-Mart to an elderly woman. "I appreciate this. I was wondering what I'm going to do next week," the woman says. Jana then knocks on a random apartment door and gives another woman the same surprise. To complete her challenge, Jana and her husband give a woman $200 towards a car.
"It's an experience that is once in a lifetime that I have learned so much from. And as the time went and I helped people throughout this whole week, it just gave me a good feeling inside knowing I was able to help others," Jana says. Get more Pay It Forward Challenge stories
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