Nothing says “I’m not in Danville anymore” quite like listening to swarms of cockroaches crawl around the floor below your bed in the dead of night.
It’s hard to imagine someone intentionally putting him or herself in such a situation, but that is what Danville resident Hilary De Cesare did when she signed on to appear on ABC’s reality television series, Secret Millionaire.
De Cesare’s episode will air this coming Sunday night at 8 p.m. on KGO Channel 7. Click here to see a clip.
The show sends successful business leaders like De Cesare incognito into some of the country’s most impoverished neighborhoods for one week in search of unsung community heroes.
According to the show's website, the self-made millionaires leave the comforts of their homes and neighborhoods, and learn first-hand what it is like to live on welfare-level wages in local housing. During the week, they learn about the efforts of deserving local volunteers and non-profit organizations that serve those in need, and meet the people they impact. At the end of the week, the millionaires reveal their true identities, and gift the organizations with hundreds of thousands of dollars of their own money to support their efforts.
De Cesare is the co-founder and CEO of Danville-based, Everloop, a secure social communications platform for kids under 13. She founded the company with Danville residents, entrepreneurs, and fellow moms, Kim Bruce and Paige McCullough. (Click to read our profile about the company last year and you can also read her Danville Patch blog .)
You may also recognize De Cesare from the number of press interviews she has been appearing in recently, commenting on the , and the impact that would have on children and parents. Everloop has become an online leader in innovating a safe and engaging environment specifically built and tailored to the needs and unique challenges of children just beginning to interact online.
While De Cesare is comfortable as a public figure advocating for child Internet safety, and she has visited the White House at the invitation of President Obama to do so, she was less comfortable with the idea of having the cameras turned on herself, as a participant on a reality television series. Other shows had approached her in the past, but she declined each time.
When the opportunity to do Secret Millionaire was presented, Bruce urged her to consider it because the show’s concept of finding and shining a light on people who sacrifice to help others in need meshed with a key principle that guides their vision for Everloop. The company seeks to teach kids how to be “good on-line citizens” within the safety of the Everloop community, but they also want to teach kids to be good off-line citizens too, by encouraging them to find ways to get involved and make a difference.
De Cesare also felt she needed to better lead by example and show her own kids, as well as the kids on Everloop, the value of putting compassion into action, and so she agreed to do the show.
De Cesare says she knew that the show would challenge her, and take her outside of her comfort zone, but she underestimated just how much. She also says she didn’t expect just how much it would change her.
From moment she saw the barely functional car she was given to drive, to the run-down Long Beach neighborhood she would live in, in a home that was infested, covered in graffiti and filth, De Cesare was in culture shock. Throughout it all, cameras followed her every move, and recorded her every reaction.
But when night fell, the cameras left. She was alone with the nighttime residents of her temporary home—swarms of cockroaches. De Cesare says she had had enough.
“I was ready to go home,” she says. “I told a show producer, ‘This isn’t what I signed up for.’”
De Cesare ultimately didn’t quit, realizing that while she could pack up in five days and head back to her life, the people around her could not.
She continued into the next phase of what the producers called “The Experience,” and that’s when De Cesare says she realized she was on a journey that would ultimately impact her as much as she hoped to make an impact herself.
The show follows De Cesare as she meets local volunteers in the Long Beach community that serve those in need around them.
By the end of the week when she revealed her true identity and gave her gifts to the surprised people she had met, De Cesare says she was humbled, inspired, and challenged to do more, to raise the bar in her own life.
When she returned home to Danville, she once again experienced culture shock. De Cesare says that she came home a different person, and she struggled to reconcile what she had experienced with her life.
Ultimately, she says she reached out to people she had met on her journey in order to make sense of her feelings and cope, and found that the people she had helped now helped her.
Inspired by them, and encouraged by them she began to make changes in her life. She became more connected to the community, and in her church, . She says, her colleagues and kids noticed the changes, and it opened up conversations and began to shape their shared goals.
Looking back on the experience she had last fall, at turns shocking, depressing, and heart breaking, De Cesare says it was also “the greatest experience of my life, next to having my three children.”
“I wouldn’t change it. It’s made all the difference.”