Alice Chen: Finding happiness through serving others
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.
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