The Pay It Forward Challenge
Two hours after entering the store, Gloria, Jamiea and BJ walk out with six shopping carts overflowing with baby clothes, diapers, groceries and other items to help the new moms get a good start with their babies. "Thanks, Oprah!" they shout to the camera.
After completing the challenge, Gloria says, "I felt like Santa Clause today. Those girls were so appreciative of this shopping spree, and they were very happy as you could see when they left the store. … It was a mind-blowing experience to … give a gift of this magnitude to someone else."
Erica says Carol has endured more than any teenager should have to bear. Carol does not know her father and her mother is unable to give Carol the support she needs. Despite these circumstances, Carol is determined to stay in school and Erica is determined to help. Erica plans a shopping trip to buy Carol new clothes.
Carol is stunned when she finds out what Erica has in store. Erica and Carol laugh all the way through their trip, and Carol can't shake her disbelief that this is really happening for her.
"Thank you so much," Carol says. "This has been a nice experience—one of the best I've had my whole life. I'm so thankful. When I go back to school, I'm going to have cute school stuff."
Patrick is Erica's second recipient. "I know you've been going through some hard times the past couple months, and I decided to surprise you with a $500 shopping spree."
After the shopping trips, Erica says, "I think my kind act made them feel great, and they are so appreciative."
Hal Honeyman of the Bike Rack in St. Charles, Illinois, helps Becky arrange the bike for Amber. Hal, who built his first special-needs bike for his son Jacob, who also has cerebral palsy, fits Amber for her bike. Hal says he will help Becky find additional funding to pay for the bike, which costs more than the $1,000 she is able to donate.
Amber's illness prevents her from thanking Becky with words, but her thousand-watt smile and sparkling eyes say it all. Once the bike arrives, she can ride around with her twin brother, Brad, and her friends. Brad, who does not have cerebral palsy, helps Becky share the happy news with Amber.
"I feel very blessed to have met Amber and spread some joy in a little girl's life who may not have been able to have a tricycle," Becky says. "She now knows she can play with other children when they are outside riding their bikes."
The couple is in shock during the whole experience. They hug Patrick and tell him they plan to spend the money on Christmas gifts for their children, which pleases Patrick very much.
"Of course they said they were going to spend that on the kids for Christmas, which is an absolutely fabulous feeling," Patrick says. "It felt wonderful to be able to spend that kind of money on a complete stranger."
Marilyn learns about the Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation, which supports families dealing with the disease and provides research funding. With help from founder Kathleen Casey, Marilyn identifies two families who could really benefit from her help.
The first family has preschool-age twins, one of whom is diagnosed with leukemia. Marilyn showers the little girl with gifts and gives the family $500 to help with their expenses. Then, Bear Necessities surprises the family with another $300! The second family is a single mom and her daughter, who has suffered a relapse. With the bills piling up, this family needs help, and Marilyn is there with another $500 to ease their burden.
Marilyn says the experience was beyond wonderful. "It's a warm and wonderful feeling. It is better to give than receive."
On her first shopping day, Janice quickly runs through half her money, coming home with a carload of 24 coats. She's off to a good start, but things get much better the next day. Janice heads to Wal-Mart with the rest of her cash, and while she's filling carts with more coats, the staff has a surprise for her—the store is matching her donation with another $1,000. Knowing she has $1,500 to spend, not including the $500 she spent the day before, Janice stocks up and leaves with four carts full of coats!
When Janice arrives at Coats for Colorado, she learns that the charity will match her donation of 88 coats and that the coats she gathered will go to a shelter for battered women. Janice says she wishes she could have done more. "This is only a small drop in the bucket, but I believe that every little bit helps."
Phylana creates beautiful cards with a rainbow and cloud on them and tucks $50 and $100 gift cards into each. The cards say, "In my life I have had many people give me hope in the middle of a stormy situation and become a rainbow in my cloud. I hope this gift is a rainbow for you, pay it forward with hope kindness and blessings for others."
They give $500 in gift cards to a woman whose home burned down. She is living in a hotel while she sorts out insurance problems. Her children are living apart from her with her mother, and she could use the extra help. The remaining gift cards are given to strangers Phylana and Robert, who they meet in their town. The Stowers use the remainder of their money to buy supplies for the Rosalia House for young, unwed mothers. These include seven car seats, 10 baby blankets and 1,000 diapers!
