“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.’”

“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?”

“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.”

“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.”

“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.”

“I’ll never forget my first boyfriend. This was a long time ago… in my junior high school. He was a really cute boy, and I was extremely happy. I’m from China, and this kind of relationship was usually restricted at that age, so we had to keep it a secret. You know, pretend we weren’t boyfriend and girlfriend. I told my parents that we were just friends, but most of my classmates knew that we were dating. We’re not dating anymore. It’s hard to say what happened to us, but I moved to another city for high school, and he stayed in my home town, so there was distance between us, which made it hard. But we are still friends. I’m not dating anybody now. This is my first year as a Ph.D student in Mathematics, so I really need to focus on my studies.”

“I’ve worked this food pantry off-and-on for seven years. I started out helping my brother, but took it over for him when he got too old. After his heart attack, he started getting sick all the time as his system got worse, so I stepped in. Somebody else does all the paperwork and stuff, but I decide what to order, what to load up for everybody. We do all Troy housing, which is 1400 apartments—not that everyone there comes here—but when they need it, once a month they can come down and get it. I enjoy doing it. I enjoy meeting different people and talking with them. The hardest part is keeping enough in there so everyone stays supplied. Sometimes when we’re low or out of food, it’s tough to tell a family that they’ll have to come back in a week when they’re telling me they ain’t got nothin. But at the end of the day, I like what I’m doing and I’ll keep on doing it as long as I can.”

“I worked 20 years on the garbage truck. Back in the day I used to work, no shirt, just shorts… in the winter time! But I’m out now. I keep myself occupied with walking. I take walks all over town and check on elderly people that I got to know when I worked on the garbage truck. I help them out. I check on their houses, keep an eye on them, clean them. I also wash a lot of windows. The Chinese place? I did those windows. The eyeglass place on 3rd Street? The dentist on 3rd Street? Did them all. All the old-timers in the police department know me. Just wait ’til the boys down there see this picture, they’ll love it. ‘Oh boy, there’s our rookie!'”

“A couple of my friends turned out to be professional athletes, professional boxers, world champions. They all grew up in the projects with me here in Troy and went on to great careers. I didn’t box professionally, though. Just actual fights. *laughs* Things have been so down lately, though. I’m on social security. I have so many injuries that I got from painting and roofing. It’s just been hard. It’s been a real hard struggle. I haven’t worked in five years. I’ve had six surgeries. I just had an MRI the other day, now I have to go back and see the results. I just wish I could move to a nicer place where the landlords take care of their property so we can have a nice home. That’s it. That’s all I want. To hang out in the back yard with the grandkids, have a safe place where they can come. There are other things in life that I’d like to have, but realistically they’re not going to happen unless something comes through for me. I’m sorry, I know it’s a bleak picture, but it’s honest. I’m being real. This is part of the real stories of Troy. I hope it gets better. It has to.”

“I just brought my mom and my little brother out from Iowa to support them. That’s why I’m working, to take care of them. I’ve got work here… really good work, too. Construction. I’ve always worked with my hands, but I haven’t always been handy. I used to wash dishes. Worked at a meat company. But I’d like to get into real estate. Flipping houses. I didn’t graduate high school, though; so that’s one step I’ve got to take to get me there, I think. Getting started is the hard part, though. But there’s nothing really that’s stopping me. Nothing but me, tell you the truth.”