The Pay It Forward Challenge
On a cold autumn night, Marty, her husband Carl and their 7-year-old son Ty go shopping. Marty wants Ty to learn the value of giving by helping her. Armed with a list provided by the pastor, Marty buys coats for men, women and children in different sizes. She gets a special kick out of buying tiny clothes for a 2-month-old boy.
Finally, it's time to pass out the coats! Back at the church, they are graciously received.
"I didn't ask for it, but the Lord sent it and it's a blessing," a grateful man says in Spanish. When Marty asks one woman how the gift makes her feel, she laughs and says, "I feel warm!"
To her dismay, Marty realizes that four people will go home empty-handed. No worries—she races back to the store to buy more coats.
For Marty, the challenge fulfills a dream. "I just wanted to go through this life and come to the end of it and realize that it wasn't all about me, that I really did leave the world a better place," she says. "I feel that I've done that in a small way. And I hope that this really won't stop, that this is something that we've started that'll go for the rest of our lives."
When they receive the $1,000, the volunteers at the shelter are ecstatic. "Thank you, Oprah!" they scream. Sara's donation will go toward spaying and neutering animals at the shelter.
Sara says it feels wonderful to help a cause she really cares about. "Starting in high school, every time I was assigned a research paper, it was done on animal rights and abuse," she says. "Now I feel I have actually done something to help these abused animals. … This act of kindness will be with me for the rest of my life, and for those animals also."
"It's hard to lose [weight]. It seems like you can pack it on overnight, but it does take time to put it on and it takes time to get it off," Gina says. "So I wanted to help and support these people like I did for myself with the support group that I had."
Gina visits a Weight Watchers meeting and presents four new members with gift bags full of items to help them meet their weight loss goals. She gives each of the four coupons to attend meetings for 15 weeks, a Weight Watchers cookbook, a pedometer, a "points calculator" and a starter kit!
After the meeting, Gina wonders if she's made a difference. When she arrives home, she gets her answer—it's a phone message from one of the recipients. "She was calling to thank me again and told me how much this meant to her. I was very touched, and I felt so happy," she says. "The whole experience has impacted me in a way that is so positive."
"I worked at a vet for two years, and I saw the people who [adopted pets] just so that animals can have a better place to live," she says. "That's where I want to spend my $1,000—helping them."
Amanda visits the Nicholasville Road Animal Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, wanting to pay off veterinary bills for clients in need. The clerk pulls up the accounts for three clients: an organization providing discount spaying and neutering services, a cat rescue organization and a struggling pet owner.
Amanda pays the bills and donates the rest of her money to the hospital for low-cost spaying and neutering.
After making her donations, Amanda feels great. "The rest of the night, I was on a sort of high," she says. "I know exactly what Oprah was telling us about the feeling after you give someone something."
"Despite devastating personal losses and the lack of basic amenities in the area, these people have chosen to rebuild their lives and continue their children's education," Robin says.
Robin is inspired by the students' resilience, but she's sad that they still have no school library. So she decides to do something about it!
"Books not only entertain us, they educate us, they inspire us and they instill in us the idea that there's a world out there beyond our own," she says. "I wanted the students at Our Lady of Prompt Succor to know that."
With her $1,000 and another $1,000 donation from Scholastic Book Fairs Inc., she buys 10 large boxes of books to start the school library.
Robin calls her challenge "the adventure of a lifetime." "It was a truly joyous occasion to be able to give the books to a school that still has so much to overcome," she says. "I feel truly blessed to have had this opportunity."
She first stocks up on gifts for recipients, including cameras, gift cards and DVDs. Standing on Michigan Avenue along Chicago's Magnificent Mile, she asks strangers for spare change. Unfortunately, the idea doesn't work as well as she had thought as few people stop to donate.
One man who does give her money is rewarded with a big surprise—a free iPod! But with few people to reward for their charity, Kimberly changes her strategy. She flags down strangers asking them questions such as, "What does kindness mean to you?" before giving them a digital camera, DVDs or gift cards.
After her panhandling adventure, Kimberly visits the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center, where she meets James Taylor, a veteran who uses a wheelchair. She gives him a coat, hat, scarf, gloves and other winter clothes, and a basket full of toiletries and treats. She also gives the hospital toys for the holiday party that it puts on for children of homeless and hospitalized veterans.