"At first we were a little apprehensive because, although we wanted to help others, we are pretty needy ourselves," Phylana says . "Thank you for the opportunity to look past ourselves and share something special with others. We feel truly blessed to be a blessing."
Stephanie is determined to give her children the Christmas that she and Robert were always able to provide. She gives Kettisha a list of a toys—one for each child—that she would not be able to afford alone. The list includes a bike for the 3-year-old, a battery-powered ATV for the 13-year-old, three handheld computer games for the middle children and a TV for the 15-year-old. The Three Oaks Holiday Inn in Crystal Lake, Illinois, hears about the Mullanys and donates a weekend getaway for the whole family, including hotel rooms, meals and Christmas stockings for all.
"I'm truly thankful to have so many angels like you to touch our lives," Stephanie tells Kettisha as she gives her the Christmas list.
"It felt great to see the smiles on all of their faces—that was the best," Kettisha says.
Jeremy also enjoys helping the Mullanys, but the experience leaves him with some sadness. "Who is going to take care of them now?" he asks. "While the gifts were generous and will help the kids learn and keep them busy and make them smile a bit, I left sad because this family is going through so much heartache, financial difficulties and need a lot more help."
Teen Build Up was founded by six high school students who wanted to empower their peers. It educates teens on juvenile justice issues through workshops and programs aimed at reducing the rate of incarceration among Madison youth. The teens plan to use the $1,000 Adey is giving them to expand their programs in the community.
"These teens are viewed as a menace to society and good for nothing, but they combat these stereotypes and work in underprivileged communities (their communities) to spread awareness and uplift other youths with serious life issues," Adey says.
"It gave me joy to be able to give back to a group of teens who already give so much to their communities. The process of doing this humbled me because, with nothing at all, these youths give back on a daily basis and never ask for anything but support and a chance to make a difference in the world."
Nancy divides her $1,000 among four organizations. First, there's Manna on Main, a soup kitchen and food bank. The director asks for healthy snacks to give to children who attend an after school program at the Boys and Girls Club. Nancy delivers the food along with a grocery gift card for future needs. She buys Christmas gifts for residents of the Good Shepherd Home in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and brunch certificates for cancer patients and caretakers at the North Penn VNA hospice, where she volunteers. For her final act, she donates walkers and visual aids for those served by the Montgomery County Association for the Blind.
"During the holidays, sometimes I don't enjoy gift giving, because what do you get for people that have everything?" Nancy says. "But these people have nothing, and it's just so wonderful to make someone's dreams come true."
Twenty-year-old Natalie spends her $1,000 on three organizations with important missions. She gives a grocery gift certificate to a group that secures housing for the poor. She buys spa packages for a dozen cancer patients at The Wellness Place in Lansdale, and she gives her last $400 to Mary Beth, a devoted single parent with few resources who takes care of her grandmother.
"I'm still so young and I have so much more to learn about the world, and through this experience I've learned that there's just so many people out there that [need something], and it was just great to be a part of that," Natalie says.
Cheri's donations include Christmas gifts for 10 military families based at Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune, and $250 each for families with patients at UNC Children's Hospital. She gives $500 to Interact, a shelter for victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault, and she gives another $500 to a former shelter resident. Through Cheri's work, the shelter receives an additional anonymous donation of $25,000! The money will be used for matching funds to raise even more money, Cheri says.
Cheri gives $500 to help a woman pay her power bill. She raises another $1,000 for Storehouse for Jesus, which operates a medical ministry for the needy in Mocksville, North Carolina. She also raises $1,000 for Manna from Heaven Outreach in Myra, Kentucky, and $1,000 for needy families in western North Carolina.
"You don't have to look far to find someone in need. These people deserve our love and need our help. And with opening your heart and giving a little time, we can make a difference," Cheri says. "We all have our ups and we all have our downs, and when you're up, you reach out, and when you're down, you allow others to help."
