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'Secret Millionaire' visits LA's skid row, Alexandria shelter

March 27, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
A successful businessman is TV's latest "Secret Millionaire," and this time around, there's a Los Angeles connection.

The reality show brought Internet entrepreneur John Ferber to Downtown Los Angeles, where for a week he lived among the estimated 15,000 homeless inhabitants of skid row.

Ferber also went to the Alexandria House in the Mid-Wilshire District, a long-term shelter mostly for abused women and children.

He told founder Judy Vaughn that he was a struggling documentary filmmaker looking to volunteer.

Unbeknownst to Vaughn, the taping was for a reality show, and Ferber revealed his true identity by writing his biggest gift ever: a check for $45,000.

"It was a big surprise and a great gift," Vaughn said.

A year later, Vaughn says the money helped keep the shelter's doors open in a bad economy.

Since Ferber made most of his money in technology, he asked that part of his donation go to buying new computers for the teen center.

Teens like Ray Simpson say it's been instrumental to their education.

"It's very helpful with my projects, school, science fair," Simpson said.

Ferber also donated art supplies and toys for the children.

One family also benefitted from Ferber's benevolence. They got to move into their own apartment in part due to Ferber's contribution.

One lesson he learned with the opportunity was that there's something everyone can do to help those in need.

"What can I do locally in my community?" Ferber said "Not just millionaires, anybody can. Somebody watches and says, 'Why don't I go down to the homeless shelter or food bank and spend a couple hours there?'"

Vaughn said she still talks to Ferber and that he may still give more.

The need remains great at the Alexandria House and on skid row.

"On any one night in Los Angeles, there's 91,000 homeless people and 13,000 shelter beds," Vaughn said. "Regardless of how much money you have or how much you don't have, there's a humanity that connects us. I hope that's what people see in this series. That we can all be heroes by doing a little bit more."