With her remaining money, Kimberly surprises a family at Applebee's by paying for their meal, and she buys groceries for a stranger.
Kimberly says the challenge will stay with her always. "I feel like I'm extremely blessed to have had the opportunity to give as I did," she says. "My life will never be the same. I think I'll be happy for the rest of my life."
Friends and family challenge each other to donate to the cause, and local businesses pitch in, adding $1,300 to Phyllis's $1,000!
Dressed as "Oprah's Angel" and armed with goods bought with her $2,300, Phyllis sets out on Halloween to ease the burden of more than 100 senior citizens. She delivers meals to the doors of elderly people and pays for a woman's gas bill. At a senior center Halloween party, she hands out gift certificates for groceries, meal tickets for the center, turkeys, fruit baskets and more!
By the end of her giving project, Phyllis is very tired but rewarded. "This truly was one of my most inspirational experiences of my 71 years here on this earth," she says.
Her first project is a neighborhood Halloween dinner. From her front yard, she passes out hot dogs, sodas, candy and other treats to families that stop by while trick-or-treating.
Donna then helps two families in need. She buys gift cards, food and toys for the family of a terminally ill child. She also watches the children for two hours, giving the mother a little time to herself. For her third project, Donna buys a spa package and gift cards for a hardworking single mother so she can do something for herself and her kids.
Donna then buys classroom resources for a grade school's special needs class and presents teacher Sara Smith and her assistant with spa gifts. "I felt like I was able to give something back to a cause … that is now a part of our lives," she says. "Until our son's autism, we hadn't realized the extent good people like Sara Smith go to, to give our extraordinary kids the education they deserve."
Continuing her campaign, Donna donates a table and five backpacks filled with toiletries and food to Christ's Kitchen, an organization helping homeless veterans. For her final project, Donna buys a TV for a local youth ministry and adds her own money to buy the children there a video game! "I've always given my time, but this was the first time I've ever had that much money to give, and it was an exhausting pleasure!" Donna says.
At Sunnyhill Adventures, run by Rob Darroch, children with and without disabilities play and learn together.
"Rob gives so much to the kids, and I believe so much in what he is doing," Shana says. "I wanted to let him know what the work he is doing means to me and my family."
In just eight days, with the help of her community, Shana turns her $1,000 into $9,400—plus lots of donated items! Shana presents Rob with the money and donations—a new washer and dryer, hundreds of T-shirts for tie-dyeing, $1,000 worth of sports equipment, couches for the lodge, a copy machine and more. Local businesses also promise landscaping, roofing and concrete work!
Shana says it felt amazing to shower Rob and Sunnyhill with gifts. "There's nothing like the feeling of giving and making someone's day," she says.
Cindy Crowe and Susan Inglis offered top-notch care to the Herberts' goddaughter, Jasminne, who was born with a heart condition and died at 3 1/2-months-old.
"These ladies face death in children quite often. We can't imagine the stress this job has on them and their families," Kimberly says. "Because they went above and beyond the call of duty, we wanted to do something special for them."
So Kimberly and Anthony contact the Ross Bridge Renaissance Golf Resort & Spa in Hoover, Alabama, which donates a luxurious package worth $10,000 for the nurses!
At a ceremony in the Presidential Suite, Kimberly and Anthony—along with Jasminne's parents Shana and Jeff—present Cindy and Susan with roses and pictures and thank them for their kindness to baby Jasminne. The nurses receive a stay at the Presidential or Governor's Suite, including a consultation with a personal chef, a spa package and free golf lessons!
Cindy and Susan are thrilled with the luxurious present, though they never expected to be rewarded in such a way for their work. "This is fabulous to be treated so special for something I just love to do," Cindy says. "Jasminne was so special. She was, and we all remember her as our little princess. She was so special and wonderful and we loved her so much."
She decides to give her challenge money to the shelter, but before leaving for Decatur, Diana turns to her "walking buddies" in Naperville, Illinois, for help and heads to Decatur with sacks of donations.
Diana takes some of the shelter staff to Wal-Mart for "a shopping extravaganza." They fill up four shopping carts with items that are needed but not often donated to the shelter—hair dryers, diapers, pillows, hair products, alarm clocks and art supplies for the children.
"It was a whirlwind, but the energy and enthusiasm involved in that shopping trip was fantastic!" Diana says.
