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Everyday Heroes
Les Point blank, someone once asked this Zen master: "What would you do if you have ten minutes left to live?" While most people would think, debate and ponder, he immediately and confidently replies with a smile, "What's wrong with what we're doing?" Meet Les Kaye. more  ]

Everyday Heroes 

Michael Chang -- spider man
-- by Nancy Kimm

While Spider-Man uses imaginary high-tech toys to achieve the impossible, Michael Chang uses his intellectual might to achieve real-life wonders ...

Michael Chang was born in a rural part of Taiwan. The first 12 years of his life were structured, molded, and influenced by strong, traditional-family principles and by an Asian society that placed a very high value on education and prized strong competitiveness. These factors gave him a strong lead in life; they enabled him to develop his self-confidence, strong optimism, and self-motivation. This positive, can-do attitude was instrumental in Michael's ability to excel in school -- even when he found himself, at the age of 12, struggling with a new country and new language when his father moved the family to Vancouver, Canada. It was 1997.

Michael, his mother, and sister lived together in Canada for three years while Michael's father worked hard to earn his MBA in the United States. Michael had to adjust to a new Western lifestyle. It was a lifestyle in which everything seemed very free and very spacious; a simple house seemed more like a mansion. It was quite different from the very disciplined and rather compact lifestyle in Taiwan. Eager to learn English, Michael quickly took to this new environment while his mother worked hard to take care of the family.

During his first year in Canada, Michael found it difficult to make friends with the in crowd of popular kids, known as the inner circle. Not understanding their avid interest in the popular, comic book character known as Spider Man, Michael began looking around for other interests. He turned his attention to the Internet and web design.

Michael acquired most of his Internet and web design know-how on his own. He also used online tutorials to help him along the way. Within a short time, his new hobby developed into freelance jobs, and his graphic designs quickly gained recognition. By the time he entered the eighth grade, he was doing work for a number of Internet start-ups. As of today, he's built up an impressive portfolio, composed of web-design work for more than 50 companies and organizations. His web designs range from print logos to 3D Modeling, and he has won several awards in logo contests.

Michael also learned there was a downside to working with certain Internet companies, especially startups. He would work countless hours on a design only to find it not used and never paid for. It was time he should have spent studying. The experience taught him a lesson that has made him more careful and more discerning about who he would do work for.

Challenged with finding other ways he could continue learning and practicing his web-design skills, he began volunteering with "StellarSite," which was similar to CharityFocus but much smaller in scale. After bad mismanagement caused StellarSite to fold, Michael looked around for other possibilities and found Volunteer Match, which got him connected with CharityFocus in 2000.

In 2001, when Michael was 15, it was time for the family to be together. His father had finished his graduate work and moved on with his career. Michael, his mother, and his sister joined the elder Mr. Chang in the United States. Once again, Michael needed to adjust to a new country and a new environment. Luckily, he had his volunteer work to help him through the changes.

At CharityFocus, Michael started off slowly by working on small graphic tasks. Today, he works with Nipun Mehta on various projects involving eCards and web animation (Flash Orientation). In a short time, he was nominated the "Hero of the Month." He also became a member of the Tiger Team and the CharityFocus Graphics Team.

Michael does the bulk of his work for CharityFocus and another volunteer organization, Schools Online, during his summer vacation. The rest of the year he devotes his time and effort to class work. Because of his passion for volunteering, he works with his friend, Valeri (coincidentally another CF volunteer), at Schools Online. The organization helps direct students in the use of Internet resources, which they can then use for learning and for cross-cultural dialogue.

When Michael was earning money for his work, he felt guilty about the precious time it took away from his schoolwork. The flexible schedule at CharityFocus allows him the luxury of helping those in need without the guilt of sacrificing his grades. "Seeing the grateful smiles from CharityFocus clients seemed far more rewarding than getting a paycheck, said Michael. "Seeing how I made people's lives easier really made me feel justified asking nothing in return."

Having just graduated from high school, Michael is heading off to college to study engineering in Ann Arbor, Michigan. But he isn't waiting until then to get started on his engineering career.

Could it be that two of NASA's future flight engineers may already be in training?

[ email mike ]

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