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. 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.
This story was first published by Lisa Rogack at Tonic.com. You can read Sharon's entire inspiring story here.