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CNN honors local philanthropist Dimiceli with hero title



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DIMICELI'S STORY TO BE TELEVISED THIS WEEKEND Sal Dimiceli's "Hero" segment is scheduled to air on CNN throughout Friday and Saturday and his story will be posted on http://CNNHeroes.com starting Thursday evening, when he officially becomes a CNN Hero. A CNN press release said it can also be followed on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnnheroes and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cnnheroes. Now in its fifth year, CNN Heroes is a multiplatform campaign that "shines a spotlight on everyday people changing the world," the press release said. All CNN Heroes are viewer nominated. Anyone wanting to nominate someone for CNN Heroes, nominations are now open and only accepted through the official form at CNNHeroes.com. Those wanting more information on Time is Now can find it on 1D every week in the Regional News. Information about donating is at the end of the column.
July 27, 2011 | 08:22 AM
Sal Dimiceli is a reluctant hero.

Reluctant or not, the Lake Geneva businessman and philanthropist has been named a "CNN Hero." The show, which honors "everyday people changing the world" will feature Dimiceli in a feature to be aired this weekend.

"It's not about me at all but about the people in need," Dimiceli said in an interview with the Lake Geneva Regional News Monday.

"Sal is extremely uncomfortable about being called a hero at all," CNN's Kathleen Toner told the paper "I was really worried he wouldn't want to do it."

Dimiceli won the honor because of his work with Time Is Now (TIN), a charity he started more than 20 years ago and which now helps some 500 people a year.

"I don't play golf. This is my golf game," he said of his charitable work.

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He credits his "mother's tears" for starting him on the road to giving. When Dimiceli was only 12, he made a promise to God that if his impoverished mother could be helped, he'd never forget the poor when he was able to give. Since then he's given away millions of dollars of his own money and solicited millions more for TIN. The stories of those he's helped have been chronicled in the Lake Geneva Regional News for years. His story has been told in "People" and "Readers Digest."

Characteristically, the 60-year-old Dimiceli said it was a hard sell to convince him to take part in the CNN hero program. There have been several periods in his charitable career where he became anonymous — "humble for God" as he puts it. For awhile he wouldn't have his photo taken. That lasted until two of his largest donors convinced him that it was necessary to draw attention to the charity. He's hoping that will be the outcome of his CNN appearance.

After Dimiceli was nominated for the award, CNN followed up by calling people who know of his charitable work. Kathleen Toner, who did the research for CNN said that her senior managers at first wondered if Dimiceli's story was too good to be true. After extensive research, his story checked out. They interviewed those who contributed to TIN as well as those helped by the charity. They even filmed Dimiceli shopping at the Piggly Wiggly store in Delavan where he was buying food for the needy.

Buying food is only part of the TIN process that starts with Dimiceli culling through hundreds of letters from the needy or others asking for help for some relative or neighbor. He opens them in chronological order and personally visits each person he helps.

"I go to bed emotionally exhausted and I wake refreshed, energized by blessings from God," Dimiceli said.

He screens out alcoholics, drug addicts — who he refers elsewhere — and those who don't need TIN's help: "I can't give someone else's hard earned dollar to those who can help themselves."

He helps people with urgent needs like food and utilities. He goes as far as checking the refrigerator and cabinets to see if they're empty. But also discusses budgeting with them and refers them to other agencies. "There are so many great agencies around," he said, specifically mentioning area organizations like Community Action, the Aging and Disability Resource Center and Love Inc.

"I don't want this to be a band-aid approach," Dimiceli said.

Often he'll run into people too proud to accept help. Often these people have children or others in the home. Dimiceli will explain how he was affected by the reluctance of his mother to accept help (she'd only invite relatives over during the day so they wouldn't realize she didn't have electricity), he said.

Dimiceli is proud of the fact that all the money that is contributed to TIN goes to the poor. "There are no salaries. No overhead. No expenses taken out," he said. In fact, a letter is written to each contributor telling him or her how their money was spent "down to the last penny."

Over the years he's run into skepticism by those who feel the needy should just pull themselves up by their bootstraps. "Why don't they just get a job?" one skeptic asked. Dimiceli sent the skeptic a resume from a handicapped man, an 81-year-old woman and an 11-year-old and asked that they be hired. The man said he couldn't hire any of them. Too old. Too young. Crippled. "These are the type of people I help," Sal told him. The man sent a donation.

He said need for help is bigger than ever because of the nation's economic downturn and unemployment. He said there was once a time when two or three people out of 10 were in dire straits. "Now it's eight or nine," he said.

Dimiceli will see the CNN program for the first time along with the rest of us. His biggest concern? He said there was one scene where the "heroes" are asked to walk toward the camera and pose. Dimiceli is concerned that it will make him look out of character and only agreed to it "after a lot of discussion."

"The Time is Now is not about Sal," he said. "It's about the need of America to help Americans."

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