In 2000, Oprah inspired Linda Younes to conduct a book drive. Six years later, Linda uses her Pay It Forward Challenge money to collect even more books—this time in the memory of a special girl.
Linda, of Kearney, Nebraska, donates her $1,000 to the Kearney Catholic High School Library to buy books in honor of Elizabeth Stratton, a 14-year-old student who died in 2006 after a four-year battle with cancer. While Linda did not know Elizabeth, she followed her story through the teenager's website. "Her death on my birthday made me feel like this was a sign to donate the money to her," Linda says, adding that she plans to match the challenge money with a personal donation to Elizabeth's family.
Elizabeth's mother, Sami, says helping the library is a perfect way to honor Elizabeth. She remembers Elizabeth being tired and nervous on her first day of high school. "We walk into the library, and there's just this overwhelming sense of calm," she says. "And you could just feel her kind of relax, and it's like, 'Oh, yeah. This is where I belong, is in the library.'"
Elizabeth's father, Joe, says his daughter touched many people, from other cancer patients to visitors to her website. "Even when she didn't feel good, she would carry a smile and just be an incredible light to everyone she met," he says.
For Elizabeth's grandmother, Gale, Linda's project brings something she always wanted—an opportunity for Elizabeth's story to be told through Oprah. "I knew one day, one way or another, Oprah would find Lizzie, or Lizzie would find Oprah, because she has a story that needs to be told," she says.
After the challenge, Linda feels at peace with her choice. "I worried so much in making the right decision," she says. "Now I know any decision I would have made, if it was from my heart, would have been right."