“Tell Us Your Story and We’ll Give You a Dollar”

On 7 August 2012, three teenagers—Alexa Erb, age 18; Victoria Cornell, age 19; and Claude Mumbere, age 18—sat on Church Street in Burlington, Vermont, for three hours and paid $1 to strangers to tell them their stories. The three teenagers called out compliments to passersby and held this sign: “Tell us your story and we’ll give you a dollar.” They had $26, and they spent $15. The stories were about Cambodia, Afghanistan, homelessness, and mental illness—and many more topics, too. Ms. Erb said, “I have found that sometimes listening means you don’t need to give a response. Just knowing that someone is truly listening to what you are saying is sometimes enough.” Ms. Cornell said, “I see now how we can use our stories, and our brokenness, to create bonds. We are all equal in our human condition; even when we are broken, we can become whole through sharing.” Mr. Mumbere said, “We have heard many stories today. Even from people who think they don’t have a story. When they start talking, there is so much to be said. It’s amazing to see what you can find in someone when you just take the time to listen.” Ms. Cornell said, “The common theme is that life is going to suck at times, but beauty always comes from the pain somehow. If you’re willing to pay it forward, and listen to someone’s story, it will be worth it.”

For Further Information: Lynn Monty, “Paying It Forward.” Burlington Free Press (Vermont). 8 August 201

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