Meet four individuals who overcame hardships and now give back to their community.
"This story isn't really about me. It's about possibility. It's about community and how we can take it to the next level. It's about being thankful."
Four things become very apparent in speaking with Di Tran. One, he possesses a keen intellect. Two, he's very ambitious. Three, he has tremendous compassion. Four, he has a deep love for America. As a child in Vietnam, Di (pronounced "Dee") experienced a level of poverty that goes far beyond what most of us raised here in the United States would ever conceive. He grew up in a mud hut. Mere survival was a struggle. He made his way here, along with his parents and two sisters, when he was 12 years old. Once the family arrived here, they started from the absolute bottom. Through hard work and finding a powerful support system, Di Tran has built success.
Ten years ago, he met Vy Truong. Vy became Di’s wife and life partner on all of his ventures, sharing his spirit. She came to America in 2001 at the age of 17 and had not yet mastered English. Although she faced adversity and was sometimes mocked by others, she completed six years of college to become a successful pharmacist. Today, she’s passionate about empowering others as a pharmacy preceptor and mentor, and she and Di believe heartily in community advocacy.
They have three young children together, all boys. "Sometimes, I worry for my kids. Because, and this may sound odd, they face little adversity. Adversity in life can make us so much stronger," Di says. "It's the fuel that we burn to give us strength. Being challenged and doubted, that creates that yearning to achieve and overcome. Appreciation grows through hardship, and we learn that we are all so much stronger together. Feeling different from others, being an outsider, encountering some entity saying that you cannot do something great...All that does is make you want to prove that you can."
Di proved his abilities in the field of engineering. His talents in computer science were honed and mastered at Speed School. He's done big things at Humana and gone on to teach his expertise at Sullivan, where he is a professor. He also is the owner and proprietor of the Louisville Beauty Academy and owns eight nail salons. He teaches people from all backgrounds a trade that can make them indispensable parts of society. His drive is to help open the same doors that he came through on his journey.
"My goal is to help build other Di Trans," he says. "What has made my life possible hasn't just been me, it's been the hundreds or even thousands of people standing behind me, giving me the tools to succeed and building the roads. People can say what they will about this country; I have nothing but appreciation. As far as I'm concerned, America is the number one nation in the world. When we as people can share and learn from our differences, we can all grow in new ways. When we ask ourselves what we can do to contribute and focus on bringing something to the table, we will always thrive. That's pretty darn cool."
“USA Cares helped me so I reached out to help them. That way, they can keep helping more veterans who are out there,” says Miner.
Mark Miner completed two tours of duty in Afghanistan. Returning home after serving his country and risking his life, he soon faced a harsh reality. “You go to war and do everything you’re supposed to do, but are then dumped out in the world and have nowhere to turn,” he says.
Sgt. Miner chose to leave the U.S. Army in 2012, a time during which the Army was cutting back the number of active duty soldiers. His departure was expedited within 45 days. What should have been the beginning of an exciting new chapter in his life was actually the beginning of a very dark and frightening period.
“What they don’t tell you in the military is that your last paycheck is 60 days out. I was stuck in a hard place. It was very stressful. My world turned upside down. I went from a complete, structured environment to complete chaos. My wife and I were moving and she was changing her job. I went to job fairs and was waiting for a start date as an aviation mechanic. I had enough money to take care of some expenses but not enough to buy food,” he recalls.
He doesn’t harbor resentment toward the Army. “Finally getting paid is a process. I wish there had been more education about the waiting period for the paycheck, but I don’t fault the military. Over the last few years they have become better at it. I asked to leave, so I can’t be too upset.”
USA Cares came to the rescue within 48 hours and covered his house payment, car payment and insurance, and some other bills.
His appreciation for USA Cares is heartfelt. “Their dedication is almost unheard of. They have a very limited staff so that keeps the overhead down. They try to donate 80 cents of every dollar. They receive 250 to 500 calls a week asking for assistance. They mostly work with post 911 veterans but if others who were in the military call, they refer them to other groups that can help. USA Cares doesn’t leave those veterans hanging,” says Miner.
With USA Cares’ assistance, he was hired in 2017 as a panel builder at qubeworX, a small company that builds conveyor belt systems. He and his wife Roxie live about three miles from the Jeffersonville, Indiana, business. “The company is amazing, with a more than fifty-percent veteran workforce. I work with some of the best guys in the industry. This year we doubled our volume and are looking to double again next year. We’re definitely taking foot and are going to push forward,” he says.
