PLACENTIA -- If the students at Golden Elementary School needed an example of how their generosity had inspired others, they found it Friday.
On the day that last year's 6th-grade class was honored with the first Pay It Forward Foundation award, the school learned that an anonymous donor followed the students' example and promised $1,500 to Melodie Ybarra, the only surviving member of a Placentia family whose lives were taken in a fire. The $1,500 donation matched what the Golden students raised - mostly from their own bank accounts - for a Brea family whose house burned.
"You've probably inspired people in places you've never been or may never go," said author Catherine Ryan Hyde, whose novel "Pay It Forward" is about a student who devises a plan to make the world a better place by doing good deeds for others. "Today, you raised another $1,500, and you didn't even know it."
About 100 students, parents and school officials met in the school's multipurpose room Friday to cheer last year's 6th-grade class and their teacher, Lisa Burgess. Last March, the home of special-education student Kenny Bamber was gutted by fire. In the two days after the fire, several members of Burgess' class emptied their bank accounts, collected gift certificates from local businesses and gathered food and clothes to give to the Bamber family.
Hyde, whose novel became a movie starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Haley Joel Osment, presented the school with a check for $2,000 that will be used to buy new library books.
Burgess, a popular teacher who works lessons about character and philanthropy into her curriculum, gave a tearful talk after receiving the award.
"All I did was ask them, 'Who's going to step up to the plate?'" she said.