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Everyday Heroes
Pete We've all seen those commercials for Energizer batteries with the little pink bunny that keeps going and going and going. Well, meet the human version, the "miracle worker"!more ... ]

Everyday Heroes 

Yoo-mi Lee -- 'rethinking how to give'
-- by Hunter Boyle

Frustrated by twentysomething millionaires, stock market worship, and rampant materialism, Yoo-Mi Lee decided she'd had enough. "People were starting to lose their humanity. Because they were making six figures as a 24-year-old, they thought they were better than people who weren't," she says.

Her response? Move to San Francisco.

That was 1987 - the year that Yoo-Mi, a successful securities trader, exchanged the life of a Wall Street broker for the modesty of the Mission District. Many of her friends and associates derided the idea. "People were very angry with me. One guy yelled at me. He said, 'Yoo-Mi, are you crazy? Do you know that you're going to make $20,000 for the rest of your life?" she says. "I couldn't get through to him that it didn't matter to me. That was one of the reasons I left, because all they thought about was making money."

At a California agricultural cooperative, Yoo-Mi's passion for travel and appreciation of diverse cultures eventually led to her work with developing countries. Born in South Korea and raised in Uganda, East Africa, her teen years began in a Bronx public housing project and ended in Ithaca, New York, at Cornell University. Although her father, a surgeon, moved the family to affluent Scarsdale after completing his residency, Yoo-Mi mostly avoided the placid suburb, favoring the rich tapestry and energy of city life, making the most of her time. By the time illness canceled her parents' plans for a post-retirement reunion visit to Uganda, Yoo-Mi had long recognized that exploring the world couldn't be put off. To date, she has not only traveled to nearly 40 countries, but also helped many of them to develop infrastructure projects and improve the quality of life.

After a few years with the Washington, D.C. nonprofit that fostered much of her international travel, Yoo-Mi returned to the Bay Area in late 1997 - to ground zero in the new economy. "When I came back, it was a different world," she says. Quick to adapt, she studied e-commerce, the Internet, and social enterprise, established her own consulting business, and was considering full-time dot-com jobs when a friend suggested a way to help nonprofits with web technologies - and pointed Yoo-Mi to the CharityFocus site.

In June 1999, Yoo-Mi attended her first CharityFocus meeting and was "totally impressed" with the group's organization and mission. Eager to get involved and see hard results, Yoo-Mi approached her volunteer efforts with the same tenacity she devotes to her work. But something felt out of place to her. Gradually, she recognized what makes the group unique - and reconsidered her definition of service altogether. "CharityFocus has given me a way of rethinking how I want to give," she says.

"When I first came to CharityFocus, I thought: 'Okay, how can we grow this thing? How can we get money for it? How can we make sure that we get the most volunteers and build the most web sites?' But that's not it at all. The real focus is: 'How do you best open up opportunities for people to give of themselves?' That's been the nature of the change."

"It's a very different thing to give time than to give money," she continues. "I know money is really important to a lot of organizations, and a lot of organizations would rather have money than your time. But when you give your time, I think it changes you in some way - in a way that giving money doesn't. And that's what's really important, that's the kind of change we like to see in people, because they can go on and do other things."

Although she serves on the CharityFocus Tiger Team and has been a member since its early days, Yoo-Mi has never worked directly on a specific project. Instead, she devotes her time and considerable talents to coordinating outreach and public relations, assisting with organizational development and proposals, advising the Mentors Team, establishing alliances with partner organizations, and responding to email inquiries about CharityFocus and its services. In a quiet month, she spends about 30 hours on Charity Focus activities, but with the growing amount of press coverage, volunteers and projects, things are hardly quiet anymore. Fortunately, Yoo-Mi seems happy to find the time.

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