Pay It Forward


From left: Jenny Rubinstein '13, Max Van Norman '15, A.B. Farrelly '14, Julie Gardner-Hoag '14 present gifts to the Inland Empire Residential Center

Students from the Women's and Gender Studies course "Oprah: The Woman, The Empire" brightened the days of Redlands boys at the Inland Empire Residential Center April 18. The students completed a "Pay it Forward" challenge and raised $2,000 for the IERC, a home environment for at-risk boys between the ages of 6 and 17.

"Our class finished what we set out to finish," said Denise Davis, assistant director of the Johnston Center. "The students were so proud." 

The class hosted a party for the boys and bought a ping-pong table, six bicycles and other outdoor equipment. The final project idea was inspired by an episode of Oprah's show where each audience member was given $1,000 with instructions to donate the money to a cause of their choice.

During the semester the interdisciplinary course on the cultural icon Oprah Winfrey focused on humanitarianism and community service, taking lessons from "Oprah's Angel Network" and her other philanthropic endeavors. The class also explored Oprah’s impact on race relations, religion, business and female empowerment. The "Pay it Forward" challenge was the ongoing assignment on which the students focused during and between class sessions.

"It was their final exam," Davis said. "Everyone in the class participated in various ways to raise the money; dorm storming, using social media, asking friends ..." After deliberating, the class selected the IERC, a popular destination for community service by University of Redlands fraternities.

"After we presented the ping-pong table, in typical Oprah fashion we had the students dramatically ride out into the back yard on the bikes," Davis said.

"For a solid 30 seconds the boys were speechless," said class member Keely Moore '14. "It was an awesome experience."

In the last class session before visiting the boys, the students viewed the final broadcast of "The Oprah Winfrey Show," a reflective episode looking back on the 25 years the show appeared on television.

"What Oprah learned was that people have a common thread of needing to feel worthy," Davis said. "How do you live your best life, and how do you use your life? The students in this class took the concept posed by that question and really ran with it."

"There was one boy who asked us why we did this and how he could repay us," Kelsie McGee '13 said. "I told him, 'this is the Pay it Forward project ... why don't you pay it forward to someone else?' "

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