The Pay It Forward Challenge
An arsonist set fire to several houses in Tylertown, including the home that Daphne Maxwell shares with her young daughter. Luckily, no one was home at the time, but Daphne lost everything except the clothes in her washing machine. With no renters’ insurance, Daphne, who works at Wal-Mart, isn't sure how she will recover what she lost.
Along with the sister's $2,000, Pattie works with local businesses to help Daphne get back on her feet. The McComb Market donates $100 to help restock Daphne's pantry, and Lot Furniture contributes $150 for new furnishings. Pattie's friend, who owns a house across the street from Daphne, offers it to her until she's able to find a new place.
"As a single mom, I know there have been times that I didn’t know how I would make it through some difficult periods," Jennifer says. "So in return, I’m grateful to have the chance to help someone in need."
Roxanne learns about the Martinez family, who lost their home and all their possessions during Hurricane Isabel. After the hurricane, Yadaly Martinez (who was pregnant at the time), her husband and their young son had to move three times in a year—from her in-laws’ home to a townhome and finally to their current apartment.
The Martinez family is still struggling to get back on their feet, and Yadaly says that the $1,000 will be a great help. The first thing she plans to do is give her children a wonderful Christmas, "because we’ve had Christmases that have been bad," she says.
The project is sponsored by Samaritan's Purse, an evangelical organization led by Franklin Graham. In addition to toys, each box contains a pamphlet from Graham's ministry. According to their website, the group sent more than 7.9 million boxes to children in 95 countries last year alone!
With their $1,000 in hand, Suzanne and Destiny buy enough toys and supplies for 40 boxes—double what the 12 Brownies had planned to pack. Suzanne's sister donates most of the shoe boxes. "I figure the kids need the shoe boxes more than my shoes need a home," she jokes.
Suzanne is pleased with the results. "I feel that in some small way, I have touched the next generation. … Perhaps the boxes will reach the next Nobel Peace Prize winner or breakthrough scientist or doctor."
"[As] pediatricians, we do a lot of … parent education and we talk about how important it is to safeguard their kids so that they don't fall, so that they don't get poisoned, so that they will use their car seat," says Dr. Mariana Glusman, a clinic physician. "And to me, it's a crucial part of pediatrics, talking about reading. Because this is something that's going to affect them in their lives."
Allison's enthusiasm for the project spreads to her friends. Her sorority joins in to volunteer at the clinic, and the bookstore where Allison purchased books for the waiting room matches her contribution!
"It goes to show that giving is contagious, and amazing things can happen when people unite for a cause bigger than themselves, and that's awesome," Allison says.
Candis and Chiquita also give $500 to the Hattillo Theater, a black performing arts center, to use for renovations and equipment. They give another $500 to the Memphis Business Academy for educational materials. The last $500 is given to strangers to pay for utilities, groceries, books and a meal at a restaurant.
"We feel those simple acts of kindness will ignite the heart, mind and soul of the recipients, touching the lives of many through giving," say Chiquita and Candis.
"As soon as we entered the building and saw those kids' faces, I knew it was the right thing to do," Karen says.
"I loved seeing kids have fun reading and learning and playing," Cara says. "It made me feel like I helped not only the children, but the future of the community!"
Blaine is expecting a girl and Stephanie has a six-month-old boy, Dane. Neither is married and both want to continue their education. Jamie and Peggy pool their challenge money and raise additional community funds, enough to give each woman $2,500 for tuition, living expenses and things they need for their children!
"From the get-go, my mom and I talked about what we were going to do with our money and … we both agreed that, with me being in college, that we wanted to do something to do with education." Jamie says. "We decided … we're going to help out other individuals who are struggling or who have never had the opportunity to go to school."
She gives her remaining $500 to Chick, a remarkable woman who makes and sells cookbooks to fund a scholarship for student nurses. Chick—who is paralyzed from the neck down—writes her cookbooks on a computer, working the keyboard with her left cheek. Despite her limitations, Chick also sponsors an annual Christmas party to raise money for a women's shelter.
Chick's mother wants to use the money to buy a new coat for Chick and groceries for the family and the women's shelter. 'It'd be nice to have a nice dinner for Thanksgiving this year," she says.
"I could never imagine having $1,000 to give away or even $100," Jennifer says. "I felt so content and peaceful after I gave."
