1. Meet Cara Simmons
Cara Simmons is maybe the hardest working woman in Cleveland, Ohio. As a single mother who provides for her three kids, Cara attempts to make ends meet as a maid at cleaning company Maid Brite. As the sole financial provider for four people, Cara can’t afford a day off.
Never one to slack off, Cara has never missed even a single day of work. Between the cost of groceries, clothes for the kids, school supplies, let alone rent, trying to live as a single income household is hard for millions of Americans. The stress of it all had a serious effect on Cara’s health.
2. Health woes
Providing for her children is Cara’s primary concern, even if it means her health suffers in the process. The stress gave Cara ulcers, sending her to the hospital on more than one occasion, and the unanticipated medical costs only further inflamed Cara’s financial woes.
The hospital bills were piling up, and Cara and her kids had faced eviction a few times. A night in the hospital in Ohio can cost more than $2,000, money the Simmons family didn’t have to spare. Cara couldn’t come up with a way out of her financial struggles. What was she to do, other than work even harder?
3. Medical bill bankruptcy
According to a 2018 CNBC report, medical bills are the biggest cause of bankruptcies in the U.S. This is due, in part, to the high cost of medical care in America. It is also worth noting that the long-term side effects of illness can bring someone to bankruptcy.
Time away from work and expensive medications only add to the ever-growing cost of getting sick. Cara’s ulcers were eventually found to be ulcerative colitis, a chronic disease that will keep Cara coming back for medical care for the rest of her life. Still, even with cash in low supply, Cara never complained.
4. Nothing but hard work
Cara kept her head down cleaning houses. Her boss, Mary Jo Dean, didn’t take Cara’s dedication to her job as a maid for granted. Watching such a hardworking employee struggle was difficult for Mary Jo, who wished there was a way to help Cara out of her financial straits.
All Mary Jo could do was keep sending Cara out on house calls. While Maid Brite offered a competitive salary, Cara’s expenses had become a struggle to get out from under, especially for someone in the service industry. One day, without knowing it, Mary Jo would send Cara on a job that would end up changing everything.
5. Work as usual
One day, Cara was called in by her boss Mary Jo. She was asked to go to the house of a very important client in Cleveland Heights, and of course, she was ready to work. Cara had already been with Maid Brite for years, and Mary Jo knew she was the right person to take care of such a special customer.
Mary Jo ran Maid Brite like a family business, boasting an impressive employee retention rate. Mary Jo cared for her cleaners, believing that happy housekeepers meant happy customers. Arriving on time (as always) to clean, Cara was met by a woman named Madeline, but very quickly, Cara felt something was amiss.
6. Not hired to clean
Madeline told Cara that the house had already been cleaned, but there were still plenty of tasks to get done before a big party was being thrown on behalf of Madeline’s boss later in the day. Presumably hired in her capacity as a maid, Cara was confused by Madeline’s introduction.
Cara found cleaning houses to be cathartic and liked to work out any problems in her life through her work. Even after a day of cleaning other people’s messes, when Cara was under stress, she went home and swept. So, if she wasn’t going to be cleaning, what did Madeline have in mind?
7. Task #1
Ever the consummate professional, Cara would never have questioned a client. Following Madeline into the kitchen, Cara was introduced to Manny Slomovits, an internationally renowned chef who had been hired to prepare food for the party. Despite the stacks of cookware that could have used some cleaning, Cara wasn’t there to do the dishes.
Madeline explained that Chef Manny would be making a menu consisting of multiple courses of haute cuisine creations using only the highest quality ingredients. It would then be Cara’s job to taste test and screen each and every dish. Cara wasn’t sure she was qualified, but she couldn’t say no.
8. The high cost of eating well
Cara, always one to put others before herself, told Chef Manny that her favorite food was spaghetti because all three of her kids loved it. But Chef Manny assured her his menu would be a step up from simple spaghetti. Chef Manny’s meal was like nothing Cara had ever had before.
