"The way we are as a group, we absolutely would not want anyone to ever feel left out," team leader Laurie Finkelstein Reader said Thursday.
The twelve realtors at Keller Williams Partners Realty in Plantation joined the office pool for the March 23 Powerball drawing, pitching in $20 each. Employee No. 13, Jennifer Maldonado, started her job March 8 and decided not to join the pool until she received her first paycheck.
"I said to her, 'Jen, if you don't play, we are definitely going to win,'" Finkelstein recalled. "And her response was, 'I'll take the fall for you guys.' And look what happened - we hit the Powerball."
The team of 12 matched five numbers, winning $83,333 each after taxes.
Finkelstein, excited about the winnings, had to be the one to tell Maldonado. It got her thinking: "This is just not going to be fun without her." So, Finkelstein said, she sent a text message to the team. "It would be a great idea for us to include her," she texted. One by one the realtors chimed in and said they were one.
Maldonado won't say how much her co-workers are giving her, but she is looking forward to taking a vacation with her son and husband with the money.
"I don't feel like I deserve the money at all," she said in the office she shares with Finkelstein. "I just stopped crying five minutes ago. It was a very emotional experience to learn that I had a chance at a piece of a million dollars and I just let it slide right through my fingers."
Hundreds of emails and phone calls have poured in to the Keller Williams office with well wishes and words of support. A local politician's office even called Finkelstein on her cellphone to congratulate the team on the selfless act.
"The most amazing part of this whole experience is, besides coming together closer as a team, are the emails, the text messages from people telling me that we changed their lives. That they feel they won the Powerball with us," Finkelstein said as she scrolled through her Facebook page, reading the dozens of messages posted on her page.
She said the decision include the newest member in the office was easy for her and her team.
"We are all kind of taken back that everybody wouldn't do this, right? Because this is what you are supposed to do," she said. "I'm hoping - maybe it sounds corny - but pay it forward. We are really, really hoping that's what happens."