Practitioner of visualization and meditation techniques won $112 million
As twists of fate go, Cynthia Stafford has been dealt some doozies.
In 1999, Stafford's younger brother was killed in a car accident, and the state of California placed his five children in foster care. Cynthia would have none of that: She applied for?full custody of her nieces and nephews, ages 3 to 10, and though the state initially fought her, Stafford prevailed and became an instant mother to five children — a full-time job that left her no choice but to leave her position as a consultant in order to dedicate her life to raising them.
Simply to survive, she knew she needed help. So she applied to a variety of social service agencies and nonprofits. And yet, even while she was a full-time mom, Stafford kept her eye on bigger things — including her goal of always helping charities at the same time that they were helping her.
As far-fetched as it may seem to many, Stafford had long been an active practitioner of?visualization and meditation techniques in her personal life, and she set her sights on a better life. She set her sights on winning?a very specific amount of money in the lottery. Enough money to support her family along with any charity she could ever dream of supporting. The dollar amount, she says? $112 million.
It took only four months. In May of 2007, the Los Angeles resident bought a two-dollar ticket in the California Mega Millions lottery with her father and brother. They won her dream amount — $112 million — and together decided to take the cash payout of $67 million and split the money. When her winning numbers came in, everyone she knew was surprised except her. After all, Stafford knew what she was going to do with the winnings.
"I wanted to help the same charities I'd already been donating to," she tells Tonic. "I picked each charity because I believe deeply in their missions, goals and forward-thinking initiatives, and all have causes which are near and dear to my heart." They include UNICEF and Kids in the Spotlight, which teaches inner city and foster kids how to tell their stories through film, and the Natural Resources Defense Council. She also donated $1 million to the Geffen Playhouse to fund a program designed to expose children to the arts.
All in all, she quickly became known as one of California's top philanthropists.
Sheer dollars aside, her giving was nothing new. Stafford's charitable streak runs deep. When she was just five years old, Stafford started to donate her allowance to UNICEF. "It might not have been enough to end world hunger, but my mother always taught me that there is more joy in giving than in receiving," she says.
Eye on the Prize
Over in her professional life, there's no grass growing under Stafford's feet, either. After her lottery win, she launched Queen Nefertari Productions — determined to seek out projects and stories to be made into movies that inspire people. Her first step as newly-minted movie producer was to option Don DeLillo's novel White Noise, but she says she will continue to give money to charities regardless of whether a movie turns a profit, or loss. "I'll continue to give as I always have, when my spirit moves me," she says. "I would never want box office receipts to determine the amount I give, since giving should come from the heart. I can be certain, however, that the more I make, the more I intend to give."
It's obvious that no matter which direction Stafford heads in, there's no slowing down, especially when she sees first-hand the effects that her gifts have on people. She recalls the time a group of juvenile detainees had been brought to see a play at The Geffen Playhouse as part of the education outreach program she'd funded. "A group of girls approached me after the show and tearfully thanked me for making it possible," she remembers. "None of them had ever seen live theater before, and they had no idea what it was like. They were so inspired! I could tell that their lives had forever been changed."
While Stafford wouldn't necessarily advise wanna-be philanthropists to rely on a winning Pick Six ticket to fund their charitable ways, she does have a slew of suggestions for people who want to follow in her footsteps.
"If you want to do good for others, start now," she says. "Don't wait for the perfect time, because it doesn't exist. Don't wait until you have a certain amount of money in the bank, because giving back is not all about money. You can always give of yourself, your time, your services, your energy, and your talents. Whatever you have that you have been blessed with, use it to be a blessing to someone else. Don't hold back because it will return to you. As you give so shall you receive ... tenfold."
(Click to display in gallery)
(Click to display in gallery)