The dishes were so decadent, the meal would have set a diner back by more than $4,000! It included Tristan lobster flown in from South Africa and coming in around $400-500 a pop, white truffles and edible gold. Cara felt a little uncomfortable eating fancy food when she’d been hired to do housework. What was going on?
9. Putting priorities in order
Cara tried to enjoy the meal, but couldn’t help and remark, “I wish somebody else could experience this with me. They’re not going to believe this!” It was by far the fanciest meal Cara had ever had. As a single mother working as a maid, one of the simplest ways to cut costs was in the kitchen.
The average meal out at a restaurant costs roughly $13 a person; by cooking her kids some simple (but probably delicious!) spaghetti, Cara was saving money. Cara was still in disbelief over how delicious Chef Manny’s menu was when, suddenly, the doorbell rang and Madeline asked Cara to answer it.
10. Someone at the door
The small task of opening the door was something Cara was way more familiar with, and as a cleaner, far more comfortable doing on the job. After opening the door, two men with a massage table entered the house. Madeline told Cara that there would be a massage station at the party.
After the men set up their massage chair, they explained that in order to keep their hands from cramping they needed to warm up with a quick practice session. Madeline excused herself, saying she was busy, but asked if Cara wouldn’t mind helping their hands by sitting for a massage?
11. A massage for a hard-working maid
Cleaning houses is backbreaking work, and Cara had been hunched over scrubbing all the hard to reach places for years without ever missing a spot. Still, the situation was so strange, Cara couldn’t help but sound stunned. She turned to Madeline and said, “What is going on?”
Cara couldn’t believe the kind of day she was having, telling Madeline that she felt like it was her birthday. Madeline made sure to take care of Cara’s concerns that she wasn’t working hard enough, saying that what she was doing by getting a massage was very important. And anyhow, after the massage, Madeline had something new for Cara to tackle.
12. Cleaning out the closets
Madeline called Cara up into the master bedroom, where there was an array of clothes and accessories strewn all over the bed. But Cara wasn’t there to clean the clothes or organize the closets. Madeline needed to clear out the closets, and she needed Cara’s help in an unexpected way.
Madeline told Cara to go through the designer duds, try it on, and take whatever she liked. Cara spent most of her time in her Maid Brite uniform and was more concerned with her kids’ clothes than her own, but having been hired by Madeline, she’d certainly help. That is, before the doorbell rang again.
13. A moving man and mysterious box
Madeline asked Cara to open the door for the second time that day, letting in a mover. The mover came through the living room carrying a large box and was quickly gone again to grab another. Madeline asked Cara to unload the box while she took care of something in the other room.
Cara carefully opened the first box, finally ready to do a little manual labor after an unusually light workload that day. As soon as she reached into the box and began taking out its contents, she was completely confounded. She didn’t know it, but her life was about to change forever.
14. The wrong Ms. Simmons?
Cara quickly recognized everything inside the box as her belongings, but how did they get there? She kept trying to ask the mover how her things had been boxed and brought to a stranger’s house, but the mover’s responses only raised more questions. Just as before, the mover brought in another box of Cara’s belongings.
Standing in an unfamiliar living room, holding a framed photograph from her own house, Cara was shocked and struggling to understand what had happened. All the mysterious mover knew was that he was told to deliver the boxes to the house’s owner, a “Ms. Simmons.” What was there some sort of mix-up?
15. A moving mix-up?
Madeline told the mover that his instructions had in fact, been correct, Ms. Simmons was her employer. With Madeline making matters even more confusing, Cara couldn’t understand what was going on at all. Surely there had been some sort of mistake?
Madeline and the mover confirmed that the house belonged to a Ms. Simmons, but Cara kept trying to clarify that she was not the homeowner. The mover, seeming just as confused, asked Cara if she’d mind stepping outside. He said that there was something in the truck that might clear everything up. But what on earth was in the truck?
