Pay It Forward: Savvy bargain shopping teen helps start library at cancer center

If the children are our future, then this Pay It Forward story will have us all feeling good about tomorrow.

There are those who shop at garage sales and then there are 14-year-old Ellyn Rebein and her mom.

“My mom and I go to garage sales and we find stuff that we can buy for cheap and sell for more money and turn a profit,” Ellyn says.

She also tells us, “You have to think about packaging and shipping and how much that's going to be because that eats away at the profits.”

On this Saturday, the hot spot is a sale at St. Raphael's Catholic Church in Rockville, Md. But this shopping duo won't know the real buzz about their take until later.

We asked Ellyn about one of her finds and what made her think that it was a good get.

“They looked really old and I don't think they were selling them for a lot either,” she tells us.

With her loot laid out, Ellyn is now in the process of figuring out exactly what she bought.

“We have to research it first because some stuff we just don't know what it is and we'll just get it cause it looks cool,” says Ellyn.

But don't let this 14-year-old fool you. She is more savvy than she sounds, and in fact, is quite well versed in the business of eBay.

“Once I found a 14-carat gold watch,” she says. “Everything was solid gold. Bought it for $6, sold it for $460. So that was a good day.”

The process really is simple. She finds an item, takes a picture of the item, posts the item and then waits.

And while her online selling know-how is impressive, her motivation for profit is what really makes this teen stand out.

“Ellyn is a very entrepreneurial young woman,” says Dr. Mimi Mahon, the palliative nurse practitioner at the new Aquilino Cancer Center at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital.

You see, Ellyn lost her grandfather to pancreatic cancer. She also happens to be a Girl Scout, and when she decided to go for the coveted Silver Award, she knew how to make money and who she wanted it to help.

“She brought us dozens and dozens of hats and scarves that people can wear on their heads when they're bald,” says Dr. Mahon. “She also brought blankets because people going through treatments for cancer and other diseases very often get cold.”

“People like to drink coffee or tea or hot chocolate while they are going through their treatments upstairs, so she brought us dozens of mugs with lids that people can use here, take home and bring back with them when they come.”

But the most lasting thing Ellyn did was singlehandedly start a library.

“When someone has a diagnosis like cancer or another serious illness, it's a singular journey, but it’s not a journey done alone,” says Dr. Mahon. “What Ellyn has allowed us to do is develop resources to help people with that.”

The center was so grateful for Ellyn's effort that they officially dedicated the library to her last month.

A plaque with her name sits on one shelf. And though the library currently is a single bookcase in Dr. Mahon's office, it is already helping to heal because one person chose to pay it forward.

“I feel like I am doing something good, but I kind of feel like it's my job to do something good,” says Ellyn.

“In the myriad cultures that comprise our country, death and serious illness are very often something to be kept at a distance,” says Dr. Mahon. “What Ellyn has done with an amazingly bright attitude is say let's deal with it, let's do what we can to help people where they are instead of where we think they should be.”

Ellyn has taken her project one step further. She has actually set up a gofundme account, so that outside donations can be made to help expand the library as much as possible. If you are interested in donating to the cause, go to

Interestingly enough, Dr. Mahon told us one in three adults will have cancer at some point in their life, so resources for those battling the disease and those loved ones going through it with them are needed more than ever.

And don't forget that also you can nominate someone like Ellyn who is paying it forward on our website.

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