Five years ago, Williams, 42, wanted her two sons, Trey and Ian, learn about the spirit of giving and understand what Christmas is all about. The Williams family and the boys’ travel baseball team adopted a family and provided Christmas gifts.
Williams thought she could spread the giving spirit to other students, and she started Swan Valley Pay It Forward. The program has grown from 10 kids to 162 kids in five years. Trey and Ian are now 16 and 11 and still are involved with the group.
Because of the work she does to help young people share their blessings, Tracey Williams is one of the 2013 Saginawians of the Year. Each December, The Saginaw News honors Saginaw County’s unsung heroes for their work helping their communities.
“I feel so incredibly humbled and honored,” Williams said of the award. “I could not do this without the people who help me.”
Swan Valley Pay It Forward has second through 11th-grade students from from Havens Elementary School, Shields Elementary School, Swan Valley Middle School and Swan Valley High School.
The group has raised thousands of dollars and provided Christmas gifts to more than 60 families throughout the years. Students also raise money to purchase backpacks and school supplies for peers who need them.
Williams said she isn’t surprised by the number of students in the group. Her goal was to start children giving back and volunteering at a young age.
“Human nature is people want to do good things,” she said. “I totally believe you can make a difference one good deed at a time.”
In the Pay it Forward group’s ding-dong gifting program, where they deliver gifts to residents by ringing their doorbells, one woman was upset last year because she thought kids were pranking her, Williams said.
But when the woman found the basket of Christmas gifts on her porch, Williams said, she started sending box tops to schools and helping to pay it forward in other ways.
Williams said she must thank fellow Swan Valley parents Jan Delisle and Lisa Nottr, and students Alexis Nottr, Ashley Fleminger, Noelle Champagne, Grace Dutoi and Noah Stewart.
The older students in the group took leadership roles this year and made videos to help promote Swan Valley Pay It Forward, Williams said.
Williams also thanked community members who helped the group collect 53,000 cans for a drive in November. The group also had a soup dinner with 900 attendees. Without such help, she said, it wouldn’t be possible.
Delisle and Stewart, a sophomore at Swan Valley High School, nominated Williams for Saginawian of the year.
“I believe she is the epitome of what the Saginawian of the Year represents,” Delisle said. “She has truly changed this community.”
Noah Stewart described Williams as a person for everyone to look up to because of her positive attitude and desire to help her community.
“When she is around, the atmosphere is instantly uplifted,” he wrote.
For Williams, the positive attitude helps with her own health as well as benefiting others. In 2010, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
She said she was amazed at the support she had from others early on, and that inspired her in turn. Although it was devastating to find out she had MS, she said, it doesn’t have to be all negative.
“I’m doing well. Some days better than others,” she said. “A lot of it is attitude. You just have to keep on keeping on and keep on moving. Keep it positive. A positive mind is a great thing.”