Coast teens learn lessons by paying it forward

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - How much impact can one heartfelt idea have? Movie makers delved into that question with a bittersweet and uplifting tale called "Pay It Forward."

The main character, is caught up by an intriguing assignment from his new social studies teacher Mr. Simonet. The assignment? "Think of something to change the world and put it into action!"

Years later, we wondered what would happen if we put that same social experiment into action now.

Eighteen-year-old Morgan Wesson said, "It's just giving back what you get and showing that you're thankful. It's really a personal commitment and a lot of it comes down to money."

So we asked her, "Do you think you could do something good if you had some money?"

Without knowing the reason for the question, she answered with a resounding, "Yes!"

Well, this is Morgan Wesson's lucky day. She and four of her fellow Gulfport High Seniors had no idea they were chosen for a WLOX News special assignment to see how five students with a little cash, would "Pay It Forward."

"I'm going to let each one of you pick one of these envelopes," WLOX News Anchor Rebecca Powers told the teens. "It may be $75, $50, one person's going to get $25. So you're going to have to be very creative. One of them is $100. You're going to have two weeks to make a difference."

Within minutes of getting their cash, you could see the wheels start to turn.

"You ever heard that story, like on Craig's List where they traded a pencil for something and then eventually they kept trading up and got money," Warren Conway said.

Lauryn Easterling, Ria Floyd, Morgan Wesson, Jacob Troutman and Warren Conway were told they had just 14 days to find innovative ways to "Pay It Forward." We also asked them to document their efforts every step of the way.

"Then we'll take those pictures and be able to show them on the air, as well as what you're doing, as we go along," WLOX General Manager Dave Vincent told the teens.

According to Vincent, the sky's the limit. There' just one simple rule: They can't spend the money on themselves.

"You can use the money and go out and buy something or do something that will help you maybe raise more money to help somebody else out later on," Vincent said.

Two weeks later, we caught up with the teens again, and their stories were amazing.

Just $50 changed Ria Floyd forever.

"I just felt wonderful, like a brand new person," Floyd exclaimed.

She used her cash to stock up on manicure supplies, grabbed some friends and spent the day pampering some American heroes.

"We went down to the Armed Forces Retirement Home and we painted the ladies' nails. They were so excited, because they said they'd never got their nails painted before."

With some money to spare, she headed back to the dollar store, inspired to do even more and helped an elderly woman in need.

"She's blind, so we got some cleaning supplies to clean her house and we also got some dinners and stuff so she could eat."

While mopping and sweeping, Ria Floyd learned that even though blind and in her eighties, Ms. Sherrell was raising her 12-year-old grandson alone. That little boy had been doing all of the housekeeping himself. But not anymore.

"We'll probably make a trip once a month, to go clean up her house, help her out with anything she needs," Floyd said.

Lauryn Easterling wasn't sure what to do with her $75 until she stumbled upon a local little league team asking for spare change to make their World Series trip.

"I thought, 'Wow, I just know I need to give this to them.' So I gave them a part of my money, and so then I started thinking, 'What am I going to do with the rest of it?'"

Classmate Brittany Wallace immediately jumped to mind.

"She's a part of the track team, and for her performance last year at state, she was chosen to go to Australia," Easterling said.

But the big honor to compete Down Under will be very expensive. Lauryn's gift moved Brittany tremendously.

"She told me, she said, 'It may seem like something little to you, but I just appreciate it so much.' And I was about to start crying because she was so happy."

Jacob Troutman was happy to use his $100 to help abused women and children at the shelter for non-violence, a place he had never even thought about until now.

"They, like, just ran out of 5 size diapers," Troutman said. "They just ran out and they didn't have anything, and there are a lot of kids that needed them."

So he and a buddy began filling their buggy with everything on the shelter's wish list. After stocking up, they made their delivery to the shelter. Now Jacob cares deeply for the people seeking refuge there.

"I want to do more. So I got, it's a guy thing, but I have a video game tournament coming up and I'm going to raise money for the women's shelter."

Warren Conway had the smallest amount of money. With just $25, he staked out the checkout lines at Walmart for hours looking for someone who seemed down on their luck. He found an elderly woman with a lot of groceries, a little cash in her hand and a worried look on her face.

"She almost broke down on the spot cause she was like, 'This is my last $35 and I didn't know what I was going to do after this.'"

Warren said he will never look at people in the same way.

"You never know what they're going through," Conway said. "You just need to be kinder to people. It's going to make me more conscious of what people need and make me realize how blessed I am."

"Blessings" is what Morgan Wesson hoped to give when she paid for a family's Easter baskets. She wanted them to feel the real meaning of this holy season.

"I actually made, like, a paper with 'Pay it Forward' and explained it on there. And I even put some bible verses on the bottom," Wesson said. "And on the way back, I had some money left over, so I stopped at Sonic and got a couple of lunches and gave them to some construction workers."

These caring young people may have chosen very different ways to "Pay It Forward," but all five came to the same conclusion: Random acts of kindness can spread like wild fire. It certainly ignited something inside each of them, something they say they have never experienced, until now.

"Pay it forward. I did that and I felt great about it," Jacob Troutman said.

"It makes me feel incredible!" Lauryn Esterling said.

And with a big smile, Ria Floyd exclaimed, "You can't explain it, you just have to feel it!"

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