This is a story of family, friendship and incredibly generous spirits.
As the Powerball jackpot began to grow and grow last week, the co-workers at a Florida real estate agency excitedly began to discuss an office pool to help them buy a pile of tickets.
Jennifer Maldonado had just joined Keller Williams Partner Realty on March 8. The mother of a 4-year-old autistic boy had been unemployed and didn't have her first paycheck yet. She told the Today Show that she didn't feel like she could afford the $20 pool price, and passed up.
Some of her co-workers offered to loan her the money, but she didn't want to impose. She said she would join the next pool.
Then the texts began to fly on Sunday among the 12 co-workers. They headed to the office where they had an impromptu celebration. They had won $1 million!
They matched all five numbers but missed the Powerball number.
Maldonado, 31, recalled that she thought it was a prank on the new girl.
"I really thought they were pranking me, I was the new girl. I was the only one who didn't put into the pool," she said.
Once she was convinced it was true, she was kicking herself. But she knew she didn't join so she figured it was her bad luck.
And she said she was overwhelmed with happiness for her new co-workers.
Laurie Finklestein Reader, a Realtor who organized the team, said everyone quickly decided they had to include the new girl. They agreed that Maldonado, an administrative assistant, had already become part of the family.
"Jennifer joined our team on March 8, and we felt that she became a part of our family at that point," Finklestein Reader said this morning. "We felt we had been blessed with this incredible happening, and we wanted her to be a part of it and be able to feel what we were feeling."
And she said the 12 are enjoying the newbie's stunned and grateful reaction. She said it feels good to give "and include someone," and they are getting more joy by including Maldonado.
After taxes, each player will get $83,333.33. Some of the winners plan to buy homes or cars with their winnings.
While Maldonado won't get the full share, Finkelstein Reader promised Today's Show Matt Laurer that she would get "a big fat check."
The Miami Heraldreported that someone's anger helped them win. When Finkelstein Reader went to buy the tickets, the clerk didn't understand she wanted 120 tickets, instead she printed out $120 in tickets.
As Finkelstein Reader explained she needed 60 more of the tickets that cost $2 each, some in the line behind her got impatient and voices were raised. One man skipped to another line and bought a bunch of tickets before Finkelstein Reader could get her second batch.
The winner was, of course, in the second batch.
"We wouldn't have won if it wasn't for that," she told the Florida newspaper.
And in hopes of lightning striking again, the co-workers - now including Maldonado - will continue to buy lottery tickets. But only when the jackpot reaches $200 million.
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