The Pay It Forward Challenge
Then Katie makes her money go even further! She buys sneakers for two children who need them, feeds parking meters for strangers and gives grocery store gift cards to a 92-year-old woman on a fixed income. Katie also donates a video camera to San Juan Diego Middle School to help develop students' confidence by recording their music classes.
Katie says all that giving was "exhilarating." "I want more people to get involved in the community, to give, to get that feeling of happiness, purpose and hope!" she says.
Next, she helps the family of Carly, a sixth-grader who has become paralyzed. Carly's family must drive 70–80 miles round-trip to visit her in the hospital. To help ease some of their expenses, Dorothy pitches in $150 for a gas card.
Dorothy spreads the rest of her Pay It Forward Challenge money among three schools. To the San Juan Diego Middle School, Dorothy gives camera accessories to go with the video camera her daughter donated. At St. Richard School, Dorothy donates a digital camera and a Hobby Lobby gift card for a class project. And finally, the rest of the money goes toward display boards for the art department at St. Catherine's High School.
"I've been called Oprah's angel. I've been called Santa Claus, and many, many good things. Such appreciation made me feel very, very good," Dorothy says.
After contacting several charities, David decides to donate gifts to the Battered & Abused Women & Children Foundation in Waukegan, Illinois—a foundation that provides shelter, referrals and comprehensive educational and self-defense training for women and children who have been abused.
David and his sons go shopping and then deliver toys and gift cards to the grateful families. David says the experience taught him to involve his family and to be more open and personal in his giving. "My wife and I have given over the years—checks, money and gently-used items. But I have never given to someone whose name I knew, whose situation I found out and whose ages I've known. … That personal element made this experience all the more fulfilling," he says.
To keep it going, the family decides that each year on the boys' birthdays they will give a gift to a child in need. David says continuing the passion for giving "may be the most important lesson we teach our children."
Kerman begins by contacting the Florence Fuller Center in Boca Raton to find two economically disadvantaged families who have children with severe allergies and asthma.
Once Kerman lets others know what he is doing, the donations pour in. Each family receives a free, one-year supply of O-ZoneLite, a lightbulb that acts as an air purifier. Proctor & Gamble donates a year's supply of cleaning products and $7,500 toward a cleaning service for the families. Merry Maids gives $500 to each family toward the first house cleaning. A local pediatrician offers to care for each family for only $5 per visit. And, Kerman says, Bank of Florida plans to set up a children's medical crisis fund with $1,000!
"This was such an amazing experience that words truly cannot describe it," Kerman says. "This exercise in generosity has made me rethink my purpose in life."
"We really wanted to find some classes or some kids that were just really underprivileged and didn't have a lot of opportunities to have different experiences," Kerman says.
To get the day started, Casey and Kerman arrive at West Gate Elementary School in West Palm Beach, Florida, to pick up the kids in a Hummer stretch limousine! Then, with all 17 second-graders in tow, it was time for their first stop—the Gap—where every child got to pick out one item of clothing. Next, it was off to Barnes & Noble, where the children listened as a storyteller read them a book. To end the day on a happy note, each second-grader gets to pick out two books to take home.
"I believe they will remember this day forever. Many of the children never have this opportunity, and the happiness you saw in their faces was overwhelming," Casey says.
To say thanks to Donna for all her hard work, Lori organizes a surprise community baby shower. Using her $1,000, Lori buys a crib, a playpen, a changing table, two high chairs, two car seats, clothes and several other necessities. Some local stores also get in on the giving—Dillard's and another store donate items, and Kmart offers Lori discounts. Friends and members of the community give her gifts, too!
"Donna was extremely surprised with what I had done for her," Lori says. "And Dennis, her husband … told his sister-in-law that he was blown off of his feet!"
Lori says the community rallied around her in this challenge. "I think it will continue in our community for people to pass it on … and to do good for other people," she says.
Next, Deana hears about a local couple who are in desperate need of some help. The family has two children in the hospital—a baby in need of a bone marrow transplant and a 3-year-old son who has suffered a stroke. The family—who lives in a trailer—needs a home that is safe for their sick baby and a reliable car to get them to and from the hospital.
Determined to make a better life for the family, Deana accomplishes the unthinkable—she finds both a house and a car for the family! An auto dealer donates a one-year, prepaid lease on a car. Then, the owners of a house agree to let the family live there rent-free for a few months. After the grace period, the family will get to stay in the house at a reduced price. To get the house in tip-top shape, members of the community volunteer to help fix it up for the family.
"I love my kids. I love my husband. I love my family. And I have a whole new appreciation for what I have," Deana says. "I thank you [Oprah] for what you've given me—not only the gift to go out and help somebody else and make a difference in somebody else's life, but also to make a difference in my own."
