Ambitious Recruiting Campaign Leads to Charitable Foundation


Mrs. Obama with UC Merced studentsLast May, a group of UC Merced students proved that with a little determination, no goal is impossible. Seventeen students, many in the campus’ inaugural class, launched a grassroots drive to entice First Lady Michelle Obama to deliver the Commencement 2009 keynote address.

The student-led initiative, known as the "Dear Michelle" Campaign, included a YouTube video, a Facebook campaign and more than 900 Valentine's Day cards.

And, the rest is history.

Now, that same group of students is channeling their passion to make a difference and help others by establishing the Dear Michelle Foundation.

Twelve members of the original Dear Michelle Campaign, Chinyerem Amesi, Erica Babalola, David Cheng, David Do, Efferman Ezell, Sam Fong, Chanita Intawan, Jessica Julian, Yang Li, Cybill Navarro, Jo-Anne Rodriguez and Yaasha Sabbaghian, began working on developing the foundation immediately after graduation.

“We were very inspired during our time at UC Merced and had planned to start our own foundations and scholarships,” said Fong, ’09, chief financial officer of the Dear Michelle Foundation.  “We met around the time of commencement to officially bring the idea to the rest of the group so we could continue the momentum of the campaign.” 

Fong said the group was inspired by Mrs. Obama’s commencement message and have included a portion of her speech in the foundation’s by-laws.

The group’s goal is to include a large number of donors in the philanthropic process by allowing them to vote on which grants, scholarships and other proposals to fund based on their lifetime giving percentage.

“To attract a wider base of donors, we will serve multiple causes and primarily ask for small amounts each month,” Fong said. “Initially, our causes will include education, poverty, health and environment. We will likely begin local, since we all share a common experience at UC Merced.”