Finding Purpose Through Disaster

Finding Purpose Through Disaster

Written by: James E. Sullivan

On October 17, 1989, a disaster struck California. The 6.9 magnitude Loma Prieta Earthquake killed 63 people and collapsed a section of the upper deck of the Oakland freeway. The earthquake caused millions of dollars in damages, of which the effects are still being felt in the San Francisco Bay Area.

On that same day, 19-year-old dental assistant Michele Harris was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The diagnosis felt as earth shaking as the 6.9 magnitude earthquake. Michele felt her life was over.

Reeling from the devastating effects of the earthquake centered so close to Michele’s home in Corralitos, her life felt as shattered as the infrastructures around her. Luckily, the strong support of her family, friends, and the vital resources of the UCSF Medical Center, including one of the world’s most prominent brain surgeons, were readily available to provide comfort and healing to her in the midst of chaos.

New Purpose

This became a pivotal time in Michele’s life. She not only survived the surgery, but her brain tumor was successfully removed, and she was well on her way to living a normal teenage life. Michele began to take a new look both in and outward toward the next steps of her life. Feeling the sheer joy of living, sparks flew, her spirit barely contained. She left the dental field and pursued a new career in healthcare that would provide a purposeful path forward.

Understanding the uncertainty a person and family goes through while waiting for a diagnosis or treatment, she wanted to help patients and their families during those difficult times. Using both the triumph over the earthquake and tumor as metaphors, they gave Michele’s life a new purpose. She let neither the Loma Prieta Earthquake nor her brain tumor get the best of her.

The most compelling and inspirational sights she witnessed during those tent-city days of post-Prieta were the unflinching works of the Red Cross and other social service organizations that mobilized to feed the hungry, provide shelter and basic needs for families, and countless other silent and selfless acts of generosity and humanity. Simple acts by men and women of all races, creeds, and ages gave a glimmer of hope and belief that maybe tomorrow will be a better day. Seeing the tremendous efforts exerted by volunteers, who gave their all for others, with nothing asked in return, Michele resolved to become the best person she could, no matter the challenges.

Giving Back

Michele’s work gave her several opportunities to give back to the community in a way that Michele sees success – bringing the right people together to achieve a common goal. “It’s a out collaboration and partnerships and those amazing people you surround yourself with. I love connecting people to make great things happen,” Michele says. Michele was attending a Gilroy Rotary Club meeting, listened as the Master Gardeners of Silicon Valley presented their beautiful projects, and heard their need for more space to garden. Michele’s love for gardening naturally made her want to help, and she worked with Saint Louise Regional Hospital in creating the South County Teaching and Demonstration Garden on the Saint Louise campus. Together they worked on fundraising for irrigation and other supplies to make the garden prosper and brought in the community to enjoy it – not only those who donated – but those who seemed to need it most, from the homeless to those who were recovering from illnesses. The food grown in the garden is donated to a local family service center.

The Blessing of Mentoring

Seven years into Michele’s new career in healthcare, she was promoted to the CEO of the Foundation at Saint Louise Regional Hospital where she became very familiar with the Board of Directors. Mr. George Chiala Sr., who was the chair of the board, became a pillar of Michele’s life. Chiala and his family were innovators in the ever-growing farming and agrarian industry in the area. Chiala was both a philanthropist and a force for positive change in people’s lives within the community. Ms. Averill and Mr. Chiala became fast friends and, more importantly, Chiala took Averill under his mentorship wings.

Michele had survived the earthquake, the brain tumor, and under Mr. Chiala’s tutelage, she would have the strength of character to grow while helping other people. They both shared the same passion for becoming catalysts for positive changes in other people’s lives.

Expanding Opportunities to Serve

Michele left healthcare and moved to her current position as CEO of the Central Coast Chapter of the American Red Cross. Michele saw the unselfish efforts of the volunteers of all stripes, colors, and ages in her new work. She loves to share how the amazing cadre of volunteers performed selfless acts for others. Michele often wrestled with a question about their volunteers: “What makes the first responders, such as the police, fire, or EMT, run in to burning buildings and put their lives at risk? What makes a person volunteer day in and day out for the sake of giving others hope? The spirit that a better day is coming.” Their reckless abandon was inspirational. In fact, 96% of the Red Cross workforce are volunteers. Amazing, remarkable, and inspirational people whose dedication and resiliency are contagious.