Miner has long enjoyed woodworking, a hobby that has earned him notoriety and a devoted following of his handcrafted wooden flags. “Through a lot of trial and error and work, and using You Tube and doing quite a bit of tweaking, I created my own little vision. I got better and better, and now I think I’m pretty good at it. I go into the garage and clear my head while I make them,” he says about the flags that range from 24 by 12 inches up to 6 feet by 4 feet. In the last four years he has made about 200 flags. He sells them on his Facebook page, Veteran Wood Working and Crafts, word of mouth, and for USA Cares fundraisers and at the organization’s events.
“I used to live with the dread of wondering when it was going to be over and I would ask myself if this is what I’m supposed to do. As of this year, I live in abundance because I know I deserve it.”
For the girly girl who was a majorette and cheerleader, entering the Army was a profound shock. “For me to go from not having my hair done every day and no manicure was crazy. And I hate following orders. I was always in trouble and asking too many questions. I wanted to know why I had to swing from that rope. I learned the hard way you shouldn’t ask those kinds of questions. So, I was always the one doing pushups,” says RaeShanda Johnson. “It was all difficult but the pay was great and I became very fit. By the time boot camp was over, my arms were huge.”
Although she had no way of knowing it at the time she left the Army, her life was about to become much more difficult. But this wasn’t the first time she had faced an uncertain future and had to deal with a life altering experience and tragedy. She was raped when she was 15 years old. Both her child’s father and boyfriend passed away within two years of each other.
After leaving the Army, she got a divorce, packed up her home and four children and moved to Vicksburg, Mississippi, where her mother lived. When the town was damaged by Katrina, a friend suggested she move to Kentucky. “I was like, people don’t wear shoes in Kentucky. My friend said, ‘You’re in Mississippi so you really can’t talk.’ I was like, well that’s true,” says RaeShanda.
Life became hectic as she took a job at Kentucky State University in Frankfort and graduated with a degree in public administration. Her intention was to return home and start a non-profit for teen parents, an idea that had particular significance to her because she had her first child at age 13 and one of her high school friends became a grandmother when she was 30 years old.
She had accumulated sizable savings that would allow living expenses and the initial funding for her non-profit. Soon she was living a nightmare. Three days before Christmas she discovered a family member who had access to her account had stolen almost $30,000, leaving her devastated and broke.
“I headed to Louisville, lived in a pay-by-the-week motel on Preston Highway and got a temp job at Republic Bank. Kentucky State University called to say they would pay me $22 an hour plus travel to implement a new system. They wanted me to start as soon as possible. I told them if I left the bank without giving notice, I would not be rehireable. I took that job and worked one day before they said they couldn’t pay me what they had agreed to pay,” she says. Eventually, the university compensated her.
“In 2012 I knew I was not born to struggle and die. There had to be something else I was supposed to be doing,” she says. That realization was spurred a great new beginning, a Facebook page she designed to show style ideas for women. “All Is Fair In Love and Fashion was an idea that must have come from heaven. I started posting pictures and the page went viral. I went from 200 likes to 2,000 likes to 10,000 likes. It was crazy,” she says.
“I knew nothing about retail but Shelly Hanson, a Facebook follower from Atlanta, said she thought I was on to something and wanted to help me. That’s why I tell women we need each other. You can’t make it on your own.”
She was making $5,000 to $6,000 a month from retailers who were paying to advertise on her page because of her 50,000 followers at the end of 2012. However, she decided to stop being paid for advertising and instead switched to her own online boutique. That decision changed her life. Within six months she was heading up a six-figure business.
In 2014 she received a grant from the City of Louisville to develop a retail location in the Heyburn Building. Local coverage was picked up by the Steve Harvey Show where she was invited to tell her story. Her business skyrocketed. She dressed celebrities for Derby and traveled to Washington, D.C. to dress eight amputee veterans. She also opened pop up stores in Oxmoor, Jefferson Mall, Mall of St. Matthews and one in Chicago.
Her appearance on TLC’s “Say Yes to the Dress” made such an impression on the team that they filmed her wedding that was held at the Olmsted. The segment will air in January. Gwendolyn Brashear, development coordinator for USA Cares, went to All Is Fair in Love and Fashion for a model call. When RaeShanda learned about USA Cares’ mission, she jumped onboard to help. “Once you get out of the military, there are so many things you need, not just financially but with mental health and in other areas. I love that I’m able to give back through my fashion show, Fashion on 4th, which benefits USA Cares,” she says. In addition to that event, she presents a fashion event at the Olmsted to raise money to cover two teen mom’s college expenses.
All Is Fair in Love and Fashion is setting the bar high for women’s clothing. “The best word to describe the clothes would be ‘Extra’ with a capital E. I tell people you don’t want to shop with me if you don’t want to be remembered and to stand out,” says RaeShanda. Her customer base consists of women who buy her clothing online, those who shop at her boutique and those who hire her to style them.