The Cary, Illinois, mother of two starts by helping a man named Joseph build his house through Habitat for Humanity. She helps with the house and gives Joseph a gift card for furnishings. Next, she donates blankets, pillows, a DVD player and movies to a local organization that helps the homeless. She then pays for driving lessons for Jacyln, a single mother who needs a driver's license to get a better job. Joy then sends care packages to soldiers serving in Iraq, and finally, she donates toys to Friendship House, an Illinois day care center. She also buys spa treatments for the director and a mother who sends her kids there.
Helping the homeless shelter is especially meaningful for Joy. "I think about it all the time, when the wind is blowing hard against my windows I wonder if everyone found shelter," she says. "When I'm walking through the grocery store, I can’t believe how blessed I am to be able to walk through the aisles and pick out whatever I want."
Matt Burrell, director of the shelter, says, "This is a wonderful, wonderful day for us and we're so happy. We try to affect people in a positive way, in every way, shape or form when it comes to poverty, and it all begins with a really, really good night's sleep."
For their second project, the Colemans help Portia, an elderly woman who recently lost her husband and daughter. She has no furniture in her apartment except a TV and a worn, second-hand couch. That's where Sherman and Amy step in! They fill her apartment with new furniture, clothes and even a purse, "'cause you got to have a new purse," Amy says. Portia's reaction to all her gifts was rewarding as well. "Portia kept going in the rooms as if it wasn't real and she was making sure it was still there."
The first is a couple she finds shopping in Wal-Mart. Andrea and Darren are expecting a baby boy. They already know their son will be born with a kidney problem. When Sheila finds them, they are shopping for a car seat. To help make the transition to parenthood a little easier, Sheila buys two carts full of things for the baby.
"It was fun," Andrea says after her shopping spree, adding that she was shocked to be "picked for a random act of kindness."
Sheila also helps Felicia, a single mother raising four daughters. She gives Felicia $500 to help pay for a new car.
"My experiences were great but also somewhat emotional, draining," Sheila says. "I feel like this exciting exercise was not only a life-changing thing for people I touched, but a life-changing event for me. When you pay it forward, you don't realize that you are giving a part of yourself as much as you're giving a part of the money."
They arrange to meet about a dozen needy families at a grocery store in Bettendorf, Iowa. Not knowing what to expect, the families are told to go to the store and look for three women wearing bright green shirts. Little do they know what's in store for them! Each family is told to fill their cart with groceries—all for free. When some people come back with half-full carts, they are sent back to shop for more.
"So many times I have had to put things back because we couldn't afford the entire amount," a man with a handicapped son confides to Amy. "It was so wonderful to say, 'Not today—go get what you need and then some,'" she says.
Susan gets her daughters in on the act, enlisting their Brownie troop to help carry the bagged groceries out to cars.
"It made me realize I could do more on a weekly basis," Marcella says.
After completing the challenge, Amy says every Monday the women plan to wear their bright green shirts with "Quad Cities Pay It Forward Challenge" printed on them "to challenge ourselves and others in our community to pay it forward and perform random acts of kindness."
"It is my hope that those second-graders will benefit from this for years to come," Laurie says.
Laurie gives a spa package, a dinner certificate and a Target gift card to a Lansing, Michigan, couple with three children, including two who have survived cancer. The mother plans to use the gift card to buy music for cancer patients. Laurie uses her remaining money to purchase groceries for people she meets at random in a grocery store. The store then chips in another $100 gift card, which Laurie gives to a woman who donates it to a food bank.
"My absolute favorite part of this whole thing was … the journals, " Laurie says. "Knowing that those kids are going to be able to write something once a week, that they have done for someone else or someone else has done for them … and to know that they are going to be thinking about nice things to do for each other, an entire class, and hopefully that will continue to go on."
Then Sandy and some of the club's staff take a group of kids to Target for a shopping spree. They happily stock up on board games, video games, movies and art supplies, plus a new rug and a Ping-Pong table to complete the club's teen room. "It was like Christmas times 100 for them," Sandy says.
"Paying it forward" has an added meaning for Sandy, whose husband passed away suddenly in 2005, leaving her with three children. "The outpouring of support that I received from family, friends and co-workers was unbelievable," she says. "I truly believe what comes around, goes around; and the more you give, the more you receive."
To their astonishment, they find that there are more than 1,800 homeless children in the Charlotte- Mecklenburg School system. Through social service agencies, they identify two families with children who need homes: Wanda, a single mother, and her fourth-grade son Damion—who were living in a van —and single father Karaja Earl,and his third-grade daughter Tanisha, who were staying with a friend.
