One-hundred dollars can do a world of good.
It can buy shoes for needy children; help build a park in Mexico; give an impoverished village in the Philippines a new water buffalo.
In the hands of a U of R student, $100 can do a great deal of good, indeed –especially among those who have participated in one of two projects challenging them to take the money and use it to help others.
They've turned the $100 donation into a pizza party for the homeless, and Thanksgiving meals for more than 10 families. Into hope for a group of soccer players from war-torn Sierra Leone, who are competing in a league for amputees.
For the past two years years, School of Education professor and coordinator Steve Cifelli has quietly been giving each of his students in a counseling theories and techniques class $100— then challenging them.
They must find a way to help at least one non-relative in need with the money.
And this summer, a group of football players took on a similar charge—an anonymous donor pushed the players to take the $100 and grow it to help pay for a larger service project.
An Education in Giving
While teaching at the School of Education's new Orange County campus on an October evening, Cifelli delivered instructions to a new group of aspiring counselors.
"Close your eyes and think about what you can do to help someone,"he encouraged the students. "Think about who you might want to help, how you would help them, and how giving that help might make the world a better place.”
When the six students opened their eyes, they each found a crisp, fresh-from-the-bank $100 bill on the table in front of them.
Some immediately started wiping tears away. Sniffles soon could be heard throughout the room.
And one student, Kathy Williams, sat awestruck, after trying to give the money back to Cifelli.
"I saw the money, and I just didn't think it was real,"said Williams. "This is only the second time I've met him, and here he is trusting me to really do this – to take this money and go out and do something with it.
I've heard about things like this happening on Oprah or in a movie. But for it to happen to me is something I never expected.”
Students were asked to give the money to the needy with only one string attached: A request that the recipient repay the favor one day when their circumstances improve.
Diane Vierra said she already knew exactly what she was going to do with the money: Give it to an elderly neighbor, who had a difficult time making it from month to month.
Student Kheesha Slaughter said she was going to use the money to help students in a tutoring program she oversees.
"These students are always coming to me, asking me to sponsor them in different programs, and to buy different items,"she said, wiping tears from both cheeks before continuing.
"Just today, I was complaining about how they are going to make me broke. There I was complaining, and now I have been blessed. It's just … the best feeling. So amazing, how it's all worked out. I never expected any of this.”
Cifelli's world view – and the message that he most wants to leave with his counseling students – is fairly straightforward: Go out into the world and do good.
"The thing that really excites and energizes me is the idea that if we were all kinder to each other – if we just supported each other and treated each other better – the world would be a much happier place,"Cifelli explained. "For me, that really is the bottom line.”
In the past two years, Cifelli, who won the lottery in 2004, has given 57 students $100, he said.
Cifelli won the California lottery and says he has been carefully managing the money ever since. He supports a variety of causes, including a scholarship program for students interested in pursuing social work, nursing, education and other helping-oriented fields.
He said he hopes his challenge will push aspiring counselors to be on the lookout for the needs around them, and to go out of their ways to meet them. Ultimately, he hopes to inspire a "pay it forward"phenomenon.
"What I'd really love to see out of this is a sort of ripple effect,"Cifelli said, smiling. "It would be exciting to see this thing really catch on, and for other people with the financial means to join in and do similar things. Just think how much good we could do!”
Teacher and counseling student Tyesha Holliman said she thinks the $100 challenge is a good start in advancing the cause of kindness.
Holliman kept the money she got about a year ago in her purse for several months, before she decided to give it to a student whose family couldn't afford to pay for him to go to camp with other students from his class. Holliman knew the mother of the boy, who was an employee at her school.
"When I gave it to the student, he ran to his mother, smiling, and then we all started crying,"Holliman recalled. "I felt like it was my opportunity to rescue her in this one way. Now, I think we are all more aware of the need. We're trying to start a scholarship program for students who don't have the money for camp.”
A Lesson in Growth
Coach Mike Maynard said he jumped at the chance to have his football players participate in a similar but unrelated $100 challenge, where an anonymous donor asked student-athletes to use the cash to generate additional money for a service project.
Most of the students used the $100 as a seed donation before asking family, friends and businesses for additional funds. Some wrote letters to reach more people; some recruited their parents to help raise additional money.
The Bulldogs raised anywhere from about $300 to about $1,500 for their projects.
"It was pretty easy to make the money grow,"said Brenden Barkate, who raised about $300 from family and friends. And with that, he was able to buy about 150 pizzas for homeless people in the Bakersfield area. Care bags filled with granola bars, toothbrushes and other products, were also dolled out.
Maynard said he recognized the project as an opportunity to build character, leadership and a passion for service in his players.
"I knew this was a chance to help teach them how to have warm hearts for the community – to learn more about how to care for the people in need around them,"Maynard recalled. "From the minute I heard about the idea, I loved it.”
Jeff Stewart said the project both humbled him and inspired him to make community service a bigger part of his day-to-day life.
"I saw the smiles of all these people and it made me think about how doing something so little could really make someone's day,"said Stewart, who passed out pizza to homeless people. "The appreciation they had for something as simple as a hot meal helped me to see that I have been blessed with a lot of things.”
Stewart said he hoped that the benefits of the project went beyond just a hot meal for some of the homeless people he encountered.
"We were told that they ate cheese sandwiches a lot and really appreciated something hot. But really, it was more about caring about them in some way that they could understand,"Stewart said. "I guess I hope that maybe we inspired at least one of them. We cared for them at the right moment and maybe it gave them some hope that their life could be better because there are caring people in the world.”
But even if that greater inspiration didn't happen, Stewart said he would do the project again.
"I do know we helped them get through that one night,"he said, as fellow players nodded. "If nothing else, that's something really good.”
For most members of the football team, community service has already become a way of life. Maynard leads the team in blanket drives, canned food drives and other activities. Members of the team also have volunteered in Louisiana, where they have helped with clean-up efforts after Hurricane Katrina, and also helped build new houses for hurricane victims.
"When you come here to play football, it's not just about football,"explained Evan Reuter. "You learn how to be a leader – how to develop into an adult and to be a man. It's about so much more than football. It's also about who you are as a person and how that translates into your everyday life. And community service has always been a big part of that for us.”
An Opportunity to Transform; a Chance to Show Courage
Maynard and Cifelli said they think efforts like the $100 challenge have the potential to spread, and to eventually transform the greater society.
"This is an important start for us,"Maynard said. "But I know that we can do even more.”
Cifelli said he has a lifelong commitment to the $100 challenge, and that the commitment reflects his view of mankind. Ultimately, he says he views the project not so much as philanthropy, but as simply creating opportunities.
"A lot of people, really deep down, wonder if they are courageous,"Cifelli said. "But so much of being courageous isn't about who we are – it's about the opportunities that we are given and what we do with them.
I think that most people, when given the right kinds of opportunities in life, will show that they really are courageous. I know that my students are showing me that every day.”
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