Pay It Forward Stories
The staff at Our Lady's Inn helps Carolyn track down Jennifer, a former resident and single mom raising two children and a teenage goddaughter. Carolyn surprises Jennifer with money for gas, rent, car insurance and a trip to Wal-Mart.
"It was great to know that I had given the money to the right person, and it came just at the right time," Carolyn says. "I couldn't have been more sure that God placed Jen in my life for this day."
With the remainder of her money, Carolyn surprises strangers at Wal-Mart with $20 gift cards and gives a $50 Walgreens gift card to a man selling newspapers on a street corner.
Wal-Mart also donates $250 in gift cards, which Carolyn uses to buy 27 gifts for homeless people at the St. Lawrence O'Toole Public Action to Deliver Shelter. "It was amazing to be able to do that for so many people—27 gifts, 27 smiles! Everybody loved it," she says.
"After losing someone to this awful disease, the only thing that … would be even remotely part of my mom's spirit and her giving and love and caring and outgoing personality, would be to donate the money to a group … that has gone through what we went through," Christina says.
Christina drums up support from her company, family and friends, and collects an additional $6,706! She donates $1,000 to Imerman Angels, an organization that gives personal support to cancer patients by pairing them with survivors of the same type of cancer.
Through the group's founder, Jon Imerman, Christina meets Rebecca, a 26-year-old woman who is fighting colon cancer and struggling to pay her medical bills. Christina presents Rebecca with the remaining money to help pay for her treatments and surgeries!
But Christina doesn't want to stop there. "This has motivated me to step up and help spread the awareness of rare cancers that don't get enough exposure to the public," she says. "I am forever changed by this experience! I know my mom would be so very proud!"
Stacey is inspired and wants to get involved. She and her 11-year-old son shop together to stock the gift shop full of goodies. They spend $855 on clothes, jewelry, toys, journals, Bibles and other items for House of Ruth. She donates the remaining $145, along with an additional $170 from co-workers, to the shelter so they could purchase other necessities. The House of Ruth staff "were ecstatic!" Stacey says. "They do great work at this facility, and they said all of the gifts were perfect for all of the age ranges."
Making the children smile and giving mothers hope made Stacey feel so great that she hopes other people get in on the act.
"There's a war going on. There are a lot of bad things in the world," Stacey says. "But I believe there's more good than there is bad, and I think if this [giving] catches on, we can do a lot of good with this."
Sheril buys several items—warm clothes, blankets, toiletries, flashlights, Bibles, cookies—to create care packages for homeless people. Then she delivers the packages to people on the street. One man already has a Bible, so Sheril tells him he should pass it on to someone who needs it.
She uses her remaining challenge money to buy gas for strangers at a filling station, and coffee and snacks for customers at a local Starbucks. "I met a lot of interesting people that were very, very grateful," she says. "Some people were a little bit leery because I guess they weren't accustomed to strangers doing nice things and being kind to them." Sheril also donates some money to the Humane Society of Huron Valley.
Sheril hopes those she helped will continue the chain of kindness. "It was overwhelming, even though I do this all the time. It felt good to record it and see people's expressions and how appreciative people really are," she says. "I would hope for everybody else that we have helped to give back and help someone else as well."
With help from her roommate, Jenna Halaby, Alex buys school supplies and books for the new Chicago branch of Minds Matter, an organization that matches mentors with inner-city youth to prepare them for college.
Next, Alex and Jenna give a fresh start to a brand new family in need. They visit Prentice Women's Hospital, where they meet Maria, Mario and their new baby, Michael. They present the family with baby supplies worth $380 and a $275 savings bond for Michael's education.
"To know that somehow we were going to make things easier for them and give them a hand and give them something more to be excited about, that was great," Alex says.
With the money they have left, Alex and Jenna pass out bagels and orange juice to commuters at a train station to give a fresh start to their days.
"When you do something that's unexpected and brings a smile to somebody's face and you know you helped do that, it's a feeling of joy," Alex says. "To know that you made a personal connection is huge, and I think we take that for granted."
Ellen—who volunteers at the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival—rounds up close to 200 CDs from the storytellers she knows! Next, she buys 52 personal CD players from Best Buy, which gives her a discount and throws in 200 free batteries. The Timpanogos Storytelling Festival pitches in two family passes to the event, sweatshirts and blankets for each child!
