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Lori gave her daughters, Kayla and Kassidy, $250 and let them choose causes that are close to their hearts. After some brainstorming, the girls decided how they wanted to spread kindness across southwest Florida.
Kayla decided to use her money to create gift baskets for hard-working nurses at Cross Key Manor, the nursing home where her grandfather is a patient. Kayla filled the baskets with books, candy and small gifts. Then, she surprised the nurses with her gift of gratitude! "It was just really nice because I see how hard they really do work," Kayla says. "It was just a great experience."
Kassidy used her $250 to bring joy to Justine, an unsuspecting patient at a Fort Myers children's hospital. The Jennings family surprised Justine with pink gift bags filled with presents—a cowboy hat, stationary set and friendship bracelets. Justine's mom also received a special surprise…a gift card worth $200!
Lori also had exciting plans for "paying it forward." First, she donated funds to two nurses who take mission trips to the Dominican Republic each year to help people with heart problems. Then, she dipped into her husband David's share of the money to purchase a trumpet, which she donated to the Louis Armstrong Jazz Foundation Camp. Cadence Music, the store where she bought the trumpet, chipped in an additional $500 to cover the cost of the instrument.
With the leftover money, David surprised fellow Floridians with random acts of kindness, like paying for their gas and food.
Before they knew it, they had hundreds of ideas to sort through! Melodie says that trying to pick a cause was "mind boggling."
"There's so many people out there saying, 'I worked for this cause. I'm on this committee. I worked with these people,'" Cammie says. "This is so exciting. It's amazing to see how many people are really doing a little bit [to help others]."
Finally, the friends decided to donate their money to the Individualized Creative Alternative Network (I-CAN), a local organization that helps severely handicapped individuals. Through I-CAN, disabled men and women learn new skills like baking and gardening. "The people here are capable people who happen to have disabilities," one staff member says.
"[This challenge] has really changed my life," Melodie says.
Portia e-mailed the poster and received a message back from Jill Beers, the art teacher at Henry Nash Elementary School. Nash Elementary is located in a tough neighborhood on Chicago's west side. Many of the students enrolled at this school are considered "at risk."
For the past 15 years, the school hasn't had the funds to support an art program, but Jill has helped bring art back to Nash this year. When Portia learned about Jill's struggle to get adequate supplies, she went to work.
Portia called friends at Chicago advertising agencies, design firms and art galleries to solicit donations. "One person's trash is another person's treasure!" she says.
Then, Portia contacted the principal at Nash Elementary to orchestrate a special surprise for Jill. The principal called an all-school assembly where Portia presented Jill with the donated supplies and a check for $1,000, which will be used to purchase additional art materials.
Although the money's all gone, Portia says she plans to return to Nash to help organize a school-wide art show.
After polling residents of Macomb, Illinois, about what they would do with the money, she finally connected with Mrs. Glaser's big-hearted fourth-grade class at Edison Elementary School. With help from residents of the Wesley Nursing Home, the class broke into small groups to brainstorm. They had lots of good ideas, but ultimately, there was a tie.
The class decided to donate to Project Santa to help needy families with Christmas gifts. The kids also wanted to contact the National Guard to help a local military family. "I thought, 'Oh my God, this is going be awesome. I can give somebody the opportunity to make someone's week, simplify someone's life and make someone happy,'" Erin says.
Kayla, who was diagnosed in July, finally came home on Labor Day. Todd quit his job to care for Kayla during her recovery. Now that she's home, the family must drive more than an hour each way for Kayla's weekly check-ups. As long as Kayla stays in remission for five years, she has a 99 percent chance of never getting the cancer back.
Erin set up a meeting with Todd under the guise that she was interviewing him for a school project. Little did he know that Erin had quite a surprise in store for this family! Thanks to the community, Erin grew the original $1,000 bank card into almost $2,000! The family also received $100 in gas cards, a gift certificate for a local restaurant and presents for the kids.
Todd was left speechless by Erin's gift. "When I was over in Iraq last year, we were donating to St. Jude," Todd says. "You wouldn't think that someone who donated…to the hospital would have to use the hospital."
Erin says she was overjoyed to help Todd's family. "I just can't thank Oprah, her staff and everyone enough for giving me this opportunity to be a part of this, to pay it forward," Erin says. "It's something I don't plan on stopping here. I plan on spending the rest of my life paying it forward."
Elaina Brentnall and Andrea Southhall decided to help Vanderbilt University Hospital's Dr. James Netterville and nurse Georgette Smiley, who were traveling from Nashville to a mission hospital in Nigeria to perform surgeries on children and adults who have head and neck tumors. "We'll do surgery from the time we have light in the morning until the light goes away at night," Georgette says.