Mare and her friends Nancy Carlton, Brenda Clough and Kelly Young start with $4,000 in challenge money and then raise another $1,000. But, that isn't all. They are able to get a matching donation, which brings their grand total to $10,000!
The money is enough to lease an apartment for each family for a year. Friends, neighbors and local stores also donate household supplies and groceries to welcome them to their new home.
Tanisha "jumped up and down when she saw her own room!" Nancy says. "Damion was quiet but had already invited seven friends to spend the night next weekend."
"This is like hitting the lotto," Karaja Earl says. "Just to be able to get up and see [Tanisha] smiling … man, thank ya'll."
"At first I don't think the guys thought I was serious," Steve says, adding that despite a language barrier he was able to explain to them what he was doing. "It was really exciting for me to be able to show the two guys my appreciation for them always being nice, pleasant and respectful every time I come in."
Steve had attended The Oprah Winfrey Show with his wife, Tanya.
Soon after, Tanya is talking with her aunt on the phone while she's driving in the car. Her aunt—who teaches at a local university—is telling her about one of her students, a single mother of four who is struggling to finish her degree in Spanish education while supporting her family. Just then, something strikes the car on the driver's side. Tanya doesn't know what it is and it doesn't harm her or the car, but she takes that as her sign and sets out to find the student her aunt was talking about when the incident occurred.
The student, Samantha, is overjoyed when she is presented with a $1,000 gift card in front of her classmates. "This card is truly a blessing, and it will certainly help me be able to support my children and certainly help me further my education," she says, thanking Tanya for selecting her for the challenge.
They start by helping another co-worker, Linda, pay her medical bills. Linda's husband died, leaving her to raise a high school daughter on her own. Tracy and Diane pay for half the bills and her doctor writes off the rest for a total of $1,300 in bills.
Next, the women buy 60 books for the Kohl's Cares for Kids campaign. Kohl's donates an additional 175 books to benefit children in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, and Chicago. The remainder of the money goes to a dog rescue organization, a Chicago school for a self-esteem program and A-OK, Acts of Kindness, an organization that matches student volunteers with senior citizens who need help with home fix-up projects.
"I felt empowerment and exhilaration after each act of Pay It Forward," Tracy says.
Diane doesn't expect any of the recipients to remember her name, "as long as they remember what I did. May my good deed lead to another, and may that good deed lead to another. Let the chain continue and maybe, just maybe, this world will be a little bit brighter."
During high school, Felicia Cilibrasi worked at the Ronald McDonald House, which hosts families of seriously ill children receiving treatments at nearby hospitals. Felicia and her parents, Arline and Bob Kramer, plan to poll their money and spend $1,000 each on calling cards for residents, a housing hardship fund and a lactation room for nursing mothers.
Lynelle Rennis, a weekend manager at the house, had stayed with her baby Maxwell at the Ronald McDonald House during his too brief, one-month life. The lactation room was her dream made true through the Kramers.
Inspired by the family's efforts and wanting to help the organization even more, local businesses and individuals give cash and in-kind donations topping $55,000, at last count.
"Our family is so grateful for the opportunity to touch so many lives," Arline says. "My heart is no longer beating, it's singing and it's not likely to stop anytime soon!"
She buys and delivers $700 worth of office supplies for the resource center that residents use to find jobs. The remainder goes for housing and food expenses for the shelters that Faith Mission runs.
"It's fun to do something out of the ordinary and extravagant," Lisa says. "I pray that the people who benefit from the supplies I delivered are able to pay it forward themselves someday."
During his challenge, one of the staff members tells Kevin the shelter is in need of male role models—and Kevin decides to help out!
"I feel the children deserve a lot more than the $2,000 I have donated. It's opened my eyes to realize that just because my life is fine right now that there is someone else in need. It has made me realize that there is a lot more than can be done, and I plan on devoting my weekends volunteering at Jonathan's Place."
Pam, who works at the University of Wisconsin in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, invites the students to begin their evening of trick-or-treating at her office. The students arrive in Halloween costumes not knowing what to expect. Pam presents them with $1,000 and they are overwhelmed!
Two of the students plan to build a house to shelter Kenyans seeking medical treatment far from home. The other students will be caring for some 500 AIDS orphans and bringing books and equipment for a nurse-training facility in Kenya near the Ugandan border.
"The nursing students I gave the money to were so surprised and so grateful," Pam says. "I'm sure it will be a life-changing experience for them to do their mission work in Kenya, and for me, I know there are so many more people I can help in the future. What a fun challenge!"
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