Social Impact Heroes: How Former Miss Universe Corinna Tsopei Fields and SHARE are meeting the needs of at-risk, or disadvantaged children and teens

Sometimes when we visit the facilities, we sit down with the children and have lunch and talk. One time, I sat next to a young boy, who was very shy. He sat quietly and it took a while for him to open up to me. I asked him “What do you want to be when […]

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Sometimes when we visit the facilities, we sit down with the children and have lunch and talk. One time, I sat next to a young boy, who was very shy. He sat quietly and it took a while for him to open up to me. I asked him “What do you want to be when you grow up?” He replied, “Alive.” This hit me in my heart. I had never met anybody with no hope or dream of the future. A couple of years later, I saw the effect of our work firsthand. This young boy who had no hope, ran up to me with a big smile of his face and said, “I want to be a policeman.”

I had the pleasure to interview Corinna Tsopei Fields. Corinna has been a respected and valued member of SHARE Inc. since 1985! Currently serving her second term as SHARE President, Corinna brings great vision, energy and passion to the role. Corinna takes great pride in the success of SHARE and in each and everyone of her SHARE sisters. She embraces SHARE’s unique history and tradition as a celebrated Los Angeles based children’s charity. As President, Corinna maintains a focus on finding better ways to meet the needs of at-risk/disadvantaged youth throughout Los Angeles. She is dedicated to her SHARE sisters and to accomplishing the charity’s vital goals as a unified team. Shared commitment, dedication and teamwork have always been essential to the success of SHARE — an all volunteer service organization. Corinna thrives on working with Board Members, Officers and Members to create a more unified, responsive and successful children’s charity. Corinna is recognized as a passionate, driving force in her pursuit to grow SHARE Inc. She is committed to increasing the level of financial and material support that SHARE provides annually to partner-charities throughout Los Angeles. Corinna believes in always putting the needs of at-risk/disadvantaged children and teens first. As a result, she is an outstanding ambassador for SHARE Inc., including it’s signature fundraising events and innovative programs/services. Corinna also is an articulate and effective advocate for at-risk/disadvantaged youth throughout Los Angeles and beyond. Corinna was crowned Miss Universe in 1964 after being crowned Miss Greece in the same year. Born in Athens, Corinna dreamed of coming to America after falling in love with American Cinema. She immigrated to The United States in 1964 and received her citizenship in 1972. Her life’s journey helps her to embrace the plight of at-risk/disadvantaged youth and the importance of giving-back. Corinna expresses deep gratitude to God for all of the gifts that she’s received in life and commits fully to helping as many children as she can.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the backstory about what what brought you to work with this organization?

The dream of America brought me to SHARE. Growing up in Greece, it was just after World War II, and when we went to school we got a slice of American cheese and a glass of milk. That made me love America. Then, we went to see American movies every Sunday and that made me want to be in America. Before we went to bed, our family had a prayer, which we said every night: “Please God, take care of my mother and my father, my sister and my brother, and take care of all the children in the world — but then I would add, just to myself, ‘and please God get me to America and I promise I will help the children.’”

When I won the Miss Universe Pageant, I had my dream come true — to come to America. A few years later I had two friends, Sandra Moss and Ruth Berle, who introduced me to SHARE. That was thirty-five years ago. From the very start I was so impressed with what these women were doing to help children, children who are raped, children who are abused, children with special needs. For me joining SHARE was an opportunity. It’s part of the bargain that I made with God, the part of giving back.

Can you share an interesting story that’s happened to you since you began leading SHARE?

The most interesting thing that has happened to me is seeing the contrast between my Hollywood life and the world of giving and helping the children. This kept me grounded and allowed me be strong and supportive to my son when my own grandson was born with special needs.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you may have made? What were the lessons or takeaways that you took out of that story?

SHARE doesn’t have an office. All the members take turns using their homes for meetings and different projects. One year we were working in the garage in the back of my house on Benedict Cañon, making the gift bags for the Boom Town show. There were young men from E.C.F to help us carry the bags to their truck, which was done every year. After a while, I went to the gate, saw the truck on the street but I had no idea where the young men were. I noticed my front door was open. I went in and I found my husband talking to the young men, instructing them on which windows to clean. To my surprise, they were listening to him and following him through the house. So, I yelled “What on earth are you doing?” He said, “I scheduled a cleaning crew for the windows.” I replied, “These are the E.C.F boys that help us with the bags.” He said, “Oh, I wondered why they didn’t have any cleaning supplies.”

Can describe how your organization is making a significant social impact?