16. Truckload of surprises
Cara and Madeline followed the mover outside, and just as Cara couldn’t possibly be more stunned, her three kids and sister Glo hopped out of the back of the truck to surprise her. There were smiles all around, as the Simmons family celebrated Cara’s unexpectedly exciting morning.
Cara was overcome with emotion as her family gathered around her on the front steps of the house, but as she started to tell her sister and kids about the strange yet surprisingly wonderful day she’d had, she realized that she still didn’t have any answers. Why had all her belongings been delivered to a stranger’s house?
17. One big joke?
It was then that the mysterious mover removed his cap, and revealed that he actually wasn’t there to haul boxes. He introduced himself as Greg Benson, an actor and the host of a web series called Prank It Forward. The puzzled expression on Cara’s face said it all.
Cara’s whole day had been secretly filmed as an episode of an online show, and in addition to her family beside her, her boss Mary Jo had been watching it all unfold offscreen with the Prank It FWD crew in a viewing station just a few feet away. Was it possible that Cara’s special day was just one big practical joke?
18. Prank It FWD
Prank It FWD was a web series started by Break.com, but the pranks weren’t practical jokes per se. Prank It FWD was started as a fun and silly way of paying positivity forward. The “pranks” were about surprising unsuspecting but deserving do-gooders, just like Cara.
As Greg Benson explained, the people behind Prank It FWD make it their jobs to do good for people who could use (and have more than earned) a little goodness. Cara’s family and Maid Brite boss Mary Jo all agreed Cara could use a day off, but who had put her up for the prank?
19. Best boss
Cara’s boss, Mary Jo Dean, knew how hard Cara and the rest of the housekeepers at Maid Brite worked every day. And despite offering bonus opportunities, cost of living raises and expressing an openness to specialized scheduling, Mary Jo had a few hard-working maids who’d been hit with a streak of bad luck.
So, Mary Jo sneakily nominated her hardworking housecleaners for a Prank It FWD surprise. Of all the staffer stories submitted by Mary Jo, it was Cara’s struggle that stood out to producers. Partnering with Glo and Cara’s three kids, they’d pulled off the perfect positive prank. But the prank wasn’t done yet.
20. A well-deserved day off
The Simmons family stood in front of the important client’s house celebrating the success of Cara’s surprise when Greg finally cleared up all of Cara’s unanswered questions. He first revealed that Madeline was actually an actress in on the prank. Everyone Cara had met that day was helping conspire to give Cara the perfect day of pampering.
Cara was so thankful to her family and friends for putting together such an elaborate and special plan. But Cara’s kids, Glo, and Mary Jo didn’t know that the house that had hosted Cara’s well-deserved day off wasn’t any old house. It was then that Greg revealed that the house had a secret.
21. Who owns the house?
Cara could hardly handle any more surprises, but this next one would change her life, and her family’s lives forever. The house was theirs to keep! The entire family was absolutely floored. Cara started crying, and her kids were in complete shock too. But Greg still wasn’t finished surprising the Simmons family.
The house had been paid in full, and they were all welcome to move in and make it their own. The house came complete with a master bedroom, and bedroom for each one of Cara’s kids, who’d been bunking together for years. How could this house possibly be theirs to keep?
22. Guardian Housing Angels of Greater Cleveland
Prank It FWD had partnered with Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland to find the Simmons family the perfect house. They knew that there were a few specific requirements they’d need to ensure the house would accommodate the Simmons family. For starters, it was important that the Simmons’ stay in Cleveland Heights.
The NHS found a house in foreclosure in Cleveland Heights so that Cara’s kids could stay in the same school system with all their friends. The home and plot the property sits on will belong to Cara as part of a land trust. But what exactly is a land trust?
23. Learning about land trusts
Ocwen Financial Corporation, a residential and commercial mortgage loan services provider, donated the home to NHS, who will technically own the property. The NHS then leases the land to Cara for 99 years, and it’s renewable! Cara can pass the deed for the home onto her kids.