Michele loves hosting events to bring the community together. One of the most successful events is the Farm to Table Dinner. With an amazing group of local chefs donating their time, resources, and talent to the event, Michele organized the Annual Farm to Table Dinner at Carmel Valley Ranch. The goal was to help people learn about their local Red Cross chapter and the variety of services available, all while having a phenomenal meal. The event helps build relationships and connect people together.

Related: Creating a Legacy of Healthy Decisions

Overcoming Adversity to Serve Others

The mentorship skills that George Chiala nurtured and grew within Michele gave her the ability not to limit herself, but to constantly improve upon her natural abilities and to prove to herself that the struggles she experienced only made her stronger. The mentorship gave Michele that chance to impart a legacy of her own, about making a difference in other people’s lives.

Michele works every day at the Red Cross. That cooperation goes beyond what most people think — of bringing disaster relief and blood supply — and extends to so much more, helping families of the armed forces and restoring family links

“It’s an honor and privilege to help the Red Cross provide support to our three counties,” Michele says. “Having the opportunity to do this kind of work with such a tremendous corps of volunteer and paid staff makes it especially rewarding.”

Michele adds that the many individuals, businesses, and corporate partners providing support to the Red Cross play an essential role in the organization’s success. “The resources we are able to provide during periods of greatest need only happen because of the generosity of our donors and volunteers. We could not do our work successfully without first building effective partnerships with community members, donors, and local agencies.”

When Michele was asked what she wanted her legacy to be, she knew it would not be financial, but rather one that was more of an emotional impact. Michele’s legacy is one where the people in her life and community know that she cared, that they can make a difference, and together they will make a community stronger. Michele found the greatest joy in believing in people and their abilities and helping them believe it for themselves. A legacy is not necessarily about leaving material items behind for people; it’s about instilling a belief that resides within people.

Michele’s legacy is one of compassion and caring, a legacy she learned through the values her parents, family, and friends instilled in her, and through surviving her own health battle. It is a legacy of inspiration and heart, of which George would be proud and would want others to be inspired to serve as well.

Laura A. Roser
Life Transitions
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Laura A. Roser is the #1 expert in meaning legacy planning. She is the Founder and CEO of Paragon Road, a company that assists individuals in passing on their non-financial as ... Click for full bio

Here’s Why Bitcoin Won’t Replace Gold So Easily

Here’s Why Bitcoin Won’t Replace Gold So Easily

What a week it was.

First and foremost, I’d like to acknowledge the horrific mass shooting that occurred in Las Vegas, the deadliest in modern American history. On behalf of everyone at U.S. Global Investors, I extend my sincerest and most heartfelt condolences to the victims and their families.

The memory of the shooting was still fresh in people’s minds during last Tuesday’s Hollywood premiere of Blade Runner 2049, which nixed the usual red carpet and other glitz in light of the tragedy. Before the film, producers shared poignant words, saying that in times such as these, the arts are crucial now more than ever.

I had the distinct privilege to attend the premiere. My good friend Frank Giustra, whose production company Thunderbird Entertainment owns a stake in the Blade Runner franchise, was kind enough to invite me along. Despite the somber mood—a pivotal scene in the film even takes place in an irradiated Las Vegas—I thought Blade Runner 2049 was spectacular. Even if you’re not a fan of the original 1982 film, it’s still worth experiencing in theaters. Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch’s synth-heavy score is especially haunting.

CNET recently published an interesting piece examining the accuracy of future tech as depicted in the original Blade Runner, from androids to flying cars to off-world travel read the article here.

Still in the Early Innings of Cryptocurrencies

Speaking of the future, I spoke on the topic of the blockchain last week at the Subscriber Investment Summit in Vancouver. My presentation focused on the future of mining—not just of gold and precious metals but also cryptocurrencies.

Believe it or not, there are upwards of 2,100 digital currencies being traded in the world right now, with a combined market cap of nearly $150 billion, according to

Obviously not all of these cryptos will survive. We’re still in the early innings. Last month I compared this exciting new digital world to the earliest days of the dotcom era, and just as there were winners and losers then, so too will there be winners and losers today. Although bitcoin and Ethereum appear to be the frontrunners right now, recall that only 20 years ago AOL and Yahoo! were poised to dominate the internet. How times have changed!

