On tonight’s season finale episode of ABC’s The Secret Millionaire, financial success entrepreneur Ali Brown joins the ranks of Gary and Diane Heavin, Marc Paskin, John Ferber, Dani Johnson, and James Malinchak.
Ali didn’t take a long journey across the country. Instead, she went just down the street from her California home. She’s going to Venice Beach.
Ali Brown is 38 and from Marina Del Rey and is CEO of Ali International. She teaches women to start profitable businesses. Her house on the beach is pretty snazzy.
Ali says she has a hard time slowing down, so the coming week will certainly be a test for her. She had a hard time leaving her cell phone behind, but she did.
The taxi took her just down the street — 2 miles away to Venice Beach…home to hundreds of homeless. Ali wasn’t too thrilled with the “funky” smell of her apartment, and she looked visibly distressed upon entering the apartment.
$55.25/week is all she had to buy food for the week.
Again, visibly distressed.
Harvest Home, with director Jennifer Jensen, was the first charity. It offers shelter for pregnant homeless women. Jensen says the focus is on jobs and emotional stability. Jensen’s personal journey inspired her to start the home.
Ali helped out with some clothes sorting and got to know tenant Erica. She said that she has been helped immensely by Harvest Home. At dinner that night, Ali met the rest of the women and got some conversation and ‘baby stares’…Later, she was very emotional talking about her supportive family.
I just want to take a few seconds to thank my supportive family…Thank you supportive family!
Interestingly, Ali stated that the women she normally helps have a sense of belief in themselves, and that Harvest Home helped to provide that for others.
I think that’s a great thing. I think that’s an underrated thing. We can give shelter and monetary support, but unless we also marry that with some emotional support that can help build self-esteem, we’re only getting part of the pie.
Ali met two women who have to live in their van. Then, she went on a tour of the RVs where many of the homeless live. Some men recommended the St. Joseph Center and the Bread and Roses kitchen.
Tiana, the volunteer coordinator, met Ali at the door.
The narrator said that Bread and Roses is the only place of its kind in California, where the homeless can make reservations and eat restaurant-style.
Tiana stated that the kitchen serves about 150 people per day.
Ali spent the day serving the customers and said that she really enjoyed it. One diner said, “They treat you like people.”
By the end of her second day, Ali seemed a little more comfortable and ready to help some more.
I guess dignity is like that — once we give it, we want to give more.
Day three saw Ali Brown back on the streets. She headed to Common Ground — a bicycle-based outreach group. They offer food, medical treatment, and counseling for youth in Venice Beach.
Ali got on the bike and headed for the beach.
Volunteer “Dre” credits his current positive life to Common Ground and their efforts. His early story is a typical drug cycle — what isn’t typical is his stop…meeting “Courtney” from Common Ground and hearing a truth and finding support.
Now, he want to be “not selfish” and to help others. Paying it forward.
That night, Ali headed to the boardwalk. She said it made her look at homelessness in “a whole new way.”
On day four, she had roughly $17 left. Still, she went to Cafe Collage for a pick-me-up. She found a flyer for a charity that helps the chronically ill “feel beautiful again.”
She went to meet Alicia and Wendy of the Beauty Bus.
The cousins lost a cousin at 28 to a degenerative disease, and while that battle was going on, Alicia and Wendy decided to help their cousin by providing her with beauty to make her feel good…and that launched the foundation.
There is a beauty service for the patient and their caregiver when the Beauty Bus goes on a call.
I like that they include the caregiver, too.
Robbie provided a manicure on behalf of the Beauty Bus for Harry and his caregiver.
Harry has ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and his niece Mary cares for him. Ali sat with Harry and Mary while they received a treatment.
The beauty treatment is certainly not only about “beauty.” Again, there’s that word ‘dignity,’ but there’s also a sense of pride and human interaction. We’re more than the sum of our appearances, but we’re also profoundly our sense of self.
Who can say which parts are the most important?
Day five saw a return to Harvest Home. Jen Jensen said the organization is about “everyday people” who support them…with no government funding.
Ali was assigned to take care of one of the babies while the mother was doing some homework, as part of Harvest Home’s education program for expectant mothers. One of the boarders told an incredible story of finding Harvest Home just as her motel money was running out.
Literally, an answer to a prayer.
In a way, I suppose prayers are a lot like fishing lines…we cast them out in hope and, quite often, we are surprised at the nibbles we get.
On her last day, Ali Brown had to decide who would receive what. She sat at her table for the last time to write checks.
She made her way to the Beauty Bus to give away her first check for $10,000. The gift was clearly appreciated, and Ali said she was happy to help a new business grow.
Common Ground was next up, and they received a $30,000 check. Dre had a look of shock on his face, in the best sense. Ali said that she was touched by the stories of youth who have nobody in their lives.
Did you hear that? There are people in the world who have nobody in their lives to encourage them and make them feel like they can be somebody. Make someone feel like somebody today. And tomorrow. And the day after. It can be anyone.
And if you feel rejected? Keep trying. With the same person, a new person, anyone.
Dre put it best, “I was able to break the cycle for myself, but a lot of them can’t.” They could, but not until someone cares.
The next stop was Bread and Roses where Ali gave $10,000. That’s a lot of bread.
The final stop was Harvest Home. Ali told Jen Jensen how much she loved her experience there and, of course, there were tears. Ali said the experience had a significant impact on her.
Ali gave Harvest Home a check for $50,000…and it was Jensen’s turn to cry. Ali also got a chance to tell the other women in the home about the donation and to receive their hugs.
“Someone out there really cares about what we’re doing,” Jensen said.
Validation is nice in these non-profit arenas, as it can breathe new life into something that can be so emotionally difficult. There are great humanitarian rewards, yes, but it also takes a little cash to keep those rewards flowing.
Thanks Secret Millionaire for giving a little back in a world that often takes so much.