You are going to fall in love with today’s ‘good person’ …Her name is Betty Chinn, and as you may have already guessed, she is originally from China. I’ll let her tell you about the days of her childhood …
“I was born in a very good family. I’m one of 12 kids. And then in the 1960s, they had the Cultural Revolution. My mom was a US citizen and a Western educator. My mom believed in God, religion. Because my parents had religion and education, my family was a target for the government.
I was separated from my family and I lived on the street by myself. I had to wear a sign on my neck that said, ‘I’m a child of the devil.’ I had nothing to eat, hungry all the time. Every time when I asked for food, I was beaten up by people. Torture, separation from my family, abandoned, betrayal … this all happened at a very young age.
My sister took me out of the country … and then to Hong Kong. I did not know my birthday.
I had never been to school. I stayed home. Then I found my best friends on Sesame Street. They were the ones who taught me English.
Each day when I get up in the morning, I get moving, that’s my birthday. I am celebrating my birthday every single day when I can move, and I can breathe. I have my freedom. That’s the way I look at it.”
And now that you know how Ms. Chinn got her start in life, let’s take a look with what she is doing today. Eventually Betty was sent to live with a sibling in California and settled in the town of Eureka in Humboldt County. Married to now-retired Humboldt State University physics professor, Leung Chinn, the couple had two sons, and it was this that would spark Betty’s passion for helping others.
One day in 1984, while volunteering at her son’s elementary school, one of his classmates complained that she was always hungry. Betty began putting an extra sandwich in her son’s lunch for the girl, only to discover a few days later that the girl and her family were homeless, living out of their car. So, Betty began sending extra food for the family, as well. Although she didn’t realize it yet, she had just started down the path that would last for the rest of her life. She began observing people in the town and was shocked to see how many other people were in the same situation and decided to make it her mission to provide for the less fortunate in her community.
“I’d do anything I could do to make people not hungry. When I even hear somebody say, ‘I’m hungry,’ my stomach hurts. I feel the hunger inside me. I still remember the hunger.”
She used income from her part-time job to buy food, which she would load into her car and deliver to people living on the street, under bridges and highways, anywhere she could find them. At first, she didn’t tell anyone about what she was doing – not even her husband.
“He did ask me, from time to time, ‘Why are you cooking so much food? Why we buy so much food from the supermarket?'”
He eventually found out – ten years later – and is now her biggest supporter!
Though she never publicized what she was doing, Chinn’s efforts were noticed and appreciated. In 2008, she received the Minerva Award for remarkable women from California’s first lady, Maria Shriver, which included a $25,000 prize. By now, I’m sure you can guess that Betty did not spend that money on new clothes and a lavish vacation, right? Nope, she built showers! Yep, you heard me right … showers. The following March, she opened Eureka’s first (only) free public shower facility, with the mantra “Providing Dignity One Shower at a Time”.
In 2010, she was one of 13 recipients of the 2010 Presidential Citizens Medal from President Barack Obama, the nation’s second highest civilian award. She was honored for showing how one person can touch the lives of hundreds of people whom the rest of the world has forgotten.It was at that point that she started dreaming of opening a “Betty’s House,” a type of central location where she could help clients keep warm and fed while connecting them with a variety of services housed under one roof. Four years later, this dream culminated in the Betty Kwan Chinn Day Center which houses Betty’s commercial kitchen, helps clients connect with services, jobs and housing, while also offering after school care, wellness courses, and educational programming for homeless children.But Betty didn’t stop there! In 2016, she opened Betty’s House, a family shelter that provides transitional housing up to 8 families at a time, giving them the stability, services, and support needed to find a permanent place to live. The shelter’s downstairs, operated in partnership with St. Joseph Hospital, offers a space for up to 10 homeless people recently discharged from the hospital to convalesce under a nurse’s 24/7 care.
But we’re still not done …
Also in 2016, as the city of Eureka was working to clear its largest homeless encampment from a greenbelt near the bay, Betty partnered with the Humboldt Coalition for Property Rights to convert some old Connex shipping containers into a housing village, known now as Betty’s Blue Angel Village, that shelters up to 40 people at a time while offering intensive wrap around services aimed at transitioning them into permanent housing situations. It is one of few shelters on the West coast that allows animals.There is so much more I could write about Betty Chinn … this woman … this woman is so good, has done so much for her community, that my words feel inadequate to describe her. Betty arises at 2:07 every morning, ready to go, seven days a week, rain or shine. I recommend paying a brief visit to her website, The Betty Kwan Chinn Homeless Foundation, where you will find additional information, photo galleries and more.
In 2015, she received yet another award from President Obama …Last week, Ms. Chinn was named one of CNN’s Heroes … an honour well-deserved. In addition to American recognition, Betty has received commendations from China and is hailed as the “Hong Kong Angel.” And around Humboldt County, she is known as the ‘Chinese Mother Teresa’. Eureka’s police chief, Andrew Mills, described her as a philanthropic force of nature. “It’s a humbling experience just to sit in her presence.”
Heck, I found it humbling just to research and write about this woman … I am in awe. If I had a third, I would give this woman three thumbs up, but as I have only two, I shall give her both. Thank you, Betty Kwan Chinn, for making such a wonderful difference in the lives of so many! 👍👍