Over the years, over time, SHARE has definitely made an impact. We raised 64 million dollars since we started, that’s a lot of money for a bunch of dancing housewives and working women, But the impact is not just deep its been wide been across Los Angeles too. We have worked with organizations like CASA, the Exceptional Children’s Foundation, Stuart House, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and Team Prime Time for decades, but almost every year we also sponsor new facilities, smaller, innovative places, whenever we find really great ones. One member told me that we’re like a fund, a portfolio of local children’s charities, in a moral stock market. We’ve got the big basics and we’ve got some upstarts. The money is donated, but the return on investment is in social capital of human happiness. There are thousands of these struggling, disadvantaged children. I don’t know how you measure it, but the personal progress and the social impact is real.

Can you share a story about a particular individual (they can be nameless) who has been impacted by SHARE’S work?

Sometimes when we visit the facilities, we sit down with the children and have lunch and talk. One time, I sat next to a young boy, who was very shy. He sat quietly and it took a while for him to open up to me. I asked him “What do you want to be when you grow up?” He replied, “Alive.” This hit me in my heart. I had never met anybody with no hope or dream of the future.

A couple of years later, I saw the effect of our work firsthand. This young boy who had no hope, ran up to me with a big smile of his face and said, “I want to be a policeman.”

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem that SHARE is trying to solve?

The root of the problem is that children are born vulnerable into a world that is not fair. Some children grow up in abusive home environments, some are born with rare genetic disorders, some have been thrown into chaos, and that’s not going to change. So what society can do, or what politicians can do, is support the hard-working people and organizations that work to take care of these children. My recommendation is to support the kinds of organizations that SHARE supports. The Children’s Hospital. The Exceptional Children’s Foundation. Stuart House. Team Prime Time. CASA of Los Angeles. Or you can donate directly to SHARE and we’ll make sure your donation supports these organizations. The work is ‘one child at a time’, and its over the long-term. Early intervention, consistent over time, is key. And thats about the closest to the root as we can get.

How do you define Leadership?

First of all you have to be strong, and you have to have a vision for what’s right in terms of the big picture. You have to be confident but delegate, not micromanage. You need to get talented people doing the things they do, and everybody else on board. Going out into the field, groundwork, and homework, seeing with your own eyes the work that the facilities that we support do, thats important. You have to know what you are talking about. High standards are also important. Being professional, being good at your work, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. But if you can motivate and inspire other people to be great at their jobs, I call that ‘leadership’.

What are the five things/lessons you wished someone told you when you first started in the organization?

The only lesson I wished someone would have told me is to how to ask for money. That’s what we do, we fundraise. When I started I wasn’t very comfortable. We always associated, in my family, asking for money is like begging. But places don’t run for free, and these poor kids, they’re innocent. So at first I watched people like Sandra Moss, who is amazing at fundraising, and I saw her toughness, persistence. And others like Joanna Carson are smooth too, they’ve got a soft touch. So you multiple that by 40 active members, who need to meet people, get them to write checks, organize and put on a show, pay for the show, pay for the silent auction, its like a scrappy small army of volunteers, but if you can’t communicate why you are asking people to donate then you lose them. Telling you a story instead of statistics is one way of communicating. If I tell you about an eight year-old girl taking classes at the Exceptional Children’s Foundation, and how the people there not only taught her to read but also taught her parents how to read, because they didn’t have those skills, we now have the parents and girl reading to each other, teaching each other valuable skills, and they love it, and it’s a beautiful thing, and if you’re well- to-do and you’re still not impressed, won’t give money for books, then ok… but then I’ll probably tell you not to be cheap.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people what would that be?

I think it starts with every individual person, and their family, and neighborhood, their community, and it spreads out from there. Treat other people with respect and decency. Pay attention that we all come from and share the same humanity, and to have compassion, especially for those less fortunate. Especially for children that are less fortunate. Because our lives are not separate. All of our fortunes are all connected.

Can you please give us your favorite Life Lesson quote? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I am not a Life Lesson quote reader, maybe it has something to do with being Greek, growing up with the philosophers, I make my own quotes — Whenever you are going to do something always think ‘ok if I do this and then what?’ Can I deal with the “what?” Really think it through to the end and ask yourself if you can deal with it. Many times we want to do something because of emotional reason, and that’s alright, but there are the consequences of the action you take, and what are the consequences of those actions, and so on.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this.

Hillary Clinton. I would tell her about the many things that I admire about her, she’s a very smart and talented woman, and I respect her, but I’d also have some questions. From my perspective as a woman, Hillary showed courage from an early age. She was active politically and fought for causes she believe in. She could see the big picture throughout most of her life — from the good times to the scandals. To me, during the 2016 campaign, she moved away from her core of that young fighter and started to take it for granted. She seemed to believe the hype and forget about why she was fighting. I would like to know if she recognizes her mistake, because she royally screwed it up.

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