Philanthropy can change the lives of others, but it also is a catalyst for change in yours. For Diana Mullin from Houston, Texas it was unexpected.
She was shy and the third of seven children. She never imagined she would grow up to become involved in philanthropy and that it would be instrumental in her personal development. Or that her life journey would have her moving 29 times in 37 years.
As a board member of a community of women called Newcomers and Neighbors of Greater Houston, Diana is involved in a fabulous project, that is accomplishing great things. We had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Diana to hear how philanthropy made a difference in her life and to learn more about the project.
A Whirlwind Romance
Diana met her husband Mike, an American and after a whirlwind romance, six months later packed up and said goodbye to her family in Vancouver. Texas was her first stop but within the year she was setting up a household in England, just outside of London.
Eight months later they returned States side to Morgan City, Louisiana. That was to be a short stay, but it ended up being a five-year stop. Morgan city is a small town, but a big town where everyone is very friendly and says hi to you in the street.
It was one of the longest times they spent in one place.
And They Are Off
First, they were in Africa first for two years. Then to Singapore for two years. When they came back to the United States from Singapore, they bought a house in Houston. (The following is paraphrased for length and flow)
We were here for seven years, and we were transferred to Dubai for two which ended up being one day short of seven. That was an experience. We lived a couple of years in Nigeria. I am very quiet by nature, but that time brought me out of my shell. People might think I’m a snob but I’m just shy.
We lived just outside of Lagos where there is real poverty. They have two classes, very rich and very poor. Nigerians though are so interesting. I got involved with a Canadian women’s group there and we did undertake some philosophy projects. Not as much as we did in Dubai, but it brought me further outside of my shell. When we went back to Dubai, I joined the American Women’s Association of Dubai (no longer available).
Stepping Up With Philanthropy
In Dubai, I was approached to take a board position. I would have to get up and talk in front of 300 women. I said there was no way however the group had a woman who taught public speaking and she worked with me. That really gave me more self-confidence.
We had a committee of twelve ladies and twelve charities. For one, we collected blankets. You might think being in the desert, it doesn’t get cold, but it’s 65 in the winter. And 145 in the summer. We would turn the hot water off and use cold water because the cold water is hot in the summer. There are a lot of migrant men who have left their families to come and earn a living and sailors. We provided groceries, donations to the food banks. Each year at Christmas we would do shoeboxes filled with sundries and calling cards.
There was a charity for special needs and Make-a-Wish.
I remember one day standing outside in the extreme heat giving out food. The lineups were overwhelming. The bakeries came with seven truckloads of rolls and sliced bread.
We also had a Gala once a year where this once shy girl could not go to businesses finding donations. I grew up for sure.
The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me
We would raise anywhere from 85 to a hundred thousand dollars and that money went for scholarships and other philanthropy projects.
One year we picked one girl about six who was the fourth generation but the first one to go to school. We had her mother and her grandmother at our luncheon. And there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. That was probably the best thing that ever happened to me in philanthropy, or anywhere besides my husband and family.
After six years we came back to the States. I was introduced to this group of women, some of who had been living in Dubai. I joined the Newcomers and Neighbors of Greater Houston.
This is my sixth year. One of their projects is the Boys and Girls Country.
What Is Boys and Girls Country?
Boys and Girls Country brings children from five to eighteen who are facing difficult circumstances into a “family life” experience.
They have teaching parents so that the children are in a family unit. Many of the parents also have their own kids. There are about eight to a house. They learn how to do laundry, keep their rooms clean, how to cook, and about their religion, whatever it is. It’s a big facility with gardens and some animals.
We had 12 graduates this past June. There is a college campus where they transition to get an apartment and get on with their life.
They are treated just like my mother would treat me and loved just the same.
I have heard many heartwarming stories. One lady told me about a child that after her arrival they would find her every night sitting in the pantry looking at the food. They had to tell her the food was not going to go away. It is heartbreaking.
Another story was about a boy who was from an abusive family. His dad called to say he was doing better and so he could come home. He went but before he went, they said if you ever need us, no matter what time of day or night. And whether it’s snowing or raining, this is your home, call us.
He was gone for about three months and then in the middle of the night, he called and said, can I come home? It just breaks my heart, but it also makes me happy that they have somewhere to go.
Then there was a gentleman that came to donate a freezer who said if it wasn’t for them, he wouldn’t be alive. We met another gentleman at the award ceremony. He’s been there since he was seven. Now he works there. So that is what they do.
I was honored to receive an award for my philanthropy efforts and the CEO also acknowledged my husband Mike for always stepping up and helping me.
OK Let’s Go
It is amazing to think I have been to Rome. London, Paris, Amsterdam, Malta, Portugal. Abu Dhabi, Singapore, Scotland, Australia, and Indonesia. I have been retired for thirty-six years although I could have got a job. However, when my husband came home and said pack your bag, we’re leaving in an hour. I could say okay, let’s go! I feel so fortunate.
Getting To Know Diana
What is your most challenging experience?
Africa. Driving from the airport when we arrived it was just rubble, with stops by the army. I think I cried for two weeks. Just going to the markets was a challenge. In Lagos, I always had a driver because if you got into an accident or stopped you were in danger.
You had to adopt a “Go with the flow” kind of attitude. I grew up and I got tougher. I have also had to learn to be patient.
What is your key strength?
My key strength is my husband it may sound corny, but he has supported me throughout my journey and with my philanthropy projects. The support of my family they are always there when I need someone to listen to my problems or concerns.
If you could meet anyone for lunch, who would it be?
My mom because she in her own way she would tell you how it is. Plus, I missed being with her as I was away so long. We lived in Africa when she got very ill. I did not see her for months at a time and in the time, it had been 9 months. Basically, I watched her die along with my family. I missed a lot by not being there.
What do you need to make more room in your life for?
I just need more time to be with my family. Living away for so long has made it hard and when COVID hit it hit hard because the borders closed.
Is there a key piece of wisdom that you have for women who are considering doing something different
For me, getting into a woman’s group that makes philanthropy a priority has made all the difference. Also doing something social. I learned to play Mah-jong and play in two groups.