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Local philanthropist Betty Kwan Chinn story in new book

“The Gray Bird Sings: The Extraordinary Life of Betty Kwan Chinn” written by Karen M. Price, Ph.D.

Betty wakes up early to start her shift. The crisp morning air is silent but you can begin to hear the birds singing to welcome in the day. The dark purple skies are tinted with red and orange hues as the sun rises. She packs up the meals she diligently prepared the night before into her big blue truck she calls “Blue Angel.” Driving through the foggy streets of Eureka, she navigates through different encampments in search of hungry people looking for a hot meal. 

The Little Gray Bird

Local Philanthropist Betty Kwan Chinn released a biography, “The Gray Bird Sings: The Extraordinary Life of Betty Kwan Chinn” written by her friend of twenty years, Karen M. Price, Ph.D. The book describes her journey of being homeless and mute at a young age to becoming a world renowned humanitarian with a strong voice speaking for the forgotten in the homeless community. 

“I experience authoring Betty’s life story as a daunting privilege,” said author, Karen M. Price. “It has taken time to piece together the stories in a more or less complete form. It has been challenging and rewarding to research the first person accounts of others who suffered during the Cultural Revolution, and to see how similar their experiences were to Betty’s.” 

In the book, Chinn describes stories from opening up a shower facility with Maria Shriver after earning the Minerva Award, where she met Bono of the band U2, and received a $25,000 stipend to fund the facility, to receiving President Obama’s Citizen’s Medal that led to recognition from Chinese media outlets and its nationals which brought awareness to the torture and abuse many endured during the cultural revolution under the rule of communist dictator, Mao Zedong.

The wedding of Betty Kwan and Leung Chinn in Seattle, WA. | Photos provided by The Press at Cal Poly Humboldt

Hong Kong Angel

Although her foundation was incorporated in 2012, Betty has decades of philanthropy experience that began during the days she worked as a teacher’s aid at Lafayette Elementary School. Even after years of success and accomplishments, you can still find Chinn helping the houseless community in Humboldt County overcome their individual hardships. She provides resources to build financial sustainability, food and shelters for displaced families, domestic violence victims and chemo-patients in need of post-treatment care. 

“We have 21 staff in here, only one of our staff members have never been homeless. Most of the people who work for us were formally homeless or a former client. They do a better job and are very loyal,” Chinn said about the foundation’s beliefs in assisting the transient community with societal reintegration.  

Chinn attributes her success as a sign of gratitude to America for giving her an opportunity to grow and find her purpose to help those in need. She describes her inspiration to help others came after learning about Sacred Heart, a Catholic-faith organization that offers community services for low-income families and individuals. 

Education for All

Ribbon cutting ceremony for the opening of the new shower facility with Maria Shriver at center. | Photo provided by The Press at Cal Poly Humboldt

The Betty Kwan Chinn Homeless Foundation offers 20 low-income high school graduates the opportunity to pursue their educational goals by issuing fully paid scholarships at various private universities across the country. 

“I’m really lucky. Six universities gave me 20 scholarships for these kids,” Chinn said. 

Cal Poly Humboldt College Corps is a program that offers fellowships opportunities to students. Principal investigator of College Corps, Sara Jaye Hart, explained the Betty Kwan Chinn Homeless foundation is enrolled as an organization within College Corps and should be on board by Spring 2024. 

“Homeless people are getting younger and younger,” Chinn said. “Anybody is ready to change and we help them find a job.”

Hope for Humanity

There’s no question that Betty goes above and beyond to help someone in need. Aside from offering meals, shelter, showers and scholarships, Betty has linked jobs to unemployed individuals who are ready to work and regain their independence.

“Betty Chinn has always helped the homeless community in Humboldt. The whole community knows her and knows they can get the help they need,” said Eureka community member C.J Black. “You can ask any homeless person in the street and they will know who Betty Chinn is, she is doing amazing things for our community.”

Hardcopies of “The Gray Bird Sings” are available at Amazon and digital copies are available at The Press at Cal Poly Humboldt.

August 4th, 2010, Betty receiving the Presidential Citizens Medal from President Barack Obama. | Photos provided by The Press at Cal Poly Humboldt

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