Pacific University student from Tigard takes $10 and pays it forward

Aaron Ferguson quickly learned the magic of “trading up,” a new social game that depends on door-to-door footwork and generous neighbors.

“The first time I did this I started with a bag of Skittles and ended up with a piano,” Ferguson said. He traded the Skittles for a large red pencil, the pencil for a book, and so on until he found himself with a BBQ grilling set and finally — several trades later — a piano.

When his First Year Seminar professor at Pacific University, Ramona Ilea, gave her students $10 each to do good in the world, Ferguson decided to work with a youth group he’d formed at his low-income apartment building in SUBMITTED PHOTO - The Tigard Bahai youth group works on charity projects together as well as fun recreational pursuits.

He used the $10 to buy a baseball, mug, stapler and alarm clock, then went door to door with the youth to “trade up.”

They ended up with sports equipment, a love seat, lamps and a table, all of which they plan to sell at a garage sale, then donate the funds to charity. They also received something they’d long wanted: a guitar, which the donor insisted they keep to use at their weekly meetings.

“People were so happy to see there were kids in the neighborhood doing positive, good things, they just wanted to donate,” Ferguson said.

His youth groups are inspired by the Baha’i faith, a monotheistic religion that focuses on prayer, reflection and service to humanity. The goal is not to convert people, Ferguson said, but instead to inspire young people to take hold of the direction their community is going.

“We’re focused on what we can do to help the world, to channel energy toward a positive endeavor,” Ferguson said. “I think everyone has the desire to help other people, but some just don’t know how. This provided an opportunity to do it.”

Most of the children in Ferguson’s Tigard group are Catholic and go to a nearby church, he said. Several of their parents work multiple jobs and odd hours, and many are immigrants from Mexico and Guatemala.

“Generally people were very, very nice, and even the ones who had nothing to trade offered us support in words. Many were sort of confused about why a large group of young people were at their door, but most were very happy to see youth doing a service project for the good of the neighborhood.”

Ferguson’s 20 youth — ages 4 to 18 — split up into three groups and took on different parts of their neighborhood over two days. The kids started out almost too shy to knock on strangers’ doors. But by the end, they were running door to door.

One elderly woman initially yelled at the children as they ran noisily past her apartment door. When the kids stopped to explain what they were doing, her opinion of them changed, Ferguson said. She ended up throwing a party for them with food she made and games she set up.

“It was really sweet to see her get involved,” said Ferguson. “The difference you can make with $10 is amazing when you put in effort and use your creativity.”

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