Betty Chinn, Founder, Betty's Blue Angel
My mission to care for the homeless and less fortunate takes root in the experiences of my childhood, when my family was targeted and torn apart by the Red Guard of China’s Cultural Revolution. With my mother imprisoned and my siblings hauled off to labor camps, I was left homeless in the streets, forced to wear a wooden sign proclaiming me a “child of the devil.” After spending four years enduring hunger pains, ostracism and a campaign of torture, I escaped, along with three of my siblings, and walked hundreds of miles to freedom in Hong Kong, eventually making my way to the United States.
Granted a new life in America, I soon began to see that even in the richest country in the world, there were people left to sleep under bushes, to forage for food in dumpsters and who were too often met with a cold shoulder or an indifferent look when they sought help. I started by helping where I could. When cooking meals for my family, I made extra, bringing them to a local family living out of their car. It felt good, like I was getting as much out of feeding them as they were from eating my food.
My outreach efforts — which now feed hundreds of people twice a day in addition to providing them with clothing, toiletries, bus tickets, medical care and hot showers — grew from this organic place, from feeding one family in need. Over time, it grew. I reached out to more families and cooked more dinners.
Some 20 years ago, a beautiful thing happened. Others in the community saw what I was doing and felt a desire to help. Jars of peanut butter started showing up on my doorstep, along with bags of slightly used clothes. My dentist and my doctor agreed to start seeing people in need if I brought them in. Just as organically as it started, my mission started to expand, enabled by the generosity of hundreds of community members who saw my passion and felt it as well.
In 2010, this growing mission came into full blossom. After a community fundraising effort that was more successful than I ever could have imagined, I was able to oversee the construction of Eureka’s first free public shower facility which operates under the mantra “Providing Dignity, One Shower at a Time.” Now, my sights are set on opening Betty’s House, a kind of community center for the homeless that offers them a safe place to spend their days and connects them with an array of services housed under a single roof.
None of this would have been possible without a caring and generous community that has, for some reason, identified with my passion, heard its message and agreed to get off the sidelines and get involved. My experiences over the last 25 years have also reinforced my belief that we can all make a difference if we devote our time, energy, experiences and gifts to making ourselves better neighbors, better citizens and to making this world a better place.
Here are five things I hope you keep in mind when working to that end:
1. Never give up — Negativity and roadblocks can, and likely will, crop up everywhere, but they can only derail your mission if you let them. I have learned that life is a marathon, not a sprint. Perseverance is imperative.
2. Act with compassion — No matter what you do, think of others first and act with empathy. Try your best to understand what others are going through and act accordingly.
3. Dare to hope — No one has ever accomplished anything without the hope of tomorrow being a better day. It was hope that got me through long nights sleeping in a garbage dump, it was hope that eased my hunger pains and it was hope that helped me walk hundreds of miles to freedom. And, today, it’s hope that helps me rise before the sun to help those in need.
4. Love everyone — One of the great problems that plagues our society today is a love-deficit. Fear, jealousy and distrust too often keep us from seeing the best in each other. But when we approach each other from a place of love we see the good in one another, we give the benefit of the doubt and, sometimes, we can inspire the downtrodden to see the best in themselves.
5. Follow your passion — It’s important to recognize that we are not all the same. I can’t do what you do, and you may not be able to walk in my footsteps. What we can all do is listen to our hearts and follow our passions to make the world a better place. My passion — feeding and caring for those in need — is fueled by my childhood. Find what you are passionate about, what you love doing, and use that to make a difference.
Betty Chinn is a woman who exemplifies how one person can touch the lives of hundreds of people whom the rest of the world has forgotten. Her purpose is simple: to show the homeless who live in her hometown of Eureka love, comfort and basic humanity. Betty was the recipient of a 2008 Minerva Award given by Maria Shriver at The Women's Conference. To donate to Betty's cause visit BettyChinn.org.
Watch Betty Chinn receive The 2010 Presidential Citizen's Medal from President Barack Obama.