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Making a Difference
By Giselle Fernandez
from Los Angeles,CA

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I have always been infused with a passionate sense of social justice for all people. Perhaps because we didn't have a lot of money growing up and because I was exposed to immense poverty through my travels in Mexico and around the world, the plight of the poor and underserved has always been a deep source of sadness for me I could not ignore. I have always understood that poverty had nothing to do with potential or quality of human being, only exposure and access to opportunities to fulfill ones potential, of which I believe we are all born to manifest in our own ways. Not just some of us, but all of us. It's access to that opportunity that separates the haves and have nots, nothing more. There are no dispensable people in my book and I was born with a belief that if you have, you must share and reach out to those in need. Nelson Mandela inspired me most when he said solving the problems of poverty is not a matter of charity, but of justice. I have always admired Mandela and those many blessed champions of humanity who have raised their voices to make change in the world. I was born to be one of them as I believe we all are to do our part in some way, no matter how small. I don't care how powerful, famous, rich you are or are not. All have something to give and must raise our voice, use our unique skills, no matter how modest, to help make a difference in the world.

I learned this again most recently from a ten year old boy named Dusty Meraz who was diagnosed with a lethal cancer. He reached out to me to help him make a documentary about his fight for life. I asked him why it was important for him to do so and he told me simply that before he died he wanted to help spare other children his same fate. In a documentary called "Our Story," Dusty exposed the intimate challenges of a child facing death and the desperate hope to make a difference before he passed. "Nothing else matters," Dusty would say, treasure your family and friends and reach out to those in need--nothing means more than this." When Dusty died, I promised to carry on his mission and do all I could to make grownups aware that kids need cures for cancer. Like so many of us in philanthropy, we are inspired by hardship we suffer personally ourselves or up close and personal through someone we love. Dusty was my inspiration. This boy used the last weeks of his life to make his life matter by trying to help others. It is said that life is not measured in the breaths you take but in the moments that take your breath away. Dusty knew he did not have the time to make his mark so he used his last breaths to leave his legacy of caring.

In his name, I created the Night of the Child gala to benefit Children's Hospital Los Angeles, where 70 percent of the kids are Hispanic and very poor and turns no one away because of a parent's inability to pay. Our efforts have raised more than seven million dollars as a result and there is nothing I am more proud of. I have received countless awards now for my philanthropy from the National Association of Fundraising Professionals to Hispanics in Philanthropy to the Nancy Riordan Award for my contributions to kids in Los Angeles and while all touch my heart, the real reward came in the doing, in the knowing that you may have helped one other human being. There is nothing more gratifying than being able to make a difference.

My next project is "CAUSE CELEB" where I profile celebrities and their causes in hopes of inspiring many with the work of the famous. It's a way to really show what star power is all about and have ordinary citizens join forces with them to become stars themselves. We all are the brightest stars when we give and shine our light on those in need.

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