Pay it Forward surprises Austin family

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(ABC 6 News) – Last November, a beloved community member died unexpectedly while visiting his home country of Ethiopia. After so many years of giving to his community, this week his community is giving back.

One by one, the six children of Chol Okey Opiew stepped out of the limo to a new home and a new beginning.

The children were all expecting a bathroom remodel, instead they received a new living room, a new kitchen and dining room, new floors and all new bedrooms.

RELATED: Austin community mourns the loss, and celebrates the life of Chol Opiew

“My dad did everything he could to be involved in this community and it makes me feel good that the whole community came to support him and his kids and it makes me really happy,” said Ochain Okey.

Opiew spent many years serving his community with his work at the African-Asian Refugee Services Agency, often regarded as a faithful public servant. Opiew was also the chair of the Sudan People Liberation movement in Austin, fighting for peace for the country.

“It’s a great feeling, knowing that a whole community is behind us and loves and cares for us, to go to this length is crazy,” said Opiew Okey, “my dad is my role model and I want to become just like him one day.”

RELATED: 2022 Pay it Forward project announced

“These were a few things that Chol would say, so we have about seven quotes in the house,” said Gina Grundmeier, the Founder of Pay it Forward. The Austin Pay it Forward team spent five days and more than $100,000 in renovations. But to the organizers, the choice was easy.

“Austin should be proud, we were proud of who Chol was in the community, and I believe in retrospect, we needed to give that back to his children to show his kids that we know he made a difference, so now we are just doing the same for them,” said Grundmeier.

A gift, from neighbors who have become family. Alicianne Fritz and her husband Tom nominated the Okey family for the Pay it Forward. They have known them for 16 years.

Before Chol left to Ethiopia, he wrote a letter to them.

“He says please take care of my children, there are not enough thanks in my heart, only God can repay you,” said Alicianne through tears, “that was only because he was only going to be gone a couple of months.”

While that request was only meant to be temporary, Alicianne says her promise to the Chol and the kids will be forever.

“If I could say something to Chol, that is, I’m committed to your children, I will do whatever it takes to support them and their dreams and that where ever life takes them, they have a home here with me and with Tom, this is our home,” said Alicianne.

And just like the quotes found in every room of this home, “Take Care of Each Other,” is a reminder that dad will always be around.

Pay it Forward has a goal of $35,000 for this project. So far, they have raised just over $26,000. If you’d like to donate and help Pay it Forward, you can mail donations to PO Box 442, Austin, Minnesota.