Paying It Forward
In October 2006, Oprah gave more than 300 audience members the opportunity to experience what she calls "truly the best gift"...the gift of giving back. During Oprah's favorite giveaway ever, each person in the audience received $1,000 to donate to a charitable cause of their choice.
With only one week to fulfill the challenge, these amazing men and women hit the ground running. Armed with Bank of America debit cards and Sony DVD Handycams, which they used to document their good deeds, the audience members started making headlines from Connecticut to California. What began as a simple idea quickly snowballed into a national movement!
For seven days, kindness swept the nation and Americans "passed it on" to perfect strangers, people in need and even a few four-legged friends. "We hope what started right here in our studios has only just begun," Oprah says.
When some audience members left the studio, they knew exactly how to spend their money. Minnie Scheidt of Centralia, Illinois, was not one of them. Minnie says she had no idea what to do with her debit card until she returned home. Through a friend, she heard about John Newcomb, a father of nine suffering from a deadly brain tumor.
Watch Minnie's mission from start to finish.
John, the sole provider for his family, has a neurological disease that causes part of his brain to soften. "He is really disabled at this point," Minnie says. "I wanted to be able to help them. I know that this [money] will be put to good use."
Determined to make a difference, Minnie enlisted the help of friends and strangers, who were anxious to get in on the giving game. Her community opened their hearts, and in just three days, Minnie's $1,000 multiplied.
With the help of the entire town, Minnie raised more than $70,000 for the Newcomb family! The money will help buy groceries for the family, pay off John's mounting hospital bills and send his oldest son to college
Carol, John's wife, says that thanks to the community's donations, the family was able to save their home from foreclosure. "You came into our lives when we didn't know what we were going to do," she tells Minnie. "I just can't thank you enough."
John, who says his health is improving, is also overwhelmed by her kindness. "[Minnie] is amazing," he says
Instead of relaxing on the beach, Megan used her spare time to visit the Kapi'olani Medical Center, which is home to many sick children. Many parents of these children can't visit very often because they live on neighboring islands and can't afford flights to Honolulu, Megan says.
Megan took action and went to the airport to purchase four tickets for heartsick mothers and fathers. Then, Go! Airlines surprised her by donating 40 additional tickets on the spot!
Back at the hospital, Megan made sure the tickets got into the right hands and donated two video phones so that parents could check up on their children from home.
Ruth, a 5-year-old patient at Kapi'olani, received three of Megan's plane tickets. Thanks to these unexpected gifts, her father, brother and sister were able to visit her on Thanksgiving. "It makes me really happy to have my whole family together," she writes. "Thanks for making that happen."
Abbie, a first grade teacher at Liberty Elementary School in Pittsburgh, says new shoes are a luxury for many of her students. To help these children take a step in the right direction, Abbie and Claudette decided to buy new sneakers for all 425 students. They enlisted the help of Abbie's sister, who works in a shoe store, and before they knew it, the store had matched their donation!
When Merrell footwear heard about Abbie and Claudette's mission, the company decided to donate all 425 pairs! "I love my shoes, Oprah, and I love you," one little girl says.
To teach her students about helping others, Abbie came up with another great idea. In less than a week, she organized a walk-a-thon to raise money for the local children's hospital. Abbie, Claudette and the students of Liberty Elementary raised more than $63,000.
When Kasey Osborne and Kristy O'Connor returned home from Chicago, they joined forces to help women in need. The sisters decided to adopt a local shelter called My Sister's House, which is a safe haven for battered women and children. "It's just a great place for women to be who are looking for a new chance of life," Kristy says.
Kristy took a week off work to focus on Oprah's challenge, and Kasey made non-stop phone calls to local businesses. Donations began flooding in. The sisters received diapers, formula, backpacks, school supplies, blankets, bibs...everything a baby could need, Kasey says.
Watch how Kasey and Kristy multiplied their money.
These resourceful sisters even hit the radio airwaves and pulled on the heartstrings of major corporations like Home Depot, Target, Pottery Barn, IKEA and Kroger grocery stores. Shoppers at local Kroger stores could tell cashiers that they wanted to "pay it forward," and their grocery bill would be rounded up to the nearest dollar. The money raised would be donated to My Sister's House at the end of the week.
In the end, even Kasey and Kristy were stunned by the final tally.
To this day, the sisters continue to receive generous contributions from people who want to help. Recently, someone donated an 18-wheeler full of items for the shelter.
LaQuesha Agnew works at My Sister's House and says that the shelter is getting so many donations that they've run out of storage! "It's just overwhelming," she says.
My Sister's House plans to distribute the donated items to deserving mothers, and use the money to improve counseling services, Lequesha says.