Ellen visits two children at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center to give them gift baskets with the CDs, CD players and festival passes. She donates the rest of the CDs and CD players to the hospital's pediatric unit and to Primary Children's Hospital so more children can listen to them during their stay.
Ellen says she donated the stories because she wanted to make more than a monetary donation. "It's more the idea, I think, of the gift of storytelling to these children and the parents and the hospital staff to help them keep these children not only educated and entertained but to just keep them smiling".
Mindy's friends sew the pillow cases which she fills with a variety of items, including Camille Beckman beauty products, robes, slippers, socks and breast self-exam shirts from Bath & Body Works.
After donating the Pillows of Love to the hospital, Mindy visits Marian Pritchet High School, an organization run by the Salvation Army's Booth Family Care Center that helps teenage mothers finish high school. She gives $300 in cash and $300 in baby supplies and clothes to help the young mothers.
Mindy is excited about helping both causes, but assembling the Pillows of Love is especially close to her heart. "If it weren't for two sweet birth mothers in Louisiana and Virginia, I would not be a mother, which is something I've wanted my whole life," she says. "By meeting and giving to more birth mothers, my heart is filled with even more love for the individuals that gave the greatest gift one could give: a baby."
Jennifer makes sure these animals are not forgotten. She buys fleece blankets and personalizes them by having a dog's name embroidered on each one! She donates dog food, treats, detergent and other items. Then, she pays off a $600 veterinary bill and gives Morgan, who runs Forgotten Paws, an $80 gift card to Wal-Mart for more supplies.
Jennifer says participating in the challenge made her feel, "Amazing! Ecstatic! Humbled! And a hundred other things." "I only wish I had done this earlier and of my own accord," she says. "I plan to continue this challenge in my own life by volunteering at [the rescue group's] adoption days."
To help Kaly on the road to her new life, Mary decides to take her on a $300 shopping spree for new clothes! While shopping, Kaly decides to continue the chain of kindness by using part of her money to buy pajamas for a girl she knows who has to sleep in her clothes.
The rest of Mary's money goes to buying gift cards for the Open Door Ministry, a day shelter for homeless people that provides food, shower supplies and laundry facilities. Mary enjoys helping Kaly and the people at the Ministry and intends to continue helping. "I'm especially grateful because it taught me a lot. I'm going to try to get out of my safe little world that I tend to hang out in," she says. "I respect Kaly, and if she lets me, I want to let her into my life and family."
Lisa contacts the SOS Children's Village in Lockport, Illinois, which places children separated from their parents with foster parents living in a community of single-family homes. The Village needs TVs for its recreation and conference rooms, so Lisa buys two televisions and two DVD players!
On the way to buy the TV, however, someone dents Lisa's car by opening her car door in the parking lot. "Normally, we probably would've been a little bit more upset [and] maybe involved the police," Lisa says. "But in the event of Pay It Forward, we just … told the gentleman to please discuss with the young lady who bashed my door to be a little bit more careful in parking lots from now on."
After donating the TVs and DVD players, Lisa has about $460 left to spend. She visits a pet store with a plan to buy a dog for a lucky stranger. After observing pet shoppers for about two hours, she approaches Dana and Greg and buys them the puppy they want!
"I can't even tell you how excited I am to see the genuine appreciation and excitement. This was truly a random act of kindness," Lisa says. "They will love [the puppy] forever, and I'm glad I could give that to them."
April gives Treva $300 to pay for a month's stay at the hospital, and a $50 gift card donated by Wal-Mart. "I truly admire her strength," April says. "She and Aaron are so far from home, and she was very grateful for my gift."
For the next part of her challenge, April contacts a local elementary school, where she hears about Rashon, a mother of three small children who is pregnant with her fourth. Rashon lost her apartment when she was put on bed rest and couldn't work—and has been forced to live with relatives. To help them get a new place to live, April gives Rashon $200 toward a security deposit and the first month's rent on a new apartment. She also buys toys and necessities for the children.
Next, April decides to help Ruth, a single mother of four who moved to Madison with only $50 in her pocket! April gives the family a $150 gift card from Cub Foods, a $100 Wal-Mart gift card and two $20 gift cards donated by Target.
Finally, April visits a local elementary school to donate winter clothes to children who don't have any, and diapers for a boy with a medical condition whose parents can't afford them.
April says she is grateful for what the challenge has taught her. "So many times, I take things for granted, and I can proudly say that that will be no longer," April says. "I am going to make it my goal to do something to 'pay it forward' every day—even if it's a little thing!"