Elaina wanted to help Dr. Netterville because he had performed ear surgery on her son and had also helped treat a dear friend diagnosed with oral cancer. Elaina gave her entire $1,000 to the center, and Andrea gave $900. The combined $1,900, Georgette says, will pay for almost half of what is needed to add a new wing onto the clinic. "What an honor to receive this money on behalf of all the wonderful people in Nigeria!" Georgette says.
Andrea gave the remaining $100 to a family who had recently lost their 3-year-old daughter to an inoperable brain tumor. Andrea originally wanted to give it all to the little girl and her family, but she tragically died the day before the The Oprah Show taping. The girl's mother, Melissa Cosby, will use the $100 for expenses or to create a memorial for her little girl. "I miss her very much," Melissa says. "There isn't a day goes by that I don't cry."
The sisters say the challenge has changed their lives. "We can always receive, but when you give, you get so much more in return," Elaina says.
With $3,000 from Oprah's Pay It Forward Challenge, the women decided to help Maras, a poor Peruvian village that Lynda discovered while hiking the Inca trail in September 2006.
Lynda, Kelly and Susie quickly sprang into action to send boxes of clothing and toys to the village.
At home in St. Louis, Lynda passed out boxes to friends to fill with clothing and toys, and Susie invited her kids' friends over to donate toys they no longer played with. In Chicago, Kelly reached out to her co-workers for help and even held a box-packing party with her friends while watching The Bachelor!
The generosity of friends, co-workers and strangers astounded the women. Kelly's company, Hostway Corporation, donated $1,000, and Susie's company and Forest Pharmaceuticals, matched the $3,000! Mattel also donated toys.
Thanks to box donations from Crown Packaging and free shipping from FedEx and Arrow Cargo, the women were able to put the entire $7,000 towards starting a school for the children of the village. "They will give back to society by educating themselves and going out into the world and making it a better place," Kelly says.
In one week, the new charity—Kindness in a Box—shipped boxes to help 340 families. "My hope is after we get this charity started, it can become a model, not just for the children in that village in Peru, but possibly for children in a village in Africa, children in a village in India, children in villages all around the world who are needy," Lynda says.
Then, Renschke visited a family who had just adopted two boys, Connor and Daniel, from Russia. Their new mother, Sue, said she and her husband just found out that Connor needs minor surgery, and Daniel has hearing loss in both ears due to scar tissue from untreated ear infections. Renschke gave Sue some help with the children's medical bills. "Thank you for blessing us. Their medical needs are going to be, that's going to be our world for the first few months," Sue says.
The next recipient of an act of kindness was Riley, a student who volunteers with students with special needs. Renschke gave Riley money to rent a movie theater and have a party with drinks and treats for the students.
With the help of family members, Desiree donated the money she received from Oprah's Pay It Forward Challenge to a school for people with disabilities in Cape Town, South Africa. "We didn't realize so many people had it in their hearts to pay it forward. From the shipping company to the delivery person [who got the camcorder to South Africa], everybody involved in this process was just exceptional," Desiree says.
"We got a lot of people involved and a lot of people giving up their time and energy, and it's just been such a great experience," Renschke says.
Little Brothers is an international organization dedicated to helping the elderly feel respected and not alone. It provides centers where seniors can have lunch, do activities or just visit with others. The organization also helps seniors with transportation and other services they might need. "I lost my grandmother about 12 years ago, and I miss her dearly," Sharon says. "And the thought of somebody being elderly and alone and not having anyone to go to just breaks my heart."
Sharon arrives at the center armed with a check, flowers, balloons and a subscription for O, The Oprah Magazine. There, she meets Evangelina, whose husband recently passed away after a battle with Alzheimer's. Evangelina says she's visited the center almost every day for three years. "This is the best medicine for me," she says.
Little does Sharon know, the seniors have a surprise for her! They present Sharon with red roses, just like their logo. The founder of Little Brothers used "flowers before bread" as his motto, and he would give the elderly a red rose before presenting them with food. Sharon is honored and promises this won't be the last the center sees of her. "We are going to be happy to adopt you!" one resident says.
Sharon calls the experience "life changing" and says she learned that even a smile can make a big difference. "I think this assignment helped bring out the best in people and helped us see how much need is out there," she says.
Kimberly decides to give the gift of relaxation to people undergoing chemotherapy at the Moffitt Cancer Center in the Tampa, Florida, area, and she quickly goes on an iPod shuffle shopping spree! Kimberly spends $900 on 10 iPod shuffles and another $100 on relaxing CDs to load onto the music players.
Kimberly says the challenge helps her come "full circle" not only with her experience, but also with a family loss. Just a year ago, her father-in-law visited Moffitt once before passing away from a complication. "It's giving me some closure," she says.
