“There’s a reason why we do this…”

“I like helping people — mentally, emotionally, physically, socially. I think I’m approachable. Even when I’m not out trying to help people, people come up to me and ask me for help. I work at a homeless shelter. I’ve worked there for 20 years. My role there is to speak out for our guests by going to visit people and encourage them to volunteer or donate. I help put a face to and share the stories of people who are going through a difficult time in their life. All my life I’ve been finding a well of causes and then talking about them.

When I was young, I worked with a lot of special needs kids, so I’ve always been involved with that community. I wasn’t from a religious family, but I ended up getting involved with a church and serving there. So it’s really just been a part of who I am and what I do. I think I’m fairly empathic.

You do have to step back from it at times, though. You need that break, because some of these people… well, for instance, we’ve seen a big problem lately with heroin. You’ve got these young lives that you help and they seem to be doing better, and then, tragically, they relapse. It’s heartbreaking. And certainly the deaths are as well. We had a staff meeting last month, and someone had OD’ed that morning. We just threw out the whole agenda, and asked everyone to talk about how they got into this work and why they do it. It was good to be reminded that there’s a reason why we do this, even on the difficult days.”

150,000 Percent

“Everything I do revolves around my daughter. Every step I take is for her. She’s a little insane, though. She definitely gets that from me. She’s got my ADHD. And all her attitude is from me. Yeah, she’s definitely me—150,000%.”

“I still see it as it was…”

“Don’t take anything for granted. You can lose it all in an instant. People you’ve loved. Friends you’ve known. When you get to a certain age, everybody’s gone, y’know? It all changes so quickly. It’s kind of like… Troy has changed, but I still see it as it was, as I saw it growing up. My brother met somebody when he just started Troy High, and he’s been with her his whole life. One girl. Him and her. That’s it. My wife just makes me the happiest guy in the world. I only wish I would have found that companionship years ago.”

“Inspired to become an engineer…”

“I believe in outreach, giving back to the community. I want to find a place down the road that lets me make a difference in the world using engineering. That’s what motivates me to go through this process of college. I’m part of an organization that helps teach kids in middle school and high school about engineering, about the different type of engineers. A lot of kids don’t understand engineering, so we try to help get them motivated and inspired to become an engineer. I love doing that kind of stuff.”

“I’m a really privileged human being…”

“As I reflect back on my youth, it’s interesting how profound an influence the way my parents lived influenced the way I live today. And it wasn’t that they sat me down on the couch and said you will do this and this and this. I saw what they were engaged in, what gave them joy, and that became what gives me joy. It is self-interest. I’m not an altruistic person. I’m not sure I believe in altruism.  I believe everybody is driven by things that give them what they value. What I value is a good feeling for being a part of the community, making a contribution to the community, trying to raise others as well.

I recognize the benefits that I’ve been given not by virtue of hard work, but by virtue of luck: to be born in this country, to be born in a middle class family, to have an intact family with two parents. We weren’t well-off financially, but we never were hungry. I was in a community where my neighbors were as concerned about my well-being as my family was. So I was given all of these things. And it’s not to say I didn’t work, but I was supported in my efforts. I was nurtured in my efforts. I’m a really privileged human being in the grand scheme of things. I recognize that, and something inside me tells me that doesn’t come without a cost. I feel a responsibility to help others realize their potential the way I’ve been allowed to realize mine.

I guess the greatest struggle in my life has to be trying to find the balance between this job and my family. I feel as though I’ve neglected my family and friends since I started the campaign. I feel horrible that I’ve not been more of a family member. It’s a huge sacrifice. I’m not sure how many people fully understand that.  That’s my challenge: finding that balance. The city needs me to do a whole bunch of things. But my family also needs me, and I need to make sure I nurture those relationships.”

Marine Biology

“I want to make the ocean a better place. That’s what’s driven me since 5th grade. No matter what I’m going through now, I’ve always thought, ‘I have to become a marine biologist.’ We haven’t taken responsibility for all the bad stuff we’ve been doing to the ocean, so I want to. I’ve never actually been to the ocean. There’s not a whole lot you can do without going away, and I just don’t have money for that. I went to Sea World once and got to experience the ocean as much as you can from an amusement park. Then, I went on a whale watching trip in the Long Island Sound and spoke with a marine biologist who told me about all the stuff she did to become what she was. She said she went to the University of Florida, and I wanted to go there so bad, but senior year came and I realized I just couldn’t afford it.

Right now, I’m putting myself through Hudson Valley. I was supposed to go to the University of New Haven, but a lot of financial stuff started to happen. There’s no marine biology major at Hudson Valley, which is why I wanted to go to New Haven. If I’d gone to New Haven, I’d already be taking marine biology classes, but I’m taking bio and environmental science classes, which are close. I couldn’t go my first semester because I hadn’t been able to take out any loans. My mom has been supportive. She really wants me to do this. But she had bad credit, so she really couldn’t put me through college. She cried when I finally got to go to Hudson Valley for the second semester. She never got to graduate high school, so she really wants me to succeed.