Jeana surprises Bobi in her hospital room with lots of goodies—comfortable clothes, a soft blanket and pillow, a robe, inspirational wall hangings and even a portable DVD player! Bobi also receives a $200 gift card to Wal-Mart, along with three $150 gift cards for her children to buy clothes. A local restaurant even donates a free meal for the whole family.
Jeana says the experience changed her. "I know now that I can look and say that a little bit here and a little bit there makes a big difference in somebody else's life," she says. "I hope that this is a lifetime memorable experience for [Bobi], but I know it is for me."
With the remaining money, Elaine surprises shoppers in Wal-Mart and Toys R Us by paying for their purchases! Some of the shoppers didn't believe it at first. "People were so surprised. Everybody kept asking me if they were on Candid Camera," Elaine says.
Elaine says helping those people felt great. "It was a wonderful experience," she says.
Angela decides to share her love of the Mall of America with a mother and her three children by taking them on a shopping spree! Radio Disney and the Mall of America get in on the act, too, by donating a DVD player, goody bags and all-day passes to the mall's fun park.
Angela decides there was one last thing she wants to do. "One of the main things the family wanted was a couch, and we ran out of money," she says. So, Angela and her husband buy a new couch for the family using their own money. They arrange to have it delivered to the house as a surprise before the family returns home.
"Spending your [Oprah's Pay It Forward Challenge] money, it was great, but going back and spending my own money and buying them a couch, I just can't even describe it," Angela says. "I don't know if you can really grasp how it feels to give to someone else, truly give, until you actually do it."
Stevie decides to use her Pay It Forward Challenge money to help the family pay for their new furnace. While the money won't cover all the costs, it will definitely ease the financial burden.
Then, just when Stevie thought she had done everything possible, the local heating company gets in on the act. They work directly with the Trane Company to get a furnace donated to the family! Now Stevie's money can cover the furnace installation, and the family won't have any expenses.
"I loved thinking of all the possibilities," Stevie says. "I would much rather be the giver any time!"
With the remainder of her money, Jaime helps Maria, a single mother who was in a horrible car crash. Since the accident, Maria hasn't been able to work and is struggling to pay her bills. That's where Jaime steps in. Jamie gives Maria money to help with living expenses—and even buys new toys for her two children. She also makes the family a home-cooked meal.
"We are all guilty of closing our eyes at some point and ignoring what is right in front of our faces," Jaime says. "What I have realized is by closing our eyes to these people, in some cases we are leaving them to go hungry, to stay sick and to remain hopeless. We have a responsibility to act, to do what we can. … This has been the most gratifying experience of my life. I only wish I could have done more."
Next, Angie sets out to help a group of single mothers. She buys a computer and printer for a woman returning to college. Then, she buys several pairs of shoes for a mom who desperately needs them. Finally, she arranges for a family to get some new furniture.
And Angie isn't the only one in the spirit of giving. She says her Wichita community pitched in to help several other people—including a woman who needs dental work, a man who needs handrails at his home, and many others!
While Angie is sad she can't solve all the recipients' problems, she is happy she did what she could. "I really did feel another level of joy when I realized that these individuals didn't just receive a computer or a pair of new shoes," she says. "They also received some hope, joy and a little fun."
After getting suggestions from her friends and family, Michelle decides to focus on Supplemental Assistance to the Handicapped—a group that organizes summer camps for children with disabilities in Ohio.
Michelle says the registration for Kamp Dovetail is $20 for the full week, but many families can't afford the fees. So Michelle decides to donate her entire $1,000 to provide scholarships! The money can also be used to buy supplies for the camp.
Michelle says meeting the campers and their parents was inspiring. "I mostly valued the time talking to each of these special people and realizing their daily struggles and obstacles—which made each of my small problems seem just that: small," she says.
"When we got home [from the school], my 9-year-old daughter, Britney, said to me, 'You know, Mommy, that made me feel really good,'" she says. "And ultimately, that's what I was going for. I want my children to learn and to know that giving is a part of life."
On the second leg of her three-part campaign, Kelly visits a single mother and her children in need. She gives the family coats, scarves, hats and other warm clothes. She also gets them gift cards to Wal-Mart and Papa John's Pizza.
For part three, Kelly takes canned goods, turkeys, chickens and other food items to the Community Assistance Network, which provides food to people in need. Kelly says this cause is particularly important to her because she has a brother living on the streets. "I know that he comes [to the Community Assistance Network] for help, so this really does mean a lot to me that I can give a little back and help the people in the area that really need it most," she says.
After her campaign is over, Kelly says she is "walking on clouds." "It's just an unbelievable feeling to be able to give to people and just to see the smiles on their faces," she says.
Michelle starts giving by choosing two great organizations to help: the Unity Care Group, which provides apartments for former foster children who have "aged out" of the system; and the San Jose Family Shelter, which provides food and rooms for 35 families.