It will be interesting to see which coins emerge as the “Amazon” and “Google” of cryptocurrencies.

For now, Ethereum has some huge backers. The Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA), according to its website, seeks to “learn from and build upon the only smart contract supporting blockchain currently running in real-world production—Ethereum.” The EEA includes several big-name financial and tech firms such as Credit Suisse, Intel, Microsoft and JPMorgan Chase, whose own CEO, Jamie Dimon, knocked cryptos a couple of weeks ago.

To learn more about the blockchain and cryptocurrencies, watch this engaging two-minute video.

Understanding blockchain in two minutes

Will Bitcoin Replace Gold?

Lately I’ve been seeing more and more headlines asking whether cryptos are “killing” gold. Would the gold price be higher today if massive amounts of money weren’t flowing into bitcoin? Both assets, after all, are sometimes favored as safe havens. They’re decentralized and accepted all over the world, 24 hours a day. Transactions are anonymous. Supply is limited.

Have gold and bitcoin peaked for 2017

But I don’t think for a second that cryptocurrencies will ever replace gold, for a number of reasons. For one, cryptos are strictly forms of currency, whereas gold has many other time-tested applications, from jewelry to dentistry to electronics.

Unlike cryptos, gold doesn’t require electricity to trade. This makes it especially useful in situations such as hurricane-ravished Puerto Rico, where 95 percent of people are reportedly still without power. Right now the island’s economy is cash-only. If you have gold jewelry or coins, they can be converted into cash—all without electricity or WiFi.

Finally, gold remains one of the most liquid assets, traded daily in well-established exchanges all around the globe. Every day, some £13.8 billion, or $18 billion, worth of physical gold are traded in London alone, according to the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA). The cryptocurrency market, although expanding rapidly, is not quite there yet.

I will admit, though, that bitcoin is energizing some investors, especially millennials, in ways that gold might have a hard time doing. The proof is all over the internet. You can find a number of TED Talks on bitcoin, cryptocurrencies and the blockchain, but to my knowledge, none is available on gold investing. YouTube is likewise bursting at the seams with videos on cryptos.

Bitcoin is up 350 percent for the year, Ethereum an unbelievable 3,600 percent. Gold, meanwhile, is up around 10 percent. Producers, as measured by the NYSE Arca Gold Miners Index, have gained 11.5 percent in 2017, 23 percent since its 52-week low in December 2016.

Related: Gold and Bitcoin Surge on North Korea Fears

Look Past the Negativity to Find the Good News

The news is filled with negative headlines, and sometimes it’s challenging to stay positive. Take Friday’s jobs report. It showed that the U.S. lost 33,000 jobs in September, the first month in seven years that this happened. A weak report was expected because of Hurricane Irma, but no one could have guessed the losses would be this deep.

The jobs report wasn’t all bad news, however. For one, the decline is very likely temporary. Beyond that, a record 4.88 million Americans who were previously sitting out of the labor force found work last month. This helped the unemployment rate fall to 4.2 percent, a 16-year low.

Have gold and bitcoin peaked for 2017

There’s more that supports a stronger U.S. economy. As I shared with you last week, the Manufacturing ISM Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) rose to a 13-year high in September, indicating rapid expansion in the manufacturing industry. Factory orders were up during the month. Auto sales were up. Oil has stayed in the relatively low $50-a-barrel range, which is good for transportation and industrials, especially airlines. Small-cap stocks, as measured by the Russell 2000 Index, continue to climb above their 50-day and 200-day moving averages as excitement over tax reform intensifies.

These are among the reasons why I remain bullish.

One final note: Speaking on tax reform, Warren Buffett told CNBC last week that he’s waiting to sell assets until he knows the plan will go through. “I would feel kind of silly if I realized $1 billion worth of gains and paid $350 million in tax on it if I just waited a few months and would have paid $250 million,” he said.

It’s a fair comment, and I imagine other like-minded, forward-thinking investors, buyers and sellers will also wait to make huge transactions if they can help it. Tax reform isn’t a done deal, but I think it has a much better chance of being signed into law than a health care overhaul.

Frank Holmes
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Frank Holmes is the CEO and Chief Investment Officer of U.S. Global Investors. Mr. Holmes purchased a controlling interest in U.S. Global Investors in 1989 and became the firm ... Click for full bio