Dani Johnson grew up on welfare, was pregnant with her first child at 17, and homeless at 21. Despite all odds, Dani became a millionaire by age 23, starting her empire by selling a weight loss product from her car trunk. Now, she's a business owner, best-selling author and motivational speaker.
She's also one of the featured participants in ABC's new reality series Secret Millionaire. The show takes some of America's most successful self-made millionaires and puts them in the country's poorest areas. The goal of the experiment is to find and ultimately reward the unsung heroes who hold these communities up.
For one week, Dani gives up everything, hiding her true identity and living on $40 a week in a cramped one-bedroom apartment in the impoverished Western Heights neighborhood of Knoxville, Tennessee. "I once was on welfare. There were times where I can remember where I got home at 9 at night and had popcorn for dinner because there would be no food," she says. "I'm really super excited and nervous at the same time for the opportunity to be able to do this."
Looking for volunteering opportunities in Knoxville, Dani heads to the Love Kitchen. Started in 1986 by 82-year-old twins Helen and Ellen, the Love Kitchen serves more than 2,000 meals a week to Knoxville's neediest—even delivering meals to homebound members of the community. The Love Kitchen even has a motto: "Everybody is God's somebody," Ellen says.
At the Love Kitchen, Dani jumps right in, chopping, frying and serving meals to the hungry residents of Western Heights. And while delivering food to the elderly and homebound, Dani discovers the true specialties of this great organization. "Whether love in the form of food or love in the form of a hug, a smile, that's what they do," Dani says. "What I love about Helen and Ellen is they are about love."
After volunteering at the Love Kitchen, Dani reveals her true identity to Helen, Ellen and the other Love Kitchen workers. "The reason why the Love Kitchen means so much to me is because I was homeless, and so when I found out about this place and I heard that you guys were doing what you're doing, it blesses me because no one reached out to me," she says.
Then, it's time for Dani's big news. "I would like to give you a check for $20,000," she says.
"Do you know how many people we can help with this?" Helen says. "Dani inspired me to do even more. She's put a spark in my heart that I can do more."
Dani's $20,000 gift came just when the Love Kitchen needed it most, Helen says. "People are losing their jobs and things like that. And the requests were growing," she says. "We didn't have to turn anybody away that needed food."
Dani says she hopes Secret Millionaire will light a spark in viewers to help their own neighbors. "What they must do is get off the couch and use what they have," she says. "You don't have to have a lot of money to be able to help people that are in need. I'm so passionate about people being mobilized to go and help other people. They need smiles, they need hugs, they need care, they need time. And now, all that doesn't cost any money."
Dani's not the only one with a big surprise for Helen and Ellen! "We here at The Oprah Show just love what you all are doing, and we know that your story is going to inspire so many other people. So we called our friends at Kroger and they want to help you out," Oprah says.
Kroger is donating a year's supply of food and new kitchen countertop appliances to the Love Kitchen. "There's nothing that gives back like giving," Oprah says.
Printed from Oprah.com on Wednesday, December 11, 2013