A friend donates a cell phone, which Linda and Leslie load with prepaid minutes for emergencies and helping keep up with everyone. The Kutsenkows stock the family's kitchen with groceries and pay off $1,367 in rent that the family owes. With the remaining money, they take Kim's girls out to eat and shop for clothes.
But the mother-daughter duo doesn't stop there. In addition to their $2,000, they raise another $3,000 in cash and donations of clothes, food and other items for the family. A local country club plans to sponsor Kim's family for Christmas.
Linda is blown away by the outpouring of community support for Kim. "I don't believe at any point in my life I have ever experienced anything like this," she says. "I felt emotions I didn't even know existed in me."
The challenge helps Leslie to realize how proud she is of her mother, who has taught her so much in life. "I couldn't imagine my mother being sick if I was a young child and not understanding the entire situation," she says. "You have to experience something like this to really ground you and show you what is important."
Leslie plans to keep up with Kim's daughters. "I intend to be there for these kids as a person to have fun with … because they are helping me more, I think, than I am helping them," she says.
Not long after the accident, Amanda was in a coffee shop when she saw a homeless woman being kicked out of the store because she wasn't buying anything. Amanda wanted to help, but because of her financial strain she couldn't afford it. "At that moment, I promised that if we were ever in a situation and had a few extra dollars, I wanted to help those less fortunate," Amanda says.
When Amanda receives her challenge money, she knows exactly what she wants to do. Amanda starts to assemble care packages that she calls "Sending Out Smiles" (SOS) to give to people living on the streets! She fills sacks with gloves, winter hats, first-aid kits, ponchos, water, bus cards, $10 cash and more, along with a handout listing homeless shelters in Chicago. Then she hits the streets and hands them out to people in need.
"I felt amazing and like a beam of light and full of positive smiles," Amanda says. "This was the best gift anyone has ever given me. I am forever grateful that God blessed me to be able to help him help others."
She starts by donating new lobby furniture for Prevention & Protection of Abused Children in Waukesha, which provides support for the victims of domestic abuse.
With winter setting in, Sandee's next task is to buy warm clothes for children who need them. She buys a coat for Jennifer, a 13-year-old girl whose house burned down, and hats and mittens for children at Hopkins Street School in Milwaukee.
Sandee then hears about Denise, a woman who is battling colon cancer, and decides to help. She takes Denise and her husband, Stewart, a cancer survivor, for a couples massage at a spa! The spa pays for their dinner, and Sandee gives them a gift basket.
With the rest of her money, Sandee pays for orders at a local coffee shop and groceries for unsuspecting customers. She only asks that the recipients pay the kindness forward to someone else. One man is so touched by the gesture that he buys roses for Sandee and her helpers!
Since the challenge, Sandee says she has been nicer to people at work and has continued to do random acts of kindness. "The best way to describe how it affected me was by a comment [made by] a friend I haven't seen for a few months," she says. "He said, 'Sandee, I haven't seen you smile this much in a long, long time.'"
Amy buys a TV and a DVD/VCR combo for each shelter. Her co-workers round out the gifts with movies for the residents to watch. "I wanted to buy something that would stay with the house and help people…in times to come," she says. Amy also buys shoes for 19 children living in the shelters.
"Delivering the items gave me a great feeling, knowing I could help so many people get a little more enjoyment within their unfortunate living circumstances," she says. "It certainly made me more aware of the needs of those less fortunate, and it makes me appreciate what I have so much more."
Katy finds the group's wish list online and decides to buy every item on it! She donates necessities including food, bleach, soap, kitty litter and animal heating pads. She gives the remaining cash to the shelter so they can buy more supplies as they need them.
While she says some people judge her for helping animals instead of people, Katy is glad she helped the shelter. "By helping the Animal Welfare League, I am helping people because animals spread joy and they spread love," she says. "There's just nothing more important than that in my opinion."
Katy loved every minute of her challenge. "I was so excited to be able to do something for this animal shelter. It felt completely wonderful," she says. "I will never forget this experience."
When Janice takes on Oprah's Pay It Forward Challenge, she makes it her mission to find the two women who helped her in her time of need. Janice and the women meet up at a local restaurant, and she tells them how much the blanket means to her. She donates materials to help them make more of their cherished baby blankets and caps for other mothers in need. And as a special treat, she buys each of them a spa package!