But Diana's not finished yet. Her parents lead her to more people in need. Through her mother, Diana learns about Chris Durham, a student at Milliken University. Chris—the first to graduate from college in his family—works over the summers to pay for his tuition. Diana gives him a $200 gift card to help buy a new suit for internship interviews.
A donation from friends leaves Diana with one last gift to give. Her father and his friends, who meet weekly for breakfast at a local restaurant, often have the same server—a woman named Lisa. Diana and her father head to Claire's Family Restaurant and by chance have Lisa as their server. Diana surprises her by leaving a $100 tip! As a former waitress, Diana is happy to make a difference in Lisa's day and pleased to help her father with a random act of kindness.
In memory of Linda, Tracey donates her challenge money to a scholarship in her name.
"She inspired everyone to want to do more with education and do more with English," Amanda says of Linda. "I'm glad that my mom's giving the money to her scholarship foundation, because I know it's going to a good cause."
The scholarship will go to a graduating senior who plans to pursue a career in education.
"I felt very grateful … to be able to impact people, grateful that Mrs. Watts touched the lives of so many, including my daughter," Tracey says. "[I was] relieved that it all came together—and touched that Oprah truly believes that everyone can make a difference in someone's life."
Next, Janet heads to the local hardware store to buy dog and cat food for a kind woman who cares for stray animals in Carlisle—a city with no animal shelter.
After donating the pet food, Janet stops by the gas station, where she surprises customers with a free tank of gas. She also gives gas money to Carlisle Odd Fellows Cemetery for its lawnmowers and other equipment.
And when she hears a local kindergarten teacher needs new underwear for students who have accidents in class, Janet is there to help. She buys several pairs of boys and girls underpants to donate to the school.
Janet says the challenge filled her with joy. "[I am] happy that I could be a part of such a wonderful experience," she says.
Dawn's next inspiration comes from Valree, who cuts her hair while she is on vacation in Sea Island, Georgia. Valree moved there so her parents could help care for her husband, who has health problems. While Valree cuts hair to support herself, her dream is to become a photographer. Inspired by Valree's zest for life, Dawn gives her $200 to follow her dreams!
Dawn's third recipient is Margot, a mother of two children, one of whom has special needs. "The amount of time and care that she dedicates to her family is like nothing I've seen before," Dawn says. She surprises Margot with $325 in gift cards and spa certificates!
"All three of these people inspired and changed me in some form or fashion," Dawn says. "So for that, I thank Oprah for allowing me the opportunity, to push me forward and make me step out of my box of what I might normally do."
Through a local shelter, Tailyn finds five single mothers. Each is trying to make it on her own after losing a job or a home. With the holidays approaching, she gives each mother a $100 gift certificate to a grocery store and a $100 Wal-Mart gift card
"Hopefully [the gift cards] will get some stress off their shoulders from trying to make ends meet," says Tailyn. "My mom would have loved to have any little type of help…this would have been amazing for her."
Save the Family puts Courtney and Melissa in touch with Sheila, a single mother of two. Sheila was a stay-at-home mom for 10 years. When her marriage ended, she and the children were on their own. Now, Sheila is in school to become an air-conditioning technician.
Courtney and Melissa are happy they found Sheila. "We [wanted] to make sure it got into hands that could use this money and could potentially have the opportunity … to do something like this for somebody else," Courtney says.
The friends spend $400 of the challenge money on tools Sheila needs to start her new career. They spend the remaining $600, on new clothes and shoes for Shelia's children, Jennifer and Tim.
"I felt really amazing," Melissa says. "It was great to make such a needed difference in the lives of strangers."
"She does so many wonderful things in her life that make her such a special kid," Lisa says. "So I wanted to share that with other children, other young girls her age."
Because Claire loves animals—she has two dogs and two cats—Lisa, her husband Leonard and Claire decide to help Friends of the Animals, a rescue group for cats and dogs. They buy supplies—food, blankets, towels and bleach—for the organization and throw in an additional $200 in cash.
Next, they find a pet for Sela, Claire's pen pal in Ghana, who is very lonely. They arrange to buy a cat and put together a pet-owner starter kit for Sela, including fuzzy toys and a book on cats. Lisa's family arranges to pay for pet food and veterinary bills, too!
"I'm so excited," Lisa says. "When she gets her kitten … she'll be so happy. I really think that's going to change her life—having that cat."