I think a lot about what the future could be, because right now is not really good. My whole family is homeless right now. I guess you can’t focus on the bad. You have to just keep moving forward. One day, I’ll be able to tell my kids, ‘You can get through anything. I went through all this stuff, and look where I am now.’”

“Beautiful in a different way…”

“When you’re an entrepreneur, most people think you enjoy challenge and risk, but I am not a risk taker. I enjoy eating the same meal at the same restaurant every time. I don’t want to try something new. I’d be in the same apartment we rented if it wasn’t for my husband. He’s the risk taker, pushing me into challenges. I was so nervous, I did not want to have kids. I didn’t want to buy a house. I didn’t want to get our storefront. I didn’t want to hire employees. Every step, I’ve said I’m happy where I am, and he constantly tells me I’ll be happier with the change.

Now, the more I see the fruit of risk, the more I’ve been willing to risk, but it’s still a crazy up-and-down. You just never know. You just have to learn to embrace it. I remember a year into my business, I started having chest pains all the time, my fingers and toes were turning blue, I had a heart monitor… I literally thought I was dying. I went to my doctor and after some tests she said, ‘everything is fine, you just need a psychologist.’ I didn’t even realize how much anxiety I had. I don’t express it that often, but I had just been internalizing all of it. Realizing it was all that it took for me. I never had chest pains again. It was a mind thing. I just had to get over the fact that things are uncomfortable and that in my life risk is real every single day. I embraced it, then things started turning around for me.

I also think faith plays a huge role in how I view risk. I watch God provide… he definitely has, time and time again. God’s always orchestrating things that we don’t even understand. I used to pray and ask for things that I thought were best, but I feel like in the last 5 years, I’ve almost stopped asking for much and started saying, ‘guide me into your best.’ Worst case scenario, he has something different in store, something that looks beautiful in a different way. Trusting day by day and learning to let go. After all, every day really is a risk for everyone, isn’t it?”

“Too much war…”

“I left Burma because there was too much war, too much fighting. I didn’t have a home. I was a soldier. In 1988, the students protested the military government. I came from the jungle to fight. Now I hate war. Fighting for what? For who? For why? It was very foolish. No food. No home. A broken family. A broken school. A broken education. Everything was broken. So I decided: I have to try for America. I applied with the USCI, and they approved.

When I first came to America 9 years ago, I had no job, no money. And I needed a smoke! My heart was shaking, where do I start? It’s the beginning! I didn’t know how I could do it. But after 8 months, we begin to know American culture: how to live, how to eat, how to talk. One time, we didn’t know what the electronic heater was (a lighter). My wife sees it and says ‘Fire! Fire! Call 9-1-1!’ They came in, one American policeman another Chinese policeman, and they laughed. We just didn’t know. Things like that happened and happened. Now we’re okay. I went to school. I learned history… read and learned. I started to understand more.

America is good. If I have a job, good. If I don’t have a job, I can apply for benefits like food stamps and Medicaid. The government helps you. In my country, they didn’t. It’s too late for me. Education. Communication. Everything broken. I tried for the United States because of my children. They won’t have to know about war. When they grow up, I will tell them about my story. My oldest son knows a little. Sometime when I tell him to do something, he says, ‘you were a soldier, don’t tell me what to do.’ I showed him a picture of when I was a soldier, and he cried. 

I’m 45 years old now. Sometimes I think about my daddy, my mom, my brother, my sister, all dead. I miss my family. 24 years ago, I saw my brother in the refugee camp, but he didn’t remember me. I asked him, ‘What is your daddy and mommy’s name? How many brothers and sisters do you have?’ Then I knew this was my brother! But I haven’t seen him since. I did talk to him in 2008, so I know he is alive.

I clean dishes now. This is good. This is work. Everything is okay.”

Skating for fun.

“I got a board 4 years ago, but I didn’t start taking it seriously until 2 years ago. Downtown has some great spots—under the bridge on Hoosick is good. But I usually just skate on the sidewalk out front of my house. I just got back into it because it’s been pretty cold this winter. Before winter, I would skate every day. It’s kind of hard because now I’ve got a job, but I still try to get out and skate as much as I can. I do it for fun. I’m not trying to make money on it or anything.”

“You’re on the payroll…”

“I work in the kitchen at Russell Sage. I was on my way home from getting a beer, just walking by one day, and this guy said, ‘You want a job?’ And I was like, ‘No way, man… I don’t work.’ He said, ‘Put that beer down and I’ll give you a job.’ I thought he was just kidding around with me. But then I came around again one day, and he said, ‘Get in here, you’re on the payroll.’ He put my beer in a cooler, and I worked with him the whole day. That first day was great. I loved it. I’ve been there 36 years.

About 3 years ago, my girlfriend died. She had a heart attack. She died right in front of my eyes, right there on the loveseat. You never really think something like that is going to happen. It’s a part of life, though. When your time comes, you gotta go. Nothing I could do about it. Took me a while to get through it. I dream about her sometimes, late at night. Someone dies in your arms, it’s scary. I’m happy now, though. I got my love: Budweiser. She’s my second woman. Doesn’t talk back to you. Less expensive. I’ve got my bubbles. I’ve got my job. I’m a happy person. I’m just going to keep working until the man upstairs tells me to stop.”