Even small gifts change lives

Pay It Forward
January 08, 2019

Looking Back on the Impact: Where Are They Now?

In celebration of 10 years of the Pay It Forward program, we checked in with a few recipients to find out where they are now.

Bonded Beyond Friendship

Just 9 days after Dawn Gibson got engaged, she found a lump in her breast. At just 31 years old, she was diagnosed with cancer in 2013. After Dawn underwent 3 months of chemo, a double mastectomy and more chemo when the cancer metastasized, she and her soon-to-be husband had accepted the fact they’d likely be paying medical bills until the day they died.

“Not only was Dawn facing extremely high medical bills, she had to leave Arizona for radiation treatment for several weeks, and she was in the middle of planning her wedding,” says Phoenix mortgage lender and Dawn’s friend, Falon Kerby.

In recognition of Dawn’s last round of chemo, Falon surprised her with a Pay It Forward check at her bridal shower.

“I felt overwhelming gratitude. For one, Falon’s obviously my friend so that moved me to tears, but two, that Bell Mortgage would do something like this,” Dawn recalls. “I just felt such a connection to Bell for what they did.”

As of July 2018, Dawn’s cancer has been in remission for 5 years. She’s gotten married, bought a first (and then second) home with her husband and watched their dog birth 10 puppies.

“The Pay It Forward program has helped so many people and, personally, I have seen it touch the lives of many of my friends,” Falon says. “The fact that we get to offer financial help to people is amazing, but most importantly, we get to join the army of supporters these people really need.”

Looking back, Dawn says Falon’s gift is still surreal.

“It’s hard to put into words the magnitude of how great it is to share that financial gift and support with someone. There’s really nothing like it,” she says. “We’re grateful for Falon and for Bell.”

For Jake’s Sake

In May 2013, the Schmaus family lost their beloved son and brother, Jake, to a gripping battle with heroin. But rather than losing all hope, Jake’s family used the pain to create good in his honor.

During the fall of 2014, Jake’s mom, Sheri, and her brother founded For Jake’s Sake, a nonprofit whose mission is to raise awareness about the addictive effects of opioids and get standardized education into Minnesota schools.

After hearing Jake’s story from a friend, Apple Valley mortgage lender Joe Zemien knew exactly what he needed to do. Surprising Sheri at the nonprofit’s first fundraiser, Joe donated his Pay It Forward money to the cause.

“I presented her with the $1,000 check, and we both cried holding each other,” Joe says.It was very moving. It helped Sheri gain momentum to keep this fight going all the way to the legislature.”

In the 4 short years since, Jake’s Sake has made waves. Minnesota representative Mary Kunesh-Podein authored a bill at the state level, and the organization started an educational pilot program in the Anoka-Hennepin school district.

“We’re hoping the law will eventually pass and we’ll get standardized education into every Minnesota school,” Sheri says. “I want people to know you can talk about it, and there are so many people out there suffering, too.”

In all of her efforts, Sheri hopes to change the fate for another family, so they don’t have to endure the awful, painful journey her family has.

“Jake was funny, loyal, a kind soul, a true friend and had beautiful, sparkling blues eyes and a smile that lit up a room when he walked. People loved being around Jake,” Sheri says. “So if it can happen to Jake, it can happen to anyone. It doesn’t discriminate.”

Ending the Global Water Crisis

Maureen Bartelt was appalled when she heard worldwide, women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa spend 200 million hours – daily – walking for water. She could only imagine what else they could accomplish in their lives, families and communities if they didn’t have to waste so much time collecting water.

That’s when she decided to get involved with a Fargo-based non-profit, Wellspring for the World, which directly partners with World Vision to provide clean water to people around the world. A then-Bell Bank employee, Maureen joined Wellspring’s board of directors in 2010.

In light of World Water Day, Maureen and other Bell Bank employees presented a Pay It Forward check for $4,000 at a Wellspring event on May 22, 2012. Thanks to the Pay It Forward money, $31,320 from local donors, $65,000 raised by Fargo’s Hope Lutheran Church and a 6-time match, they raised $288,960 for Wellspring.

That donation alone funded 19 wells and safe water for thousands of people. (Each well provides a lifetime of water for 300 to 400 people.)

Since the initial Pay It Forward donation from Maureen and Bell Bank, others have continued to support Wellspring.

“When I hear statistics like ‘every day nearly 1,000 children under 5 die from unsafe water,’ I feel compelled to do something about it,” says graphic designer Jon Forness, who also serves on Wellspring’s board of directors and donates his Pay It Forward money each year to the cause.

In spring 2012, Wellspring reached its first major milestone, setting a 100-well goal which was met in just 5 months (and surpassed by 55 wells in 15 months). In August 2017, Maureen traveled to Zambia, Africa, with a group of donors and experienced the impact for herself.

Today, Wellspring funds projects in 10 African countries and is working to fund their 1,000th well by the end of 2019. When that goal is met, the organization will have provided 315,000 people with clean water for a lifetime.

“Wellspring for the World is playing a role to end the global water crisis,” Maureen remarks. “It will happen in our lifetime. In fact, we estimate that this audacious goal will be met by 2030, and we will see everyone in the world with access to clean water.”