Alice Chen: Find­ing hap­pi­ness through serv­ing oth­ers

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSS AMERICAS - By MAY ZHOU in Hous­ton mayzhou@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

Alice Chen, com­mu­nity li­ai­son for Con­gress­man Al Green for the last decade, has played such a va­ri­ety of roles in the Hous­ton com­mu­nity over the past 30 years that she has be­come an in­stantly rec­og­niz­able fig­ure no mat­ter what func­tion she shows up at.

She has even played the role of jour­nal­ist, host­ing a ra­dio news pro­gram and then a TV news pro­gram for six years start­ing in 2000.

And all of this she did in her spare time on top of a full­time job as a fi­nan­cial ad­viser and tax plan­ner for small busi­nesses.

Born and raised in Tai­wan, Chen came to the US on full schol­ar­ship in late 1970s earn­ing an MBA and got a job as a fi­nan­cial an­a­lyst at Exxon in 1980.

A few years later she quit her job to de­velop the Lion Square shop­ping mall at the in­vi­ta­tion of a friend. Af­ter that was done, she joined the fi­nan­cial ser­vices in­dus­try.

Ini­tially, Chen was mostly in­volved in Asian com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions such as the Chi­nese Amer­i­can Pe­tro­leum As­so­ci­a­tion and Asian Cham­ber of Com­merce.

Grad­u­ally, she ex­panded her ser­vice into the main­stream and be­came the first Asian to chair the United Way of Greater Hous­ton and a board mem­ber of lo­cal PBS TV sta­tion Chan­nel 8 in 1995.

As a board mem­ber of Hous­ton PBS, Chen or­ga­nized an Asianthemed fundraiser in the late 1990s. She dressed her­self in tra­di­tional Chi­nese, Viet­namese and Korean at­tire to ap­peal for do­na­tions from dif­fer­ent Asian eth­nic com­mu­ni­ties. Her ef­forts brought PBS a quar­ter of a mil­lion dol­lars in one night.

By the end of the 1990s, more and more Chi­nese im­mi­grants were com­ing to Hous­ton and the Chi­nese Civic Cen­ter was formed to pro­vide a plat­form for com­mu­nity so­cial events and ser­vice.

To help the fledg­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion out at its in­cep­tion, Chen do­nated space to house the cen­ter’s li­brary at Lion Square un­til it could find a per­ma­nent home, which hap­pened years later.

When Chen was in­vited to chair the an­nual gala for Asian Cham­ber of Com­merce in 2005, she in­vited the then Sec­re­tary of La­bor Elaine Chao to the event. Chao’s at­ten­dance at­tracted a larger than usual crowd, re­sult­ing in the most suc­cess­ful fundraiser in the cham­ber’s his­tory.

In 2006, Con­gress­man Al Green went look­ing for a com­mu­nity li­ai­son and Alice Chen’s name was men­tioned to him by var­i­ous com­mu­nity lead­ers. Green hired Chen af­ter one chat.

For the decade since, Chen has func­tioned as a bridge be­tween Green and the Asian com­mu­nity, ap­pear­ing at mul­ti­ple com­mu­nity events nights and week­ends on be­half of or ac­com­pa­ny­ing Green.

Shortly af­ter Chen be­gan work­ing for Green, she was di­ag­nosed with a rare can­cer in 2007. Doc­tors gave her only three months to live.

Chen learned the news dur­ing the Lu­nar New Year as Asian com­mu­nity events were in full swing. She put aside her per­sonal tragedy and went ahead with her ap­pear­ances through­out the com­mu­nity as planned.

“Silently in my heart, I was say­ing good­bye to peo­ple I have known for years,” said Chen.

“Upon learn­ing of my con­di­tion, Con­gress­man Green asked me to fo­cus on fight­ing the can­cer. ‘Some­one else will work in your stead but I am wait­ing for you to come back,’ he said to me then. I will for­ever be grate­ful to him for that,” said Chen.

Luck­ily for Chen, her daugh­ter was do­ing her med­i­cal res­i­dency at the time and helped her to con­nect with a doc­tor at MD An­der­son Can­cer Cen­ter. Af­ter five months of chemo­ther­apy, her can­cer dis­ap­peared and she re­sumed her du­ties as com­mu­nity li­ai­son for Con­gress­man Green once her ther­apy was com­plete.

In 2008, when Hur­ri­cane Ike par­a­lyzed many neigh­bor­hoods in Hous­ton, Chen used her con­nec­tions in Wash­ing­ton to se­cure 50 FEMA re­lief work­ers for the Chi­nese com­mu­nity. She also mo­bi­lized more than 120 bilin­gual vol­un­teers to help hun­dreds of Chi­nese fam­i­lies and small busi­ness own­ers file for gov­ern­men­tal as­sis­tance such as lodg­ing vouch­ers and in­ter­est-free loans.

Chen has not lim­ited her ser­vice to the lo­cal com­mu­nity. She is a reg­u­lar at events at the Chi­nese con­sulate as well as other con­sulates in Hous­ton.

“I be­lieve that a pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ship be­tween China and the US ben­e­fits all of us, and I want to help to build this im­por­tant re­la­tion­ship,” said Chen.

Be­ing an of­fi­cial li­ai­son hasn’t stopped Chen from get­ting in­volved in other com­mu­nity affairs.

In 2010, Mayor Lenoard Scare­cella of Stafford, a satel­lite city of Hous­ton, de­cided to es­tab­lish a Chi­nese-English bilin­gual pri­mary school. His plan was not well­re­ceived by the city coun­cil at first.

Scare­cella thought of Chen and in­vited her to the coun­cil de­bate. Cit­ing the im­por­tance and im­pli­ca­tions of China’s ever-grow­ing econ­omy and its in­flu­ence, Chen helped con­vince the coun­cil to vote yes. The school be­came the first Chi­nese-English bilin­gual pri­mary school in Texas.

Chen also helped to in­ter­view ap­pli­cants to make sure that qual­ity peo­ple were hired to teach Chi­nese at the school. When the school first opened, it was so pop­u­lar that the reg­is­tra­tion filled quickly.

“I was in­vited to at­tend their Lu­nar New Year cel­e­bra­tion the next year. Chil­dren of all eth­nic­i­ties were dressed up in Chi­nese fash­ions and wished me Happy New Year in Chi­nese! I was so happy!” re­called Chen.

Chen’s ser­vice to the com­mu­nity has earned her many hon­ors. Most no­tably, she won the Lead­er­ship of Hous­ton award in 2001, was named one of Hous­ton’s 50 Most In­flu­en­tial Women by Hous­ton Women Mag­a­zine in 2008 and again was named one of the Top 25 Women of Hous­ton in 2012 by the Steed So­ci­ety.

Wife to an en­gi­neer for 38 years and mother to two med­i­cal doc­tors, Chen con­tin­ues to be as ac­tive as she has ever been.

“I be­lieve that hap­pi­ness comes from ser­vice to oth­ers. We only live once, and I want to do the best I can,” said Chen.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Spe­cial Asian com­mu­nity li­ai­son for US Con­gress­man Al Green, Alice Chen says she be­lieves that “hap­pi­ness comes from ser­vice to oth­ers.” Alice Chen, Spe­cial Asian com­mu­nity li­ai­son for US Con­gress­man Al Green

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