Darla learns about the Quad County Urban League, an organization that prepares young men for their GEDs and provides job training and internships as well. The staff had just sent out a request for hats, coats and gloves for the students, some of whom have attendance problems because they don't have proper winter gear. Darla is stocking up on coats at Wal-Mart when the manager presents her with a donation that allows her to buy even more coats!
A single mother is thrilled to receive the rest of Darla's challenge money. While shopping for clothes for Trinette's two young daughters, Darla learns about some of the family's other needs. At their last stop, she pays one of Trinette's utility bills and purchases a city sticker for her car.
For Darla, the experience is uplifting. "It gave me a sense of fulfillment and peace," she says. "It's amazing when you reach out to other people how it changes your perspective—you're not always looking at your issues or your problems."
When Brenda's friends and co-workers in Roswell, New Mexico, learn about her mission, they add to her donation—more than doubling her original $1,000. She starts her donations at the Ronald McDonald House in Lubbock, Texas, which was home to her family for two months. They receive three TVs, DVD players and carts, as well as arts and crafts supplies for the children staying there. Next, Brenda makes a donation to the Make-a-Wish Foundation of New Mexico to purchase games and toys for their "Wish Experience" room.
Brenda's next stop is the University of New Mexico Children's Hospital, where she donates games, toys, art supplies and books, as well as money to establish a snack cart to serve families of sick children. Finally, Brenda learns about a little girl in Texas waiting on a bone marrow transplant. Steroid treatments have caused her weight to almost double, and her clothes no longer fit. Brenda surprises her with new clothes, shoes, dolls and a stroller.
For Brenda, giving back to these organizations was the least she could do. "We had so much kindness given to us when Katharine was sick," she says. "When you hear your child has cancer, you don't expect to be blessed, and we were blessed. People blessed us and loved us and helped us through tough times."
Eventually, Angela learns about a family in her community with a 5-year-old autistic child named Austin. Austin's expensive treatments aren't covered by insurance, so his parents try to make extra money doing yard work and running an eBay store. Despite their efforts, they're still struggling with debt, and Angela knows her donation will help the family.
When Angela meets Austin's family, they're overwhelmed and grateful. With her help, they'll be able to continue the therapies that allow Austin to be mainstreamed into a regular school. Angela is happy to be able to help make his life better. "I know the parents will use the money toward making a difference in [Austin's] life," she says.
Through a local agency, Julie learns about Cassandra, who lost her husband in a car accident several years ago. Cassandra has five children, plus one on the way, and her family has plenty of needs. Julie surprises Cassandra with a trip to Wal-Mart to stock up on essentials, as well as some fun things for the kids.
At Wal-Mart, Julie and Cassandra spend over three hours shopping and end up with five carts of goodies. On behalf of the store, the manager chips in another several hundred dollars worth of items, so Cassandra heads home with more than she could have imagined—plus a full tank of gas! Julie is thrilled that she is able to help Cassandra's family but sad that she can't do more. "What I did was just a small dent in what this family actually needs," she says. "I am going to try to continue to help this family as much as I can."
The friends begin by taking four women by limousine for a day of shopping and pampering. Three of the women are shelter residents who have left abusive relationships. The fourth is a shelter employee celebrating 19 drug-free years. The women are thrilled—one says she has not had her hair done in eight years, and another calls it the best day of her life.
Tammy and Samantha also host Halloween parties for disadvantaged children and disabled adults, and they arrange a breakfast buffet for 150 Kentucky sanitation workers. One of the men at the breakfast later tells the Lexington-Herald Leader it was a day that made him "proud to be a garbage man."
To spread their message, Tammy and Samantha visit a radio station asking listeners to "pay it forward." One of those tuning in is Rhonda Horn, a high school teacher who carries the message to her students. The students write thank you notes to 1,000 veterans and deliver them to the VA hospital. Samantha organizes an organ drive, signing up seven new donors at her local grocery store. "One customer told his wife, 'You don't just walk into a grocery store and decide to donate your organs.' Thankfully, seven people did just that," Samantha says.
After spending their $2,000 in challenge money, Tammy and Samantha create a website to share ideas and carry on their kindness campaign.
