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Pay It Forward Tucson becomes nonprofit

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Engel Indo started the year by paying a client's $750 rent. The previous week he helped a family whose house was destroyed in a robbery, brought Christmas baskets to families in need and gave away an Arizona Bowl ticket.

He opened last year by giving his car away to a single mom.

Indo single-handedly runs the Facebook-based charity Pay It Forward Tucson even though he has a 9-to-5 job, drives Uber on the side, plays in his band Los Guapos and takes care of his kids and grandkids.

And after four years in operation, PIFT is finally on its way to becoming a non-profit.

Indo started PIFT as a way to connect people who needed assistance, particularly veterans, with the resources and individuals who can help. PIFT helps people with everything from baby clothes and furniture to paying bills and mental-health assistance. It's even helped low-income veterans get haircuts.

Now, officially a corporation, Pay It Forward, Inc., and in the process of becoming a nonprofit, Indo hopes he can attract more donations from the community. Although he has a network of contacts willing to help, more often than not, he solves people's problems with his own money, to the tune of around $10,000 a year.

Indo puts all his money, after taking care of his basics, into PIFT. He also had a clothing line and put out a book of poetry "Thoughts and Poetry for the Soul and out of Boredom." All the money he made from these endeavors and what he makes from playing with Los Guapos goes to PIFT.

"The need is greater now," he said of the growing number of people asking for help. "It's become so big that it's out of my hands."

Although the nonprofit status is still pending, PIFT can now accept tax-deductible donations, said Holly Joubert, founder of Sunlight Center for Change, a clinic that offers mental health services for low-income families.

SCC is backing PIFT's effort to become a non-profit after seeing the good it does for the community. Joubert also partnered with PIFT to develop a mental-health program for veterans, now being offered at SCC.

Eladio Rodriguez is a veteran living on Social Security and a long-time client of PIFT. He's also one of the reasons Indo started the charity. Rodriguez was behind on his rent and asked Indo for help.

He couldn't believe how quickly Indo came to his aid, he said, adding that any other program would have taken longer and left him homeless.

"Open and shut case—that's the way it was," he said. "He's an angel. He's my rescue."

There are government services which can help people in the same way Indo does, but those services are often stretched thin or require more time than someone has when they're about to get evicted.

"I went to Salvation Army, and I went to the county, and I started making friends," Indo said about starting PIFT. "I found a backdoor."

One of these backdoors is a connection at Tucson Electric Power who gives PIFT clients extensions in emergency situations.

Indo is also an accredited mental-health first-aid instructor. As part of PIFT, he teaches classes when he can afford to. He doesn't charge for the classes and also invests in books for the students.

"Every single penny that I have goes into Pay It Forward Tucson—goes into helping people," Indo said. "As of right now, I'm working on trust and good faith."

Indo knows it's been hard to get greater assistance without being a nonprofit.

"People really have to know who I am and what I do to give me money," he said. "Everything that has been done, so far, has been in good faith."

And the people who know him, do trust him, like the sales manager at A Family Discount Storage, who got to know Indo through charity work with veterans. She gave PIFT a free storage unit for a year, which Indo used to store donations awaiting homes, such as clothing, TVs, furniture and a wheel chair.

Another PIFT project is teaching English through music to at-risk youth. Indo has been doing this project on trips to Peru, where he's from. Joubert said they hope to develop more of the English through music classes locally.

While there's local interest, funding has been slim. Indo hopes becoming a nonprofit will help inspire donors to fund local English through music classes and mental-health first-aid classes, which Indo can teach for free.

"Engel has a really big heart, and he's been running Pay It Forward out of his pocket for the past four years," Joubert said. "It would be nice to see the community back it a little bit more because they do a lot of really good work."

To find out more about PIFT, go to facebook.com/PayItForwardTucson or email piftucson@hotmail.com

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