Janice also donates to the Hospital Hospitality House of Richmond, which provides a place to stay for family members of hospital patients. "I definitely am excited about making a donation to Hospitality House, because we've all experienced a time in our lives where we've just had so much on us and so much pressure … that it was such a relief to have somebody [else] take the load," Janice says. She presents $573 to the organization in honor of a heart transplant patient and his wife who have stayed there the longest.
Janice says the challenge has motivated her to give more often. "Hopefully, the spirit will catch on, and as I do acts of kindness for other people, then they will also do acts of kindness for someone else," she says.
After buying the formula, Amy's first stop is Human Concerns of South Milwaukee, a food pantry that serves about 200 families a month. Chris, the pantry coordinator, says they use formula to supplement what mothers get for their babies through Wisconsin's Women, Infants and Children program. The organization was down to just two cans of formula before Amy's donation!
Amy drops off more cans to a second shelter, then takes the remaining formula to the Hunger Task Force, which distributes formula to 18 food pantries in the area.
Amy says the challenge opened her eyes to how much some people really need. "To do even a small thing for them felt good, but it also made me feel that there's a lot more to be done," she says. "I think that's the most important thing that I've learned through this whole challenge is that everyone really needs to help others that need it."
First, Jodi learns about sisters Baily and Jenna—full-time students who also work 35 hours a week at a local pizza restaurant. All their personal belongings were destroyed in the fire, and with no renter's insurance, the girls were left with only the clothes on their backs. Jodi visits Baily and Jenna at their restaurant as a customer, and surprises them by leaving a $1,000 tip!
While planning her donation for Baily and Jenna, Jodi hears about Andrea, a woman who—along with 10 other adults and children—lost her apartment to a fire. At first, Jodi thinks she won't be able to help Andrea's family, but Wal-Mart comes through with a $1,000 donation! Jodi enlists Baily and Jenna to "pay it forward" themselves, by helping deliver much-needed items like a crib, clothing and other supplies to Andrea's family.
Taking part in the challenge has changed the way Jodi thinks about people in her city. "I'm more aware of those around me," she says. "I'm constantly looking for opportunities to brighten someone's day."
Melanie decides to help Julie, a single mom who is raising her 2-year-old son, Christopher, with the help of her sister. Julie works at Target on a shift that begins at 4 a.m. When work ends at 12 p.m., she heads over to classes at the Georgia Medical Institute, where she is training to become a massage therapist. Despite her circumstances, friends say Julie is an upbeat person and a great mom who is always looking to help others.
Melanie decides to use most of her "pay it forward" challenge money to buy five weeks of child care for Christopher. Touched by Julie's story, the day care center matches the gift for a total of 10 weeks! Target also gets in on the giving game and gives Julie a $100 gift card to buy Christopher Christmas presents. Julie's school also chips in by giving her a massage chair to launch her business—and $200 for gas! But that isn't all.
A friend donates two $200 gift cards for Julie and her sister—and Melanie completes the package with a gift certificate for a manicure and pedicure.
"These were random acts of kindness just to put a smile on your face, because we hear you put smiles on everybody's face every day," Melanie tells Julie as she gives her the gifts.
Machelle Crum, Dana Gooden, Janet Graber, Donna Spidle and Carol Tweedt decide to spend their $5,000 on a wide variety of projects for Newton. First, they hand over $500 to a local high school class with instructions to "pay it forward." The students find ways to spread the money around their town in small, but meaningful, ways—like giving a whopping tip to a waitress or buying gas for strangers. One student is so inspired by the idea that he pulls a $50 bill out of his pocket to add to the fund!
The women give $300 to a nursing home activity fund to give the residents "something to look forward to." They give $500 to a local animal rescue group and pay bills for lucky people at two grocery stores and Wal-Mart, which kicks in an extra $300!
For their finale, the friends bankroll a shopping spree for three teenage sisters who have lost their mother to breast cancer. Everyone who hears about the girls wants to be a part of their day. Lane Bryant and Yonkers clothing stores each donate $1,000, and the mall adds another $250.00. Janet says the girls start out quiet and a little sad, but after their day at the mall, they are laughing and giggling—just what the Newton women were hoping for!
A newspaper reporter says the five women had an enormous impact on their community. "The ripple of generosity has spread beyond their small group and has led to reports of random acts of kindness throughout the county."
Warming up to the challenge