7 Lottery Success Stories That Will Inspire You to Buy a Ticket

7 People Who Won a Jackpot and Changed Their Lives and Communities

$55 million Florida Lottery winner Sheelah Ryan (C)
•••  Bettmann/Getty Images

If you've read the stories about , you might worry that it's not worth buying a ticket. Who wants to risk winning a or jackpot when there is a chance that your windfall will end up with suicide, murder, or financial ruin?

Luckily, while there many people who don't know , there are many more lottery winners who use their winnings to make a positive difference in their lives and their communities.

Here are seven lottery success stories that will inspire you to buy a ticket.

1. A Powerball Jackpot Lets a Cowboy Keep Ranching

Things were looking bad for 23-year-old Neal Wanless back in 2009. The down-on-his-luck cowboy was behind on his property taxes, could not make basic repairs around the ranch, and was trying to sell scrap metal for a little bit of extra cash. He was one of the poorest ranchers in Todd County, South Dakota, one of the least prosperous areas in America.

On a feed run to a local town named Winner, Neal decided to take a risk and spend a little of his hard-earned cash on a Powerball ticket. He spent $5 on five plays and selected numbers from family members' birth dates. That risk paid off when he won one of the biggest Powerball jackpots in history. After taxes, the lump-sum payment ended up being about $88.5 million.

Neal Wanless said he was going to continue to work the ranch, but he'd put also put the money to work helping others in his community.

"That's just the way it is in this part of the state, people help people, we know one another," , mayor of the town where Wanless' ranch is located.

2. A Single Mother of Five Wins a Life-Changing Powerball Jackpot

When Cynthia P. Stafford's brother was killed by a drunk driver, she took in his five children, raising them as a single mother while also helping her father financially.

In January of 2007, money was tight. She was living in a thousand square foot house, struggling to pay the bills, and dreaming of winning the lottery. Not just any lottery, either: a $112 million jackpot. And that's .

In 2004, the number $112 million popped into Stafford's head, and she started focusing on winning that amount. She slept with the number on a note under her pillow, meditated on winning a $112 million jackpot, and visualized how it would feel once she won. In an amazing stroke of luck, three years later, Stafford walked away with the exact jackpot she had dreamed of winning.

Cynthia Stafford credits the and prayer for her prize, which let her tackle her family's financial problems and even start a film company so that she could follow her dream career.

If you're wondering how she did it, Stafford bought tickets just a couple of times a month, and she picked whichever numbers came into her head at the moment. She still buys lottery tickets every week, in the hope of becoming one of the rare multiple-jackpot winners.

3. Mega Millions Winners Honor Their Parents With a Splash Park 

When John and Linda Kutey's office  won one of Mega Millions' biggest jackpots, the Kutey's knew that they wanted to pay respect to their parents by doing something for their community.

So they went to the Green Island village hall and asked how they could help. The answer was to help renovate a local park, replacing an older wading pool with a modern .

The spray park gives local children a place to cool off in the summer, and it didn't cost the taxpayers a cent. Even the installation was donated. 

John Kutey was able to leave his job working for New York State Homes and he and his wife moved to a in Florida where they could show off Linda's Disney collection. Even though the after-tax take-home value of the prize was "only" $19 million, the Kutey's were able to help themselves and the people around them.

4. Family of Jackpot Winners Joins Together to Improve Their City

Pearlie Mae Smith raised her seven children to be aware of how important it is to give back to their community, and the children grew up volunteering in soup kitchens and working in community gardens.

So when the kids grew up and the family won a $429 million Powerball jackpot, it was clear to them that they wanted to use this windfall to do even more good for the people around them who weren't so lucky.

Although the huge lottery jackpot was split evenly among the eight family members, not all of them quit their jobs. One daughter, for example, decided to continue with her work mentoring other women, and now had the cash to help fund the program.

The family started the to provide funding for grassroots organizations who were working to improve the lives of people in their hometown of Trenton, New Jersey. The foundation's priorities include education, neighborhood development, Christian education, and supporting youth and families in the Trenton area.

5. School Teacher Wins the Money to Bring Joy to Children

Les Robins was a high school teacher who often thought it was a shame that kids today didn't grow up doing the kinds of activities he himself had enjoyed as a child: going to camp, swimming, playing sports, and exploring the outdoors. So when he won a $111 million Powerball jackpot, Robins decided to use the funds to create a camp of his own.

Robins founded Camp Winnegator on 226 acres that he bought with his lottery money, and it operated for over a decade. It provided children a low-cost place to go in the summer where they could horseback ride, craft, swim, and play on the lake. Best of all, the kids had a chance to disconnect from video games and cell phones and get in touch with nature and their real-life friends.

6. Florida Lottery Winner Leaves a Legacy of Good Works Behind

Sheelah Ryan won $52 million in the Florida State Lottery, which at the time was the biggest individual lottery jackpot ever won, and then spent the last years of her life giving it away. As many lottery winners have said, she felt that she had won the money for a reason, and that reason was to help others. She  to help organizations that provide aid for the underprivileged.

Ryan only had six years to enjoy her winnings before dying of cancer, but  outlasted her, continuing to give grants to organizations that built low-cost housing, helped children who in need of operations they couldn't afford, and aided senior citizens, especially in Seminole County of Florida.

7. Powerball Winners Use Jackpot to Fight the Disease That Killed Their Granddaughter

When Paul and Sue Rosenau  from a Powerball drawing in 2008, they knew exactly what they wanted to do with the money. See, they had bought their winning ticket five years to the day that their granddaughter, Makayla, died of a rare and incurable disease.

affects only one out of about 100,000 newborns, so it doesn't receive the funding that many more common diseases do. It's a devastating, degenerative illness that attacks the lining of the nerves and usually results in death within the first two years.

Paul and Sue Rosenau founded to increase awareness of the disease and to help fund promising research into treatment and cures. Sue and Paul Rosenau still serve on the foundation's board of directors.

As you can see, many lottery winners are able to do a lot of good with their prizes, both for themselves and for the people around them. There's no reason why a jackpot has to make you the target of a curse.

Remember, though, that while the lottery curse is no good reason to avoid picking up a ticket, the might well be. Buying lottery tickets should only be done for fun and to have a dream of winning, not as a serious way to make money or save for retirement. If you can't afford to lose the money you are spending on your tickets, it's best not to play.