Pay It Forward: Granting Wishes to Strangers

Photo: Pay it Forward: Granting Wishes to Strangers: WishUponAHero.coms philosophy of kindness helps grant 27,000 wishes to needy. Person of the Week.

Dave Girgenti is a marketing manager from New Jersey, and many would say that he sees the world through rose-colored glasses. "I think anyone would help anyone if they knew who to help and how to help them," he said.

Girgenti has found thousands of people whose generosity continues to prove him right.

A year-and-a-half ago, Girgenti launched WishUponAHero.com, what he calls a social "helping" site where anyone can post wishes, which in turn are answered by "heroes," who offer to help make those wishes come true.

"If you want to become a hero it's as easy as clicking on someone's wish that you are emotionally connected with," Girgenti said. "You never know what your super power is, meaning you never know what you can grant because it's as simple as advice or a birthday card. Anyone can be a hero."

Wish Upon a Hero was born out of Girgenti's desire to help people after tragedies like September 11th and Hurricane Katrina.

"The one thing that struck me with Sept. 11 was people hanging photos all over the city looking for lost loved ones, and I figured if there was an online site that people could post up that information, people could find people much faster," he said.

The site has grown from helping to reunite families to granting wishes big and small – so far, more than 27,000 requests have been granted.

"The wishes range from very small things like cards …We had weddings granted. We sent wheelchairs. We get children eye glasses," Girgenti said.

Heroes have sent a World War II veteran back to Pearl Harbor for his 90th birthday. Several people chipped in to get a bike for a boy with Down syndrome. For a girl whose house burned down, heroes gave her a dress and shoes for her senior prom. A boy with terminal cancer got a chance to meet his basketball idols.

Ginny Winderman, who volunteers to help run the site, has been a hero 412 times.

"I could reach out to the people I wanted to reach out to. It wasn't like I was giving to one particular organization where I really didn't know where it was going to," Winderman said. "It was an individual -- someone who really needed something."

'No Wish Too Large, No Hero Too Small'

Many people on the site both ask for and grant wishes, playing the roles of giver and receiver through good times and bad -- call it "bartering karma." Nancy Mitchell has granted 21 wishes.

"You just start reading some of these wishes and your gut tells you, 'I've got to do something because that is the right thing to do,'" said Mitchell. "There are so many stories and you can see how people have it worse than you. No matter how bad you have it, there are people who have it worse than you."

After her husband lost one of his jobs, Mitchell reluctantly posted a wish. Their dryer had stopped working, their car needed $3,000 in repairs and then their refrigerator died.

"Honestly I don't know why I waited so long because I know how powerful the site can be. I've witnessed it. I've participated in it," she said. "Then there comes a pickup truck with a brand new refrigerator. I didn't know what to say. I was speechless."

Mitchell's hero was Ginny Winderman.

"I can't thank her enough. She gave me my holidays back. She have me traditions back with my family. It's not just an appliance," Mitchell said.

"I think she hugs it every day," Winderman said of the new refrigerator.

Both women are examples of how far simple acts of kindness can go -- especially in rough economic times.

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