Heartwarming lottery stories

These lottery winner stories will pull your heartstrings!

Heartwarming lottery stories
The Smith Family Foundation team at an event. Photograph credit to the Smith Family Foundation.

By now, everyone has read at least one true story of how a lottery winner's good luck turned bad, and they lost all their prize winnings because they didn't know how to handle their money. Perhaps less popular are the true stories of how lottery winners have used some or all of their winnings successfully to help change their lives and others.

Here are some heartwarming stories that are sure to inspire you.

Florida lottery winner dedicated her life to sharing her prize

In 1988, Sheelah Ryan won $52 million in the Florida Lottery – a huge amount of money at that time and the largest jackpot won at that point in the lottery's history. Sheelah believed that she had won the money to enable her to help others. In order to do so, she founded a charitable group known as the Ryan Foundation.

The aim of the foundation was to help underprivileged people. It did so in many ways, including paying the medical bills for children who needed surgery, constructing low-cost housing for low-income households, and helping single mothers who were behind with their rent while Sheelah herself lived a very modest life.

Tragically, six years after winning the lottery, Sheelah passed away after a battle with cancer. Fortunately, her legacy lived on, and her remaining funds were able to continue helping others and touching many people's lives with her kindness.

Powerball win helps a cowboy keep his ranch

Back in 2009, things were not going so well for 23-year-old Neal Wanless from South Dakota. After dealing with some financial issues, Neal had fallen behind on his property taxes, was struggling to make repairs to his ranch, and was trying to make a little extra cash by selling scrap metal. He began to worry that he was going to lose his ranch in Todd County – one of the least financially prosperous counties in the Mount Rushmore State.

Then, the day he made a feed tun to a local town named Winner, he decided to risk a little of his cash on a Powerball ticket. He purchased $5 worth of plays using numbers from the birth dates of his family members. His risk paid off big time because he won a huge Powerball jackpot of $88.5 million.

In an interview with the South Dakota Lottery, Neal said that he was going to continue working his ranch, but he also intended to use part of his winnings to help others within his community. He said:

That's just the way it is in this part of the state, people help people, we know one another.

Jackpot-winning family improve their city

In 2016, Pearlie Mae Smith, her son, and six daughters won a $429 million New Jersey Powerball prize. Pearlie's children were no strangers to helping others because they had grown up giving back to their community by volunteering in community gardens and soup kitchens.

After claiming their lottery prize, they decided that they wanted to use the money to help improve the lives of the people around them. The lottery jackpot was divided evenly between the family members. Some of them gave up their jobs, but not all of them. One of Pearlie's daughters not only continued her job mentoring other women, but she also used her share of the winnings to fund the program.

Together, the family founded the Smith Family Foundation, which would go on to provide funding for local grassroots organizations aimed at improving the lives of people in their hometown of Trenton. The foundation's priorities include supporting families and youth, neighborhood development, and education.

A life-changing Powerball win for a single mother of five

After the tragic death of her brother in a car accident, Cynthia Stafford began raising his five children as a single mother while she was also helping her father financially. In early 2007, Cynthia was struggling to make ends meet, juggling bills and keeping her large family happy in their tiny house. Every day, she dreamed of winning the lottery.

Then, one day, the number $122 million popped into her head, and she began focusing on that amount, picturing a lottery check in her mind. She even went as far as sleeping with the number written on a piece of paper under her pillow. Every day, she medicated on $112 million, visualizing what she would do with the money. Three years later, Cynthia won the lottery. Her prize was $112 million.

Since that day, she has credited the law of attraction for bringing her a lottery win and enabling her to solve her family's financial problems and start her own company. She also went on to write a book explaining how to use the law of attraction.

A school teacher shares a lottery prize to fund a children's camp

Before he won the lottery, Les Robins was a high school teacher. He often lamented to his friends and family that the current generation of children don't have the same opportunities as he did as a child, such as exploring outdoors, playing sports, and going to camp.

When he hit a $111 million Powerball jackpot, Les decided to remedy the situation and add some joy to kids' lives. He purchased 226 acres of land and founded Camp Winnegator. For more than ten years, he operated a low-cost outdoor camp where children could play, swim on the lake, ride horses, and do all kinds of crafts.

Mega Millions winners renovate a local park

When John and Linda Kutey's office lottery pool won a Mega Millions jackpot of $319 million in 2011, they took a share of $28.7 million. They decided they wanted to honor their parents by doing something good for the local neighborhood. After consulting their community, they decided to give their local park a makeover and turn it into a modern spray park.

The upgraded community park gave local children a place to cool off in the summer without costing the community a penny. In addition to converting the old wading pool, the Kuteys paid for all the new equipment and its installation.

Powerball winners use their lottery prize for medical research

When Sue and Paul Rosenau won a $181.2 million Powerball jackpot in 2008, they didn't have to think twice about what they were going to spend the money on. They had purchased the lottery ticket on the fifth anniversary of the death of their granddaughter Makayla.

Makayla's tragic death was caused by a rare and incurable disease that affects only one out of every 100,000 babies. The illness that destroys the nerve linings is known as Krabbe Disease. Children with this terrible illness rarely survive more than two years.

To help save the lives of other babies born with the disorder, Sue and Paul created The Legacy of Angels Foundation. Through the organization, the couple raised awareness about Krabbe Disease and donated money to help support promising research into treatments and cures.

An Irish couple gives away half of their winnings

In 2019, Frances and Patrick Connolly won 115 million pounds (140 million USD) in the Irish National Lottery. At the time of their win, the couple gave the following statement to the media:

This is a massive sum of money and we want it to have a huge impact on the lives of other people we know and love as well as on our future too.

They certainly lived up to their promise. They developed two charitable foundations. One was the PFC Trust, which supports the elderly, young carers, and refugees. The other was a Northern Ireland-based charity named after her late mother, Kathleen Graham.

The Connollys donated at least half of their winnings to support local community groups to help job seekers and refugees and to provide seniors with electronic tablets so they can stay connected to their family members.

It's clear to see how some lottery players inspire others with their acts of generosity and kindness. For those people, perhaps the act of making someone else's life better is more valuable than the prize money itself.


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