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Woman's Christmas mission - Pay it forward

December 08, 2006|by JANET HEIM

This year has had its ups and downs for Michelle Vinson.

Her husband, Dave, was hospitalized for what doctors thought might be a life-threatening illness, then her 35-year-old brother committed suicide.

Vinson, who lives on Northridge Drive in Hagerstown, was so immobilized by her brother's death, she was unable to get out of bed.

At her lowest point, Vinson said, it was her daily Bible reading that inspired her to pick up and go on. She began thinking of ways she could turn her grief into something positive.

Last year, she and her family sponsored a needy family at Christmas, and found it a rewarding experience. They agreed they needed to do more for other people.

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To add to her motivation, her family, which includes a daughter and son who both are in college, also was blessed by an anonymous donor who gave partial scholarships to five Hagerstown Community College students. Her daughter, who now is a student at Shippensburg (Pa.) University, was one of the recipients.

The donor asked only that at some time in the future, the students "pay it forward" by helping someone else.

This Christmas project is one way Vinson's daughter will begin to repay the anonymous donor's gesture.

Then, as Vinson watched a recent "Oprah" detailing how audience members used $1,000 they had been given on a previous show to help others, Vinson had a brainstorm.

She wanted to try the "Pay It Forward" idea in Hagerstown to help more people than she and her family alone could help.

The "Pay It Forward" concept came from a 2000 movie of the same name, where a social studies teacher assigned his students to do three good deeds in the community. The recipients of the kind act then were asked to do something good for another person, in hopes of creating a chain of positive actions that had the potential to be far-reaching.

As Oprah's audience detailed a multitude of ways they used the money for good, Vinson was inspired. She called a local elementary school and got the names of four families who needed financial help providing Christmas for their family.

Using her own money, Vinson took out a back page ad in The Herald-Mail that ran on Nov. 30. Since then, she said, the phone has been ringing off the hook.

Vinson has contacted about a dozen local businesses for help. All have agreed to provide items such as pizzas and haircuts for the families. Donations of toys, clothing, food and money have come in from individuals.

"People have been absolutely fabulous," Vinson said. "I'd like to make this a tradition."

Vinson has been so touched by the response that she hopes to create a "Pay It Forward" group that will help others year-round, when a special need arises. She also said she can't wait to meet the people who have called on the phone.

"I want to be friends with these people," Vinson said. "They all sound wonderful."

She said though most have problems themselves, they are reaching out to help others. She hopes people will "pay it forward" every day with simple gestures, such as walking a neighbor's dog, taking an elderly friend to the grocery store, calling someone on the phone or giving someone a hug.

For those who want to be involved, but don't have the money, Vinson said there are opportunities to help wrap gifts and deliver them. She hopes to wrap gifts on Dec. 16, with delivery on Dec. 21.

For more information, call Vinson at 301-766-7438.

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