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Women's Circle Pays it Forward

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Who can resist a challenge? Certainly not the Women’s Circle in Sandpoint, who met one week in December, and watched the Oprah Winfrey Show on TV. Oprah informed her studio audience that she was issuing them a challenge to pay-it-forward. She gave them each a $1,000 credit card and told them it couldn’t be spent on themselves or their family, but must be used to help a stranger. She asked them to film or photograph their deeds and get back to her in a week. Over 300 people spilled out of her studio, their minds racing with the possibilities. What could they do with $1,000? Who could they help?

By the end of the week stories came pouring in on how these people found ways to help others. They bought used cars, bus tickets for people who rely on public transit, and made repairs to rundown homes of people who couldn’t afford it. Some used the money for marketing strategies to raise more money for their cause. Two sisters managed to get in the papers, on local television and radio to help a battered women’s shelter in Chicago, and raised over $200,000 in cash and donations - which overwhelmed the shelter, so they paid-it-forward to other shelters in town. 

But it didn’t stop there. People all over the nation were inspired by the pay-it-forward phenomenon, and started projects in their own towns. This is what happened to the Sandpoint Women’s Circle, who’ve been meeting every week for over 15 years. Each week they put their spare change in a big jar, and when it’s full they choose a worthy cause and donate to it.

“We’ve donated to different local charities,” said Lois Miller, a long time member of the group. “It doesn’t always amount to much, but this time we had a hundred dollars. During Circle one day we watched Oprah’s pay-it-forward show, and we were so inspired by what some of those people did that we decided to pay-it-forward with our little one hundred dollars.”

They chose to help Panhandle Special Needs, Inc., a rundown building where mentally and physically handicapped people are taught life skills. 

“It’s our goal to see the old building on North Boyer have a complete make-over, which is sorely needed,” said Miller. The ladies’ vision includes an updated kitchen, new bathrooms, new carpeting, and many other improvements. “All of this will make PSNI nice and warm and comfortable, instead of that old machine shop they’re in,” she adds.

The ladies put their plan into action by writing letters, making phone calls and letting the public know what they were doing, with articles in the paper. The community has stepped up and in only two months has given $10,000 and volunteered thousands more in plumbing supplies, labor, lumber, carpeting and architect services. 

“One man came in with a crock full of loose change,” said Miller. “My husband counted, and packaged it, and it came to $555.26, and the guy just came in and handed it over.”

“We’re really jazzed. We’re all grandmas and great-grandmas. I mean, we’re no spring chickens,” she laughed. “People aren’t really aware of all Panhandle Special Needs does.” 

The generosity has been heartwarming, not only for the ladies who started this movement, but to the people who frequent PSNI, and work there as well. Rosemary Gwaltney of Sandpoint believes the life skills training at PSNI has made all the difference for her adult son, J.D. “If it weren’t for PSNI, he wouldn’t be able to live in his little apartment, learn to cook his own food, and work on learning to budget his money,” said Gwaltney. “He can’t read or measure, so learning to cook is a particular challenge. Budgeting is something that he may never be able to grasp very well, and learning these things will take years. Even so, PSNI is giving him every chance to be able to master them some day.”

If you’d like to help the Women’s Circle help Panhandle Special Needs, you can donate time, money or materials. Please contact Panhandle Special Needs, Inc. at 208-263-7022. Donations can be made out to Panhandle Special Needs and write “Pay-it-Forward” in the memo section so it goes to the correct account. Mail to: 

Panhandle Special Needs, Inc.

c/o Pay-it-Forward

1424 N. Boyer Ave.

Sandpoint, ID 83864

Our Challenge to You:

Do you belong to an organization that might like to start a pay-it-forward project, or are you a person who wants to do something nice for someone? Do you have money, skills, materials or time that could make someone else’s life a little easier? There are so many ways, and you don’t have to have a single penny to make some of them work. 

Do you know someone who never leaves their home because they have a live-in parent or disabled person to care for? You can offer to sit at their house while they enjoy a day or afternoon away. 

Do you know an elderly woman who might like her hair done? Buy her a gift certificate or, if you have skills, she might enjoy the visit while you fix her hair for her. Shovel snow from someone’s sidewalk, or walk into a café and anonymously pay for somebody’s lunch. The possibilities are endless and we want to know what ideas you have. 

Here it is Sandpoint, the challenge. What are you going to do? Whatever it is, email me with the details and how your gift was received, if you were around to get a reaction. If you were a person on the receiving end of our pay-it-forward challenge, let me know what it meant to you. We’ll publish some of the most innovative and most simple ideas. I can’t wait to hear what you do! E-mail your good deeds to Sherry at [email protected]


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Cassandra Cridland

Tagged as:

Sandypoint, Lois Miller, Oprah, Pay-it-Forward, Panhandle Special Needs, Rosemary Gwaltney, Sandpoint Women's Circle

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