Cheri Young of Raleigh, North Carolina, knows how to make money grow. She starts out with $1,000 in Pay It Forward Challenge money, and only a week later, after reaching out to other donors, she has raised more than $35,000 for needy families in western North Carolina.
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."
When Darla Underwood heads back to Naperville, Illinois, with her Pay It Forward Challenge money, she isn't sure where to begin. She contacts some local organizations for ideas and comes up with some worthy recipients.
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."
Brenda Straley lived through every parent's worst nightmare—losing a child. Her daughter, Katharine, was only 6 years old when she passed away after suffering from cancer. The Pay It Forward Challenge gives Brenda the opportunity to give back to several organizations that meant a lot to her family during a very difficult time.
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."
Angela Verzwyvelt has a hard time deciding what to do with her challenge money. "[There are] endless possibilities of what you could do with this, because there's so many people in need," she says.
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.
When Julie Vial was 7 years old, her father passed away, leaving behind his wife and 13 children. Between her father's life insurance and the help of family and friends, Julie's family was able to survive and live well. So, with her Pay It Forward Challenge money, Julie wants to offer the same opportunity to a family dealing with a similar situation.
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."
Samantha Frederick and Tammy Kossatz of Kentucky make the most of their challenge week, boosting the spirits of hundreds of people and spreading their enthusiasm for giving throughout the state. At the end of their weeklong campaign, Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher even declares November 4 "Embrace Humankind Day!"
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.
Kim Marnin and BJ Wylie have no shortage of ideas for their combined $2,000 Pay It Forward Challenge money…but they decide to let their kids choose how to spend it. The children choose several worthwhile projects—from gathering coats for a student council "Project Snowday" charity effort to donating toys to the Salvation Army for its annual Christmas toy drive for children.
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."
Melissa Marchand and Susan Merck want to help the Children's Hospital of Dartmouth, New Hampshire—the only children's hospital in their state. They go to the hospital's website and print out its wish list, and then they go to a store in town to buy all the items! Along the way they tell shopkeepers and store clerks what they are doing and if they'd like to help. By the end of the week they've gathered $8,000 in addition to the $2,000 they started with.
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."
Barbara Turrentine-Bowe helps an elderly woman who has moved to Carrboro, North Carolina, after 37 years to care for her twin sister who is ill. Soon after arriving back home, Ida falls ill herself. Since she is unable to care for her sister, they have to move her to a rehabilitation center to get better. Due to her illness, Ida also has a hard time paying her bills. Barbara, who lost a beloved brother in 2004, wants to help Ida get through this difficult time.. She gives Ida $500 to pay her rent and also spends some quality time visiting with her. Ida, who is thankful for the money, is upbeat despite her circumstances. She aims to get better and care for her sister as soon as she is able.
"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."
For part of her challenge, Lori Youngs decides to buy Wal-Mart gift cards for strangers. She takes $200 of her challenge money and buys $5 gift cards to hand out on the street. Included with the card, Lori gives the recipients a poem written by her daughter:
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!"
Both of Susan Weeks's sons attended Central Washington University and benefited from the support and guidance of Nate and Judy, a couple who lead the university's Campus Crusade for Christ program. Susan has been wanting to do something to help the couple for a while but never got around to it. "They live on private, monthly support and give of their time passionately to students on campus to encourage maturity, faith and good citizenship," Susan says.
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."
With winter on the way, Loan Tran of Lacey, Washington, sets out to buy winter clothing and food for the homeless in her area. After purchasing $1,000 in coats, snacks and other items, she decides instead to donate all that she purchased to The Matthew House, a hospitality home for women and children with relatives and friends incarcerated in Washington.
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. Day-to-day dedication
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