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Pay It Forward: Capital High School seniors and the $10 challenge

There's something going on in Cindy Wilson's AP Civics Class at Capital High School, and it is the essence of “Pay It Forward.”

The students have an opportunity to do good; they have been given the challenge to take $10 each and help someone.

They quickly discover that $10 does not go very far. So it becomes “seed money.” They use it to attract more money – more donations. Once they have enough, then they set out to find where it will do the most good.

CHS senior Sara Alis found a Syrian refugee family to help.

“It wasn't just me,” Alis said. “I told people and everyone wanted to help.”

Cindy Wilson explained how friends and neighbors were drawn to Alis' idea. She said, “They had $150 in gift cards. People were coming over and donating things.”

Among the donations, a dresser filled with books, clothes and supplies for the family with two young children and a baby on the way.

They packed it all up and delivered the gifts on Christmas Eve. Alis remembers, “We filled my dad's entire truck with baby clothes and supplies and household, so we filled their apartment! It was the coolest thing!”

A Christmas Eve delivery to a Muslim family might have been awkward, but Alis says it worked out nicely.

“They called us their Christian brothers,” she said.

Wilson says the gifts were given, not as charity, but as a "house warming." It was a way for them to say, 'We're glad you're here and we hope everything goes well for you. We want your to succeed in your new life in Idaho.'

Another senior, Shanaya Fox, used her $10 to help get a rhythmic gymnastics program off the ground for Special Olympics Idaho. She is an intern with Special Olympics.

“I actually started this project in the summer,” explained Fox. “It gave me that extra push, that reminder of community service and the importance that it has."

For the last seven years, Wilson has been handing out the donated $10 bills and watching magic happen. She says the power of the experience of doing something good for others can change a student's life.

“The hope is that they will carry this on into their future,” she said.

Andrea Nguyen, who after graduation will attend college in Southern California, says it’s good to help others.

“After I bought the family their presents and then wrapped them all up and gave it to the people who would deliver it... It just felt super nice," Wguyen said. "It felt even better than getting all the recognition and awards for academics and all the things you do. It's like a moral value thing."

Kacie Fromhart tagged team with Alis to help the Syrian family. She said the $10 Challenge was also an eye-opener.

“There were just these kids playing around and this totally normal family - yeah, they don't speak English and they look a little different in the clothes they wear - they were really like this happy family."

The students learn to engage in the world around them.

“The best thing about his project is that it teaches them to be citizens in their neighborhood, in their community, in their state in their world," Wilson said. "And that's the best part of it.”

So where does all the money come from? A couple in their 70’s first brought the concept to Wilson when she was a teacher at Centennial High and they have been funding it ever since. Their only requirement, the kids must report back on their projects and what they accomplished. Oh, yes, and the donors want to remain anonymous.

“It is humbling to think that someone would provide them (the students) with that and have those expectations for them to do something with it,” Wilson said.

In seven years, they have yet to be disappointed in the results.

“This project has to continue,” said Wilson. "And one of the things they said to me was they hoped it would inspire other people to give something for similar projects.”

It has already inspired Tim Toy with Mountain America Credit Union who surprised Cindy Wilson and her class with $500 Pay It Forward.

Know someone who is also deserving of a Pay It Forward? Nominate them here!

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