Although lines have been drawn in the sand between the "99 percent" and the "1 percent," one San Ramon Valley local is bridging the gap to help the less fortunate.
When Danville resident Hilary DeCesare set out to ensure online safety for children with a website, she didn't expect to change lives. But an appearance on ABC's reality series, "Secret Millionaire," which premiered July 8, changed DeCesare's life and business.
"Secret Millionaire" places undercover self-run business owners in poverty-stricken cities around the country for a week, where they seek selfless individuals who are most deserving of a financial gift. At the end of the week, the millionaires unmask their true identities and present significant checks -- from their own bank accounts -- to the community.
DeCesare became a millionaire after creating a kid-friendly social networking site, Everloop, for children under 13 years old. The 43-year-old also worked at Oracle for 10 years, a career that gave DeCesare the business skills to run a start-up.
"I initially created Everloop because all of a sudden, my kids were wanting to explore more online," she said.
Because Facebook has an over-thirteen age policy, DeCesare set out to create a website where young children can socialize with their friends, play games, and have a safe, fun time, while also learning about the dangers of the Internet.
"Kids think that a friend they're talking to online is as much of a BFF as they would be in person," DeCesare explained. "They don't know that that person isn't who they say they are, so they give out tons of information. I want them to be aware of what could happen."
DeCesare also wants to educate these users about the risks of putting out personal information online: once something is out there, it never goes away.
As the mother of three kids, DeCesare is even more aware of these issues. "I built (Everloop) around them," she said. "We use (our children) as role models and focus groups, which empowers them. We give them the voice to say what's cool and what's not."
For her appearance on "Secret Millionaire," DeCesare traveled to an impoverished area of Long Beach, Calif. in October. Undercover, she developed lasting relationships with the residents of the neighborhood.
"It was so impacting to me," DeCesare described. "When I came back, I wanted to make sure I didn't lose (the relationships). It's so easy to slip back into your life, and I just said, 'I'm not doing it.'"
One person that really stood out to her was 8-year-old Jonas, a selfless young boy living with his mom in a small home. Although Jonas and his mother were not well-off, he realized that he had it better than most in the area. DeCesare helped Jonas make 63 sandwiches and deliver them to homeless people in a park; he then visited a pre-school for homeless children and gave teddy bears to the entire class.
DeCesare was so moved by this boy's compassion and genuine nature that, in addition to awarding Jonas $15,000, she created a new feature on Everloop called Evergive which spotlights kids who are making a difference in the world. Jonas was designated as the first Evergive.
"Now, other kids: what can you do?" DeCesare proposed. "At a young age, kids want to give back but they don't know how to do it. We want to give them a voice. Even the small things matter."
After visiting Jonas and witnessing how he was so selflessly improving the lives of others, DeCesare said, "I am the CEO of a company that encourages kids to go out and make a difference. I didn't really realize that I was being hypocritical in saying, 'Kids, go out and make a difference!' What was I really doing to make a difference?"
DeCesare called developing Everloop and participating in Secret Millionaire "the most rewarding thing" in her life. She said that helping people is the best way to feel better about oneself; if someone is ever having a bad day, giving back is the way to cure it.
"What better way to use your money than to give it to someone who is really trying to make a difference?" she asked. "The show's name is 'Secret Millionaire,' but it is really about unsung heroes. One hour of your time can make a difference in someone's life, that's what the show is really about."
On the television show, DeCesare was a shining light as she personally affected the lives of people who wanted to help those less fortunate, but did not have the means to make it happen. DeCesare donated a total of $140,000 -- all out-of-pocket -- to three organizations and families in Long Beach. Each group responded in stunned tears as DeCesare gave them money as well as the hope and spirit to continue.
"It's not about what you have, it's about who you have in your life. To find hope in anything, gives you the hope to go on," DeCesare said of her experience.