What could you do with a $10 bill?
It is Thanksgiving 2012 at the home of the Schleicher family in Ashfield.
The feast is ready and the family files into the dining room. At each plate is a greeting-card-sized envelope with a $10 dollar bill clipped to it. Each envelope has a message, front and back, written by Lavona Schleicher.
"Pay it forward," reads the message on the front. "Give this gift to someone you do not know, who touches your heart, who needs a smile."
Spaces for a response, to be read at the family's Christmas dinner, are on the back of the envelope.
"Who did you give your $10 to?" Schleicher wrote. "How did you feel?"
Family members who received the envelopes range in age from 21 to 78. Schleicher said she got the idea for the family project from an article she read on a plane. When her family had read the notes and agreed to the plan, they bowed their heads in prayer, asking for guidance.
At Christmas, in turn going around the table, they told their stories.
Lavona's mother gave her $10 to a stranger she spotted in a store, who was struggling to manage a disability as she shopped. What started as a brief meeting between the two turned into a lengthy conversation, ending with heartfelt hugs.
Her daughter put $10 in a Salvation Army bucket, and also gave $10 to the volunteer ringing the bell.
Her daughter's mother-in-law decided to give $10 to an orphanage. She visited personally, and so struck by the need she saw there, returned with a vanload of new toys and clothes.
It was a funny thing about the $10 bills. It seemed that the people who received them responded with smiles. And as the stories continued around the table, the people who gave them were also smiling with the memories.
"There was a feeling of warmth for us, and I think it made all of us better Samaritans," Schleicher said. "We sure do need that in this world."
"It's not as easy a world as it used to be."
Spring 2013: Dinkey Memorial Lutheran Church, Ashfield
Lavona Schleicher and her husband, Duane, have been members of the church for 33 years. When she told other members about what her family had done, the Rev. Anthony "Tony" Pagotto, pastor since 2008, and other leaders of the church decided to Pay It Forward too.
They took about $400 from a discretionary fund and gave parishioners the opportunity to participate.
At a series of three Wednesday-night Lenten "soup suppers," people reported what they'd done with their $10 bills.
And again, it was a funny thing about the $10 bills, how they elicited smiles and warmth in the giving and receiving. And they were well-traveled $10 bills.
Most stayed local, but some went places like Australia (a church outreach program), New Jersey (flood victims) and Africa (an orphanage in Nigeria). Some went to programs for homeless people and people with autism, and to food banks and day care facilities.
A man and woman sit in the waiting room at a rehab center. It's obvious that they've both been crying. Over and over, the man says that he doesn't want to be a burden to his family and that he wishes he could work; and over and over, the woman with him tells him that it's all right, that somehow things will get better.
A stranger crosses the waiting room and hands them a $10 bill.
"Thank you," the woman says, "When we came here our gas gauge was on empty, and we really didn't know how we were going to make it home."
The man looks up at the stranger, tears standing in his eyes.
"As soon as I am able, I will pay it forward," he says.
It was a clunker but at least it ran. The young woman, a member of the local community, comes out of the store and finds that her car has been wrecked by a hit-and-run driver. She doesn't have insurance that would cover it. She watches in sadness and desperation as the tow truck takes away her sole means of transportation.
Back home, she answers a knock at her door. A stranger gives her a $10 bill, telling her the story behind it.
Over the next few days, there are more knocks at her door, more $10 dollar bills. It's not enough for a car, but it's enough to know that someone cares.
Raising kids as a single parent means that often, there isn't any extra money for things like movies, or dinner in a restaurant.
He loves his children but sometimes it's so discouraging, and he feels alone in the struggle. Then one evening a person from town comes to his house to give him a $10 bill, telling him about the project at the church.
The single dad accepts the $10 bill, and the next day he gives it to a child from another family who is fighting cancer.
At the holidays a local businessman takes his employees out to eat at a nice restaurant. This past year, one of the employees says that he'd like to express his gratitude by offering a prayer of thanks before the meal.
The businessman's daughter, 11 years old, overhears her parents talking about the man, and decides that she will give her $10 bill to him.
She sends it to him in a letter, writing, "You shared your faith and that's why I want to pass the money on to you." She adds $10 of her own money.
During the Dinkey Memorial Lutheran Church's Lenten soup suppers, parishioners sat down to a meal, told stories about the $10 bills, shared a religious service and also watched clips from a movie called Bruce Almighty.
"In the movie, Bruce Almighty, played by Jim Carrey, is given the powers of God," said Rev. Pagotto, explaining why he chose the movie. "At first, he uses the powers for himself, but at the end of the movie he is transformed.
"We all have the ability to change the world, even if it's just a little bit at a time," he added. "It's up to us to reach out."
"The Easter season is a time of prayer, fasting and alms giving," he added. "That's what this Paying It Forward with the $10 has been about, to make us ask ourselves how we can reach out and share, beyond just ourselves."
In the movie, God is played by Morgan Freeman. At one point in the movie, Bruce Almighty asks Him to prove who He is by performing a miracle.
"A single mom who's working two jobs and still finds time to take her son to soccer practice, that's a miracle," Freeman responds in the movie. "A teenager who says No to drugs and Yes to an education, that's a miracle.
"People want me to do everything for them, but what they don't realize is that they have the power," He adds.
"You want to see a miracle son? Be the miracle."
Schleicher said that when her family first saw the envelopes and the $10 bills on their plates at Thanksgiving, they were "a little skeptical." But beginning with her family, and then spreading to the members of the church, people took the $10 and began to look for others in need.
"I think that we all learned how rewarding it is to reach out," she said.
"I hope we all pay it forward over and over again.
"In today's world, we can lose perspective, lose touch with what's really important," she added.
"Giving and loving are things that come from your heart, and when things come from the heart even a $10 bill can go a long way."