Lisa donates the remaining $400, plus $10—two week's allowance from Claire—to Pasadena Junior Theatre, where Claire studies acting and production. She designs a card for the gift. It says, "Dear PJT, I hope your doors never close. You guys are the best. Love, Claire Petrus."
Lisa, Claire and Leonard enjoyed finding ways to spend the money and plan to keep "paying it forward."
"I loved sharing this with my family!" Lisa says.
"If everybody could go through this program … everybody would be as successful as they could be. Their potential would be met," Nikki says.
Nikki uses Pay It Forward Challenge money to award $500 scholarships to Rachel and Ernest, students in the program. "The recipients were shocked, surprised and extremely grateful," Nikki says. "They couldn't believe that someone would do this for them."
Inspired by the response, Nikki plans to continue giving scholarships each year. "Though this is a small amount of money in terms of the total tuition bill, I could see that it made a huge impact on their lives. Seeing this touched me in a way that nothing else has," Nikki says.
Having lost her job in July, Wendy is grateful to be part of the Oprah's Pay It Forward Challenge. "To have the chance to give $1,000 to three of the charities that are dear to my heart, I'm very much appreciative of that opportunity," she says.
In one long day of kindness, Wendy accomplishes her goals. She spends $400 on new books for the reading program at Herbert Elementary School in Chicago. She then visits Midwest Brain Injury Clubhouse, where she donates breakfast items, a copier cartridge and a special pair of mittens for a man who has problems with one of his hands.
With the remaining $300, Wendy buys bedding and a microwave for Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly, an organization that provides companionship for senior citizens.
Wendy says her day of giving left her exhausted—but in the best way possible. "This is beyond my wildest dreams, and it's a day I will never, ever forget," she says.
A few years ago, Valeria's husband, Jim, died while they were on vacation in Maine. Grieving and alone, Valeria had to fly home, leaving her car behind. Ross, an acquaintance, used his truck to bring her car home in her time of need.
Some time after helping Valeria, Ross's legs were crushed between his truck and trailer, causing him to undergo several surgeries, and his wife was diagnosed with cancer. So to help Ross in his time of need, Valeria gives him a $500 gift card to Wal-Mart for necessities.
Valeria uses the other $500, to help another family. Tom suffered a stroke, and his wife Marlene has run the family business ever since. To make things a little easier, Valeria gives them a $250 gift card to Wal-Mart and a $250 gift card for gas.
"It was a thrill of a lifetime to be able to do something like this," Valeria says. "It's given me a whole new outlook on helping others."
With $1,500 in challenge money, Melodie and her cousin, Barbara Turrentine-Bowe,throw a party for residents of McDougald Terrace, a Durham housing project. The families enjoy plates of chicken and ribs, while meeting old friends and new. They listen to music and collect books, clothes and toys gathered for the event.
With bullhorn in hand, Melodie makes sure all the guests get an important message—to pay the kindness forward to someone else when they can. The party is a success, and Melodie hopes to make it a yearly event!
"Not only were we able to feed people and provide coats and books to the children and the adults, but we were also able to form bonds and friendships," she says.
The challenge fills Melodie with joy and gratitude. "It's always been my dream to be able to do something big for a large group of people, and I've just never been able to," she says. "I didn't feel like I had the confidence or would be able to pull off something big. But this opportunity showed me something different about myself. I learned that I am able to do big things."
"I know that struggle of trying to quit smoking, so the fact that I get to help someone—a police officer who helps the rest of the world—is very exciting," she says. While Curtis is undergoing the procedure, Katie cleans out his car so he doesn't have to smell cigarettes any more.
Next, Katie hears about Lisa, a 40-year-old mother of two who has bone and breast cancer. Lisa is holding a spaghetti dinner to raise money to help defray her medical costs, so Katie pitches in $500!
But Katie takes the challenge even further. She asks friends to do something nice for someone and mail her a certificate stating what they did—which she hangs all over her living room. Those who respond also send cash to donate to Rebuilding Together, an organization that rehabilitates houses for the elderly so they can remain in their own homes. Lisa collects a total of 65 certificates for her wall and about $100 for Rebuilding Together!
Katie says it was no accident that she was part of the challenge—it was meant to be. "I feel very satisfied and just excited to have participated in this!" she says.
Retired teachers give lessons in giving