After talking to her 6-year-old son about the Pay It Forward Challenge, April Kigeya of Madison, Wisconsin, decides to help as many children in as many ways as she can. First, she visits Ronald McDonald House, where she meets Aaron, a little boy with a brain tumor. Aaron and his mother, Treva, live in South Korea, but have traveled to Wisconsin for Aaron's chemotherapy.
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!"
Linda Kutsenkow and her daughter, Leslie, use their challenge money to ease the burden of a mother of four battling cancer. Leslie finds Kim through the Westfield Moms' Club. Kim is raising four daughters—ages 3, 6, 11 and 14. Weakened by terminal breast cancer, she is unable to work. The family has no telephone and struggles to pay the rent.
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.
For audience member Amanda LaLuna-Chorak, working on Oprah's Pay It Forward Challenge was a full-circle moment! After being injured in a car crash last year, Amanda has been unable to work. In order to pay her bills, she and her husband Steven have to rely on support from family and friends.
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."
Sandee Lammers of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, wants to do as much as possible with her $1,000. Instead of picking one project or person to help, she spreads the money among several.
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.'"
As a schoolteacher, Amy Lange of Muskego, Wisconsin, wants to focus on helping children with her challenge money. She is also interested in giving aid to the homeless and victims of domestic violence. In order to meet all her goals, she decides to donate to Hebron House of Hospitality—an organization that helps homeless families. She also helps Siena House—a shelter that provides a safe haven for survivors of domestic abuse.
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 Lausten's inspiration for the challenge comes from her orange tabby cat, which she adopted from the Animal Welfare League in Chicago Ridge, Illinois. Katy uses her $1,000—along with $100 donated by her classmates in nursing school—to help the shelter.
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."
In 2004, Janice Lucas of Richmond, Virginia, gave birth to a stillborn baby girl. She remembers the kindness of the people around her at that difficult time, including two women who crochet blankets for newborns. "I don't know what it is about that, that sticks in my mind and just brings me a little comfort and joy, even now," Janice says.
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.
As a mother of two, Amy McBurney says it breaks her heart to think of mothers who cannot feed their babies. She uses her $1,000 to buy formula to donate to food pantries that can distribute it to mothers in need.
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."
An experience in her childhood gives Jodi Champagne the perfect idea for her challenge money. When she was in the 8th grade, her family's home burned down and they lost everything. She remembers the kindness and charity her family received, and decides to help two families in Colorado Springs, Colorado, who suffered major losses in apartment fires.
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."
When Melanie Duckworth of Kennesaw, Georgia, decides to make life easier for a hard-working single mom, she winds up giving more than she imagined.
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.
With Maytag closing its headquarters in Newton, Iowa, the town of 15,500 could use a little cheer—and five friends have the perfect plan!
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
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