The children—and their parents—buy turkeys and hams for Thanksgiving baskets for the needy. They also donate books, art supplies and birthday boxes for Children's Inn, a South Dakota agency that provides a safe haven and resources for children with emotional and behavioral problems stemming from abuse and neglect.
Like most kids, BJ and Kim's children love ice cream. So, in addition to helping with local projects, they show up at an ice cream store and hand out gift certificates for treats to everyone in line. The kids also love animals, so they donate toys, collars and leashes for animals at The Second Chance Kennel in their town. Their generosity knows no bounds. One of BJ's boys even lets a dog at the shelter share his lollipop!
"I had no idea I would ever be able to have the means to do this!" BJ says. "I know this will stay in our hearts forever."
They visit children at the hospital to give them the gifts—dolls, DVD players and DVDs, T-shirts and books. Thanks to the help of Best Buy, which donates $3,500 in goods and contributions, Life Is Good clothing company, Barnes & Noble and Toys "R" Us the children have even more to enjoy.
"I was overwhelmed by how happy we made [the children] feel—so special, so important, so loved—not forgotten," Susan says. "The children are very sick there and we made a huge difference in their lives."
"I'm glad that I moved back home to take care of her," Ida says. "It hasn't worked out just as I wanted it to, but sometimes things don't, but that's okay. We are identical twins and I miss her so much in this house."
Barbara spends the remainder of her money on a picnic for residents of MacDougall Terrance, a public housing complex. The picnic is a joint project with fellow Pay It Forward challenger Melodie Richardson . They cook all morning and have a big celebration for the residents who enjoy a beautiful fall day outside together with their community. Barbara knows the picnic is appreciated. One little boy tells her he has not eaten all day. "My prayer is that is not the norm for him, but in reality, that is how it is for that little boy most of his day," Barbara says. "I know we made a difference. We hope to make it a yearly event."
Good ideas inspire more good ideas
Thoughtfulness inspires more good thoughtfulness
Love inspires more love
I hope this notion inspires on in you
Do not ask what you may do in return
Pay it forward
Lori has $800 left to spend. Her sister suggests giving it to the pastor of a small church. The idea clicks for Lori whose own father was a pastor. "I just remember growing up—there were six of us—and whenever a bill was due and we didn't have the money for it, my dad just prayed, and a miracle always came through."
So Lori calls Matt, a local pastor who is married with three preschool daughters and works at a grocery store. Recently, Matt's fourth child, Alea Grace, died within hours of her birth. Lori decides to help the family. She buys toys, books, diapers and dresses for the girls and a digital camera for the parents. She also gives them a Christmas ornament engraved with a remembrance for Alea Grace.
"I am blessed," Lori says after delivering the gifts to the family. "I have not suffered the loss of a child. I cannot imagine that pain. This has linked us together. I can now call [Matt's] family my friends—and that is a wonderful feeling. You can never have too many friends!"
As Susan was leaving for The Oprah Winfrey Show—with no inkling of the challenge ahead—her husband Sonny reminded her that they needed to do something to repay Nate and Judy's kindness. So when Susan is given the chance to "pay it forward," it's an easy choice—the money will go to support their campus ministry!
Susan and her son Jeremy take a road trip to Ellensburg, Washington, to surprise them with the $1,000 gift. "It was wonderful to be able to give on a larger scale than I normally can give," Susan says. "It brought me great joy to actually make a difference in someone else's life."
When Loan delivers the clothes and food, she gets a tour of the facility. With only three apartments, the accommodations are modest and sometimes crowded. But without The Matthew House many families would not be able to visit a husband, father or boyfriend in prisons far from home.
The Matthew House's website explains the importance of supporting families while a member is incarcerated. "When a man is convicted of a crime and sentenced to prison, society often breathes a sigh of relief and says 'good riddance.' Left behind, though, are the wives and children. They are left to face increased responsibilities on reduced incomes. They are often abandoned by family for being married to a prisoner. Children are relentlessly teased at school for having a dad in prison. These are the lonely, forgotten lives in the criminal justice system."
To help families through this time, The Matthew House provides shelter, food, clothing, transportation, childcare and emotional support for its residents. Loan's donations will support the food pantry and clothing closet at The Matthew House. "I felt very uplifted after the experience—very energized—and wanted to do more," Loan says.