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This was a letter written by U the Leader graduate Anthony Luongo to U & Improved founder Jodi Low. To Anthony and all those grads out there who have been moved to Pay it Forward, we thank U.

It all started years before I took the class. Being good friends with your dad, Jeff, he was always singing the praises of what you were doing. When you and I spoke, you always invited me to participate; there was never any pressure but you and Jeff both told me how much it would make a difference. Before that weekend I was either unemployed or underemployed because of the downturn, and being in the construction industry only made it worse. Money was always tight (or nonexistent) and I was struggling to pay the bills. I was also ending an unhappy marriage and I didn’t know at the time how unhappy I really was.

I remember the day you called and said that you had a seat you needed to fill and offered me the spot. For years, I was using excuses like money, time, etc. but with Jeff’s encouragement and your excitement and resolve I couldn’t refuse.

For those who’ve been through Leader they know, it was MIND BLOWING! For me it was like a cloud was lifted from my psyche, my soul and my damaged heart shed its old skin and I felt new again, alive, happy. It was the single most important and impactful weekend I’ve had in more than 10 years. I was still Anthony, but I was happy again. I literally felt lighter (even though I was heavy), more relaxed and more sure of myself.

Almost immediately things began to change in my life. Within weeks, I got what I always thought of as my dream job; I got a job working at a design firm specializing in hospitality. Me, a construction manager working with designers and graphic artists. It was great; they loved me and I loved working for them and just when I didn’t think it could get any better … it did.

There was another company I always wish I never left in Boston and I always said if they came calling, I would have to consider it. They did, just after they were acquired by another company, they contacted me to say they were hiring. Long story short, I had an interview via Skype on a Monday and accepted an offer on that Friday getting much more than what I was already making plus great benefits! One month later, I moved back to Boston. After my six-month review, we had a 360-peer review and the one thing that most people said was that I jumped in with both feet, embraced the company culture and got along and showed respect to everyone. Six months later, I got promoted to senior project manager and another raise! H-O-L-Y CRAP!

Things couldn’t get any better right? Wrong! A few months later, I met my soulmate, Aileen. The moment I met her I knew I was done; without question she was blessing sent to me, she was the reason I went through 10 years of despair or mediocrity at best. I said to her on our third date “I thank God for every sh*tty moment in my life because it brought me here with U, now.” We moved in together last September and I know we’ll be married someday soon.

I’ve still had some struggles, but they don’t last as long, they don’t drag me down and it’s easier to learn, grow and move on from them now. I’m making money and saving money so I thought it was time to pay it forward. I want to pay for someone’s U the Leader class; someone U feel really deserves this opportunity like U did with me. Maybe someone like me who is down on their luck, short on money and could use a little good news. I don’t want anything in return; all I ask is that when they can, that they pay it forward too. Let’s see how far this one tiny gesture will go, let’s plant the seed and watch it grow.

I said this to U before so let me say it again, U do important work, I build buildings which fulfils a need and a job I love, but U help build, and grow, and inspire people, you and everyone at U and Improved change the word one group, one person at a time. It’s important that you know how big of an impact U make on the world and how much U all helped me discover who I am and who I can become. I am, and will be forever grateful.

Do U have a U&I story to share? Contact us and we’ll get you the details!