And if Cara decides to move, the land trust deal the NHS has ensures that the home will continue to be inhabited by low to moderate income individuals. After the house came into the NHS’ hands, the people backing Prank It FWD put up $65,000 to rehab the house, making it ready for the Simmons to take over.
24. More than just a house
Cara remembers having a home when she was a young girl but after her parents got divorced, everything changed. For Cara, having a home meant happiness together as a family. But after they moved and the family was split, a happy home seemed like a pipe dream.
As Cara would confess, “I have never owned a home. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would ever be able to own a home. It was the same chance as walking on the moon, that’s how I felt about it.” While the family celebrated their unbelievable news, there was something happening out back.
25. A celebration
Remember that big party that Cara had supposedly been hired to help prepare for? It was a party in her honor! Cara couldn’t stop crying tears of joy and total disbelief. She had gone from struggling to pay the rent and keep a roof over her kid’s heads, to having a home to call her own.
But just as she was wrapping her head around the day’s extraordinary events and enjoying some free champagne courtesy of one of Prank It FWD‘s corporate sponsors, Greg Benson was about to drop yet another bombshell. What more could he possibly have up his sleeve?
26. Another surprise
Cara was clearly hard-working but the single mother of three was so dedicated to her job as a maid, she hadn’t missed a day of work since she’d taken maternity leave six years prior. As anyone caring for a newborn will be quick to point out, maternity leave isn’t exactly relaxing.
To give Cara her first real vacation for the first time in her adult life, Prank It Forward sent Cara to Mexico with her sister Glo! Cara was speechless, her life would truly never be the same. After Cara’s story hit the web, the reaction was incredible. It even grabbed the attention of someone surprising.
27. On their way to L.A.!
Cara’s story went viral, and she couldn’t have been more overwhelmed by the positivity people were sending her way. The news spread overseas and even to Hollywood, where Queen Latifah heard about the positive prank. Queen Latifah invited Cara and her boss Mary Jo to appear on her talk show.
Cara and Mary Jo could not have been more grateful to be going on this journey together. As they drove through Los Angeles the pair would have been happy just to be there, even without going to a talk show taping. They would soon see that Prank It FWD wasn’t the only one full of surprises.
28. Mary Jo’s turn to be pranked
Queen Latifah was so moved by Cara and Mary Jo’s selflessness and continued humility in the face of sudden fame. Cara had been brought back from the brink of homelessness, thanks to Mary Jo’s nomination, and neither of them took any of it for granted.
That’s why The Queen Latifah Show thought that there was still one more gift to be given. Knowing that Mary Jo would never expect any favors in return, Queen Latifah thought that her kindness ought to be rewarded, too. Mary Jo was gifted a vacation to Mexico, too! With so much goodness, how did Cara and Mary Jo fare after the cameras stopped rolling?
29. Preparing for her new house
Cara took her can-do attitude to the NHS, working closely with the organization to educate herself on how to financially prepare for her future. According to the executive director of NHS, Lou Tisler, there’s a lot more to it than just, “Look, we gave someone the keys to a house!”
Cara made clear, “I’m kind of taking my time and making sure I understand everything.” Tisler and Cara have been working together to make sure that the family will be perfectly positioned to thrive in this exciting new chapter. “We’re working with her behind the scenes so it’s not just a splash.”
30. Looking ahead
Tisler explains that despite the land trust agreement with the NHS, “We want to make sure she can actually afford it going forward. “To know in Cleveland Heights, with the tax base, what it means to own a home with taxes and maintenance. We’re really working with her on a deep level.”
Cara couldn’t be more thankful for all the help, “They’re doing an amazing job preparing me for the things I need to do and not do. They are walking me through it and holding my hand.” The Simmons family was able to move in right in time for their first Christmas in their forever home!