When Care Advantage founder Debbie Johnston found out the ABC television show "Secret Millionaire" wanted to film an episode featuring her, she was stunned.
Sitting in the Colonial Heights branch of her
company , Johnston
had no idea that her
assistant had nominated her
to be on the show, sending a copy of her
book "School of Heart Knocks," to the producers.
"All of a sudden, they were calling and interviewing me," she
The Sunday night show asks self-made millionaires to spend a week in some of the nation's poorest areas, living in local housing on welfare-level wages.
During that week, the undercover millionaires volunteer with community organizations, ultimately selecting several to reward with thousands of dollars of their own money.
Johnston, whose episode will air next month, said she will be the first nurse to be featured on the program as a millionaire.
"It was a life-changing journey for me," she
said of the week she
spent in poverty.
They live like this.' I could almost cry telling the story," Johnston
Poverty wasn't the only problem facing the city Johnston lived in for a week.
said the murder rate was extremely high and the people she
met lived in constant fear.
While there, she
felt that fear when she
left the house.
described working with one young man who was happy he
had made it to the age of 21, after seeing a friend of his
killed four months before reaching that milestone.
"I hugged him and said, 'that's not your benchmark,'" she
"'Your benchmark is 90, at least.'"
The experience has made Johnston
less inclined to be upset by small things, because, she
said, they don't matter.
is less likely to complain about minor problems.
has also gained a better understanding of the effects of poverty.
"I can see where maybe crime comes from poverty.
If you've got a couple kids to feed and you don't have the money, I can see how you could get yourself in trouble trying to keep your family alive," she
said. 'Walking in their moccasins for a week really gave me a bird's-eye view of what that's like."
was surprised to see the conditions she
saw in this country.
"This is in America.
We do a lot of things for a lot of countries, and yet we have terrorism in our own streets.
We have unbelievable poverty in our own streets," she
At the end of the week, Johnston
faced the difficult decision of choosing which community heroes would receive donations.
choices based on who she
thought needed her
help the most.
"It's my hope that the show draws more attention to this city and to those charities and that I won't be the only one who helps them, because they need a lot of help," she
is a very giving person," he
help an employee who had a brain tumor, making sure that the employee saw the best doctors in Virginia, was the thing that really triggered his
decision to send Johnston's name in to the show, he
heard back from the show's production company, Zodiak USA
thought it was a wrong number or someone trying to sell something.
They convinced him it was real, and interviewed him before he
had even told his
had sent in her
"The hardest part was to tell her
, 'Hey, I picked you for the show and you're about to go in this journey and you have no clue yet,'" he
was shocked, but also excited.
The scenery in the episode of the show featuring Johnston
will be familiar to Tri-Cities residents.
Some of the episode was filmed at Johnston's home in Chesterfield and at least one Care Advantage
office is featured.
started the home health care company to meet a need she
saw in the health care system, as people were released from hospitals with less time to recover from their illnesses.