On the day of the giveaway, local television stations and newspapers flock to the clinic to cover the big event. The clinic operations manager says this small gesture can make a big difference for her patients, some of whom undergo six hours of treatment at a time.
The patients are touched by Kimberly's gesture. "I thought, 'Well, what a great idea,'" one woman tells Kimberly. "Of course, I didn't realize that you had cancer and all. But just to think of us out here, that's wonderful."
At the end of the day, Kimberly is ready for more! "I intend to do this every year at the holidays and keep that experience fresh and alive in my home," she says. "It's been fantastic."
For the second part of her challenge, Francesca chose a project close to her heart. When Francesca was on a trip in Kenya, she saw firsthand the hardships that some people go through in order to get water to survive. "In these small villages where there was just no electricity, no running water, people walk miles daily to try and get water from these small water holes—it's just mud basically," Francesca says.
With help from her mother Ana Santa Ana and friend Laura Mullins—who each contributed her $1,000 challenge money to the cause—Francesca was inspired to make a difference for the villages in Africa—and did she ever! Francesca raised $12,225 for the charity Kids for the Kingdom, a group that helps build wells in Kenyan villages. A representative of the charity told Francesca that each well they build can provide water for a few thousand people!
"I'm just so honored to be a part of this very cool movement," Francesca says. "And I'm just so thankful that I was able to get this thousand dollars to start a movement."
Diane met Phyllis Jones of the Helping Hands, Healing Hearts organization at her church. Phyllis, a mother of three, who has adopted an additional six children and is the legal guardian to another, started the charity in 1999 when she realized the great need foster children have for clothing and other items. "It's taking clothes that someone can't use anymore or [if they] don't have anyone to pass it down to, to pass it down to a foster child," Phyllis says.
In addition to providing clothes, Phyllis's organization also throws a Christmas party every year for children in foster care. This year, Phyllis is expecting about 1,000 children, and her goal is to give each child at least 10 gifts.
To raise additional money for Helping Hands, Healing Hearts, Diane started an e-mail chain asking for donations. Her goal was to match the $1,000 from the Oprah's Pay It Forward Challenge.
"It's almost like I'm on a kindness high or something, because I've been calling my friends like, 'Oh my gosh. This is so exciting.' I'm getting checks to give to Phyllis to help her out with her cause, and she is an amazing woman," Diane says.
Through her efforts, Diane was able to present Phyllis with a check for an additional $3,500! "I highly recommend that everybody go out and do random acts of kindness and just do good things for people," Diane says. "The world would be such a different place, and what a wonderful feeling you'll have every day."
In honor of her mother, Connie decided to give her $1,000 Bank of America gift card to Kairos Dwelling, a non-profit hospice center in Kalamazoo, Michigan. All services at Kairos are free of charge, and the center has become a model for others throughout the country.
Connie tours the four-bedroom facility and meets with Kairos Dwelling Director Sue Shaw. "It's a community that cares for one another and it's a family, and we just are here to support our family and to support each other through the dying process," Sue says. "It's really truly a celebration of life at Kairos."
Through Neighbors Link organization director Carola Otero Bracco, Hope and Wendi heard about Friday night dinners—a time for families to socialize while having a meal together. Following dinner, parents participate in workshops and a children's Head Start program. Inspired by the program, Hope and Wendi sent an e-mail to friends asking for donations of books and crafts for the children's area. In just two short days, they had enough donations to fill two SUVs!
Hope and Wendi also gave the program a $200 gift card to Staples for office supplies and another $200 gift card to Target for paper goods. They also donated $600 to send one of the Neighbors Link volunteers to computer training.
They were so inspired by the tireless commitment shown by Carola and job bank manager Louisa that they wanted to surprise them with something special. Armed with donations from local businesses, they presented the women with a shopping spree at a clothing boutique, a makeover and hairstyling from two salons, and dinner for two!
Since opening in 1997, the shelter, a non-profit organization that provides a safe haven for domestic abuse survivors, has averaged between 103 and 165 residents per year. Executive director CarlLa Horton told Hope and Wendi the shelter was having trouble finding funds to finish a remodeling project to fix the wear and tear on the home. To help relieve the financial burden of the remodel, Hope and Wendi decided to throw a kick-off party for the shelter's "Adopt-a-Room" project. People from all over the community were invited to come and show their support. They even got a letter from their Chappaqua neighbor Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton on the eve of Election Day!
The response to their invitation was beyond their wildest dreams. Friends came up with pledges of money, time and materials to help remodel the shelter, and Hope and Wendi were once again struck by the generosity of their community. So far, their efforts have raised over $20,000 for the "Adopt-a-Room" project.