With support from the Denver Center for Crime Victims, Heather says she was able to move forward with her life. The moment Heather received $1,000 from Oprah, she knew she wanted to give back to the people who showed her such kindness 13 years ago.
After the show, Heather reached out to the Denver Center for Crime Victims. That's when she heard the story of Martha Clark, a woman whose boyfriend shot her in the face at point blank range.
For three years, Martha says she put up with constant abuse from her boyfriend, Thomas McBride. Then, on Christmas Eve in 2005, he walked into her bedroom, put a shotgun to her face and pulled the trigger. He was sentenced to 48 years in jail for first-degree attempted murder.
Finally, Heather was ready to meet Martha and surprise her with a check for $2,600, which will help pay for the reconstructive surgeries she needs to rebuild her smile.
"You will never know how much this means to me," Martha says. "I'm just so blessed that you picked me and thought of me."
Heather says that completing Oprah's Pay It Forward Challenge has helped her feel whole again. "I didn't realize I had anything missing," she says. "It was through the help of strangers 13 years ago that helped me heal. To this day, I am amazed by the kindness of strangers."
Through their local YWCA, the family heard about Rashawnda, a single mother of four in desperate need of a car. For three years, Rashawnda has been taking the bus while attempting to juggle work and the hectic schedules of her children.
With their $4,000 dollars in hand, and an unbelievable deal from a local car dealership, the family was able to purchase Rashawnda a new car! And, since they got such a good price, the family was also able to provide Rashawnda with six months of car insurance.
Watch Rashawnda's emotional reaction.
Rashawnda says she used to ride the bus two hours every day to get to work, but thanks to the kindness of strangers, now she only has to drive 15 minutes!
When Nicole Seitz of Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, heard about Anikia, a single mother of five, she knew she had to do something to help.
Anikia and her family were struggling to get by and living in roach-infested government housing. With barely any food or furniture in their home, life had been difficult. Anikia's 2-year-old twins slept on old mattresses on the floor, and her son Montel slept in a drafty room with a broken window. Roaches were constantly crawling all over their kitchen. "I just knew as soon as I heard about this family that this is what I was charged to do," Nicole says.
Determined to make a difference, Nicole got to work. She spent hours on the phone rallying to get furniture, exterminators and repair men to Anikia's apartment. And she came through! Volunteers arrived with beds, dressers, tables, clothes, bed linens and books. They even cleaned the house and fixed the broken window.
To help provide for their future, Nicole set up education funds for all five children. The local children's museum and aquarium even provided one year memberships so the family can spend quality time together. Perhaps the most important present was a gift certificate from Project Literacy so Anikia can get her GED!
"I'm never going to be the same after this," Nicole says. "We're hoping it will change their lives."
Anikia says the positive changes have already begun! "[Nicole] has made me feel like a brand new person," she says.
The boys of the Colmer Middle School basketball team were in desperate need of cheering up—and they needed new shoes, too! Anthony decided to help out. But, before giving them the good news, he couldn't resist pulling a little practical joke. "The great thing about this is, the boys think they're in trouble. So, we're going to let the superintendent kind of bluff them a little bit," Anthony says. "They are scared!"
To set the scene, Superintendent Wayne Rodolfich invited the boys—and their parents—to a "disciplinary meeting." With the boys lined up and waiting for possible punishment, Superintendent Rodolfich questioned them about their "horsing around." Thankfully, he didn't keep the charade up for long!
"Actually you're not in trouble," Anthony told them. "Each and every one of you will get your basketball shoes today at no cost to you or your families!"
Growing up, Alferd was the oldest of nine brothers and sisters. So, when his father became ill, it was up to him to stay home and take care of his family—leaving his dream of an education behind.
After decades of not being able to read, 68-year-old Alferd decided it was finally time to make up for the education he lost. He reached out to Alesia and asked her for help. At first, Alesia was hesitant, thinking Alferd was too old to go back to school. "I think he knew about five words, he could just barely read his name," Alesia says.
After six months of hard work and determination, Alferd was soaring. He is now reading at a first grade level and is even an honorary student in Alesia's classroom. "He's just grown into this great reader," Alesia says. "Every day he's coming to school with us." Alferd loves reading so much that he walks eight blocks every day to visit the library!
With Tiffany's help, Alesia has a big surprise for Alferd—a huge box of books! "Look at all the books," Alferd says. "Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!"
Thanks to Tiffany and Alesia, Alferd says his mother's prayer that he would go to school has finally been answered.
With the holidays fast approaching, Oprah hopes that everyone watching the Pay It Forward Challenge will be energized to spread good cheer this season.
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