Dallas-area man out to change world, $1 at a time

DALLAS, TX So he stuffed 100 envelopes each with a dollar and a letter that basically says: Keep this if you need it, or add to it and pass it on.

On Sunday, he distributed the envelopes to strangers in McKinney and at the Dallas Arboretum, and now he's hearing from people who want to do the same in their communities.

"Think of how awesome it would be if we could have the entire state of Texas 'Paying it forward,"' said "Tonya" on the guestbook on Compton's website, NeeditKeepit.org.

Compton, who lives in McKinney, where he has a credit counseling business, said he developed the idea last month after handing cash to a couple in need.

"I was going to a convenience store and saw a couple of people who were clearly down on their luck, and I walked up and gave them the cash in my wallet," he said. "It was $10. I said, 'Have lunch on me.'

"I was overwhelmed after I did that with how amazing that felt, knowing that I changed their day and maybe restored their faith in human nature."

That night, he came up with the idea for Need It Keep It, and he started the website and a Facebook page.

"There are so many things that go viral, so many inane things with no social impact," Compton said. "I thought, 'What if we could make something like this go viral and get big and in so doing change some people?' It's not about the money; it's not about whose hands the money ultimately lands in. It's about the hands along the way that get to experience the gift of giving."

Compton has been on the receiving end of other people's generosity.

He talks about 2004, which he calls the worst year of his life.

He said his wife left him with their baby boy, Chase, and 4-year-old daughter, Breanna. He started a credit repair company to make extra money and subsequently lost his job as an investment banker. "It was pretty grim at my house," he said.

Late that December, an acquaintance, Weslyn Reynolds Wood, pulled up to his house with a trunkload of gifts for his children. "It was the Christmas my kids would have not had," he said.

She had one gift for him -- $2,500 in an envelope. "She said, 'I just kind of told your story to a bunch of people, and before I knew it, everyone began to help.' I swore to her that day that I would spend the rest of my life paying it forward."

Compton's girlfriend, Mindy Lawrenz, is helping him carry out that mission. They're exploring whether to make Need It Keep It a nonprofit organization. And they're discussing where to do the next handout.

In the meantime, Compton plans to post online the letter that goes in each envelope so that others can download it and do their own handouts.

One couple on the receiving end Sunday said they're keeping the dollar because it brought them comfort during hardship.

Tracy Bruce of McKinney said she and her husband, Darrell, were both laid off in the last year. She found a part-time job, but her husband is still looking.

On the way to Towne Lake Park in McKinney for a Sunday picnic with their young daughters, they were talking about their finances, about how they have enough in the bank for one more house payment. At the park, they were approached by Compton.

"I was just shocked," Bruce said. "The first thing out of his mouth was, 'I want to give you money with no strings attached.' Before I even opened it, I had tears in my eyes."

The dollar won't pay the mortgage, but the Bruces plan to keep it until they can add to it and pass it on.

"We felt like this was our sign from God that he was going to take care of us and everything was going to be OK," Tracy Bruce said.

Wood, who helped the Compton family in 2004, said she has enjoyed watching Compton carry out his mission.

"For me to be able to help them at Christmas when they weren't expecting it, that affected me like Doc is affecting other people," said Wood, founder of Capstone Prayer Ministries, which includes a charity that provides emergency assistance for people.

She said she's looking forward to seeing how far Need It Keep It will go. "I hope this thing takes off to the ends of the Earth," she said.

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