With the money they had left, Hope and Wendi surprised a few deserving people in their town. An employee of the Chappaqua Market who always had a smile and a kind word for them received a gift certificate for a manicure, as did a friendly woman at the pharmacy. And finally, the ladies treated the hard-working men of the Chappaqua Fire Department to some well-deserved pizza!
Libby's first step was getting Chris Parlet and the IAMS Corporation involved. Through the IAMS Friends for Life Fund, they challenged people in the community to match Libby's donation to help animals in need. Libby spread her story through interviews with local TV and radio stations, hoping to triple her donation.
Staff members at all three shelters welcomed the donations, saying that the money would go a long way to help their animals. "It provides over 2,000 meals for the pets we have here [and] up to 200 spays and neuters. We are just so happy to receive this donation," Mark Krumpf, director of the Montgomery County Animal Resource Center says.
Libby says that gratitude expressed by the shelter employees was overwhelming. "They came up to me and kept thanking me and thanking me. I felt like I couldn't really accept their thanks because it wasn't really my money. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time." And spending all that time in the shelters led to another development for Libby—a brand-new puppy!
Tanya, Britney and Christy surprised the family with dinner, but that wasn't all! The even bigger surprise was the $1,000 gift card for the family to use any way that they needed. The grandmother was overwhelmed. "There's just not enough words in the English language to even explain what it means to us, because of all the love and the kindness that's been shown to us," she said.
The grandchildren had a message of their own—"Thank you, Oprah!"
First, Karen donates $500 to RoseAnn Gunther of the Genesis Program for Aid to Chad, Africa. "I believe service begins with our family then our neighbors, the community, state, nation and the world. The world is last, but I firmly believe if we all make some type of contribution we can cover all the bases and bless the world, too," RoseAnn says.
Karen then focused on Greg and Holly Richardson, who, in addition to their own children, have adopted children from several different countries around the world—including some kids with special needs. Karen presents the family with a check for $300 for Christmas presents. She also gives them a Thanksgiving dinner, a basket of baked goods and a free dinner at a local pizza restaurant—but that's not all! Karen got the whole family year-round passes to Thanksgiving Point, a family-friendly gathering spot that has gardens, a museum, a movie theater and other attractions.
For her next good deed, Karen uses donations from community members and a local business to help remodel a bathroom for Vasanti Dusara. Vasanti helps with the day-to-day care of her two adult children—both of whom are physically disabled. Karen presents the family with bathroom accessories, $200 for Christmas presents, prepared dinners and other items. "Thanks very much, Oprah. We really appreciate whatever you have done and everything you have done for all those needy people," Vasanti says.
To complete her challenge, Karen surprises 83-year-old Bertha Davidson. Bertha suffers from scoliosis, so to help keep her mobile, Karen gets a stair lift donated by a local medical supply store. The lift will help Bertha get up and down the stairs in her condo. Karen then gives Utah Jazz basketball tickets and year-round passes to gathering spot Thanksgiving Point to the family of a teenage boy suffering from leukemia.
Karen says those she helped during Oprah's Pay It Forward Challenge remind her of her mother's care of her father, who has encephalitis, and her sister, who has cerebral palsy. "This was a perfect opportunity for us to help other people in those very same situations, and I appreciate the opportunity a great deal," Karen says.
Delores then goes to a Salvation Army shelter parking lot and approaches a woman leaving the building. The woman, who suffers from arthritis and is the mother of 13-year-old twins, tells Delores she is struggling to get by while working a part-time job. Her hope is to find full-time work so she can take better care of her family. To help her on her journey, Delores gives the woman a $600 gift card to Meijer.
"I know she was very appreciative of it, and I really feel that this day made a great impact on her life. I hope that's the beginning of something brand new for her," Delores says.
Jana continues her challenge by doing random acts of kindness for complete strangers. She buys flowers and puts them on the doorsteps of an apartment complex for senior citizens. "They're not going to know who they're from, but hopefully it will brighten up someone's day," Jana says.
With her husband's help, Jana gives food to a homeless man named William, who was standing outside holding a sign asking for help. William says he has been on the streets for 30 years, and he was grateful for the food. "God bless you, lovely lady, and may God be with you. Happy holidays," William says.
Jana then gives groceries and a $50 gift card to Wal-Mart to an elderly woman. "I appreciate this. I was wondering what I'm going to do next week," the woman says. Jana then knocks on a random apartment door and gives another woman the same surprise. To complete her challenge, Jana and her husband give a woman $200 towards a car.
"It's an experience that is once in a lifetime that I have learned so much from. And as the time went and I helped people throughout this whole week, it just gave me a good feeling inside knowing I was able to help others," Jana says.
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