Lisa Petrus of Sherman Oaks, California, turns her Pay It Forward Challenge into a teachable moment for her 8-year-old daughter, Claire.
"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.
As a graduate of Purdue University's School of Pharmacy, Nikki Price wants to help aspiring pharmacists reach their goals. A multicultural program at Purdue provides financial and academic support for pharmacy students from diverse backgrounds.
"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.
Wendy Ralph's grandparents raised five children on a farm in West Virginia on very little money. Despite their hardship, the couple always managed to scrape together a few dollars for charity every year. Wendy decides to honor her grandparents' spirit of giving with her challenge money.
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.
Valeria Reiss of Ramsey, Illinois, helps two families for her Pay It Forward Challenge, calling it "one of the most exciting things that I've ever done in my life."
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."
Melodie Richardson of Durham, North Carolina, says the Pay It Forward Challenge helped her accomplish one of her lifelong goals—to do something major to help people. As she calls out instructions to those gathered for a community barbeque with her bullhorn, Melodie is spreading the "pay it forward" message as loudly as she can.
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."
As an ex-smoker, Katie Rizer of Chesterton, Indiana, wants to help someone else to quit smoking. She contacts a clinic that uses laser technology to ease symptoms of nicotine withdrawal and offers to pay for police officer Curtis' treatment there.
"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
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