Michelle splits the donated items and money between the two different organizations. At the Unity Care Group, Michelle uses the donated appliances, linens, mattresses and many other items to furnish several apartments for former foster children. Then she and a team of volunteers head to the San Jose Family Shelter, where they paint and clean the childcare center and fill it with toys!
And Michelle doesn't stop there! She attends a gala to raise money for a third cause: St. Anne's Home for the elderly. After asking attendees to match her Pay It Forward Challenge money, Michelle says more than $11,200 was promised!
"The joy of watching family and friends participate in doing good will for others is incredible," Michelle says. "My life has changed this week as I discovered strength from within and felt the joy of touching other lives."
Loraine buys two computers with printers for the children to use. Then she buys books for the learning center from a local library's "Friends Bookstore." The proceeds from the books benefit the library, so Loraine helps two organizations at once!
Loraine's sister also gets in on the act. She volunteers to beautify the center by painting a mural on the walls!
Helping the children at Heart-N-Hands makes Loraine—who has not been able to have children of her own—realize that she can still give love to a child. "[There are] so many ways that we can all impact a child's life other than biologically having one—through adoption, through foster care, through volunteer work, through mentoring a child," she says. "My heart feels so incredibly full and healed at this point from gaining this knowledge and feeling the impact of these children."
While Marty has the Pay It Forward Challenge money to donate, she decides to double it by adding $1,000 of her own money! She gives a total of $2,000 to help refinish the floors in the ballet rooms and the theater.
After completing her challenge, Marty says she wants to continue to give in her daily life. "This was a big gesture of kindness, but you could get that same feeling in small bits of kindness to strangers," she says. "I can't tell you how great it was for everybody to come up and give me a warm hug and really thank me and talk about how much impact this means for them."
Georgia gives $1,000 to the Council on Crime and Justice, which runs a novel program for fathers serving time in prison. The men record themselves reading a book to their child, then send the audiotape and book home. The program helps children stay connected to their fathers and allows the dads to assist with parenting while they are in prison. Georgia's gift allows the council to add 75 fathers to its program!
The two remaining book club members, Debbie and Judy, give their challenge money to more families in need. Judy buys $100 Target gift cards, a book—The Best Christmas Pageant Ever—and a pizza certificate for nine single mothers.
Debbie buys $100 Mall of America gift certificates for 10 families staying at Fisher House, a home for those receiving long-term treatment at the Minneapolis Veterans' Administration Hospital. One couple says they will use the money to buy a pair of running shoes for their son, a soldier who was injured in a car accident after returning from Iraq. When Debbie meets the couple, their son is not walking yet but they hope he will use the shoes to run again.
While trying to find a worthy student, Karla hears about Center High's drum major, Todd Dock. A little investigating reveals that Todd is a talented musician, a good student and a well-respected leader on campus—a perfect candidate for Karla's generosity. Karla stops by her alma mater to surprise Todd with the news, and he is genuinely shocked, especially because he's never met Karla!
Since Todd is a junior, Karla donates the money to the Center High School Scholarship Fund and earmarks the funds so Todd will receive them during his senior year.
The return to high school brings back memories for Karla. "It made me think of what a great experience I had at Center High School," she says. "I had wonderful teachers who influenced me, and I'm positive they're influencing Todd as well. I'm excited for him and looking forward to hearing how he uses the money."
"I used the money to give him a gift that will never be expected," Joellyn says. "It is a gift of freedom."
Joellyn knows just who to call—teacher Lilly Estella, who worked wonders with her son. By seventh grade, Joellyn's son still was reading at a fourth-grade level. After only a year of working with Lilly, he had caught up with his peers. Joellyn has confidence that Lilly can help Martinus in the same way.
Martinus hopes to start his own business someday, and he's grateful to Joellyn for her help. For her part, Joellyn hopes the tutoring makes a difference in Martinus's life. "I want Martinus to have hope and a future that enables him to choose what he wants to do—not do something because it is the only thing he can do," she says. "I believe that through education we attain freedom."
When they contact friends to increase their donation, they are amazed by the response. They receive money and several new items for the shelter. Amy and Darcy's money goes mainly toward purchasing new bedding and furnishings for the four bedrooms, including window treatments, lamps, mirrors and furniture for the children's area.
Their friends contribute a dining room table, a television and kitchen tools. Amy and Darcy select a different paint scheme for each room with warmth and comfort in mind. With donations from local businesses, the women are able to do more, surprising one of the center's residents with a visit to the dentist and a complete makeover!
"I was overwhelmed by the number of people who helped us," Darcy says. "It was almost a problem spending the money because we had so many donations." Amy agrees that the power of the community was inspiring. "The tremendous amount of support we received really gave me hope for good things to come," she says. "We can do so much as a group!"
Raising three children on her own