Last May, a group of UC Merced students proved that with a little determination, no goal is impossible. Seventeen students, many in the campus’ inaugural class, launched a grassroots drive to entice First Lady Michelle Obama to deliver the Commencement 2009  keynote address.
The student-led initiative, known as the "Dear Michelle" Campaign, included a YouTube video, a Facebook campaign and more than 900 Valentine's Day cards.
And, the rest is history.
Now, that same group of students is channeling their passion to make a difference and help others by establishing the Dear Michelle Foundation.
Twelve members of the original Dear Michelle Campaign, Chinyerem Amesi, Erica Babalola, David Cheng, David Do, Efferman Ezell, Sam Fong , Chanita Intawan, Jessica Julian , Yang Li , Cybill Navarro, Jo-Anne Rodriguez and Yaasha Sabbaghian , began working on developing the foundation immediately after graduation.
“We were very inspired during our time at UC Merced and had planned to start our own foundations and scholarships,” said Fong, ’09, chief financial officer of the Dear Michelle Foundation. “We met around the time of commencement to officially bring the idea to the rest of the group so we could continue the momentum of the campaign.”
Fong said the group was inspired by Mrs. Obama’s commencement message and have included a portion of her speech in the foundation’s by-laws.
“I would encourage you to call upon the same hope and hard work that brought you to this day. Call upon that optimism and tenacity that built the University of California at Merced to invest in the future of Merced in your own hometowns all across this country,” she told the graduates. “And as the students who helped build this school, I ask you, make your legacy a lasting one. Dream big, think broadly about your life, and please make giving back to your community a part of that vision. Take the same hope and optimism, the hard work and tenacity that brought you to this point, and carry that with you for the rest of your life in whatever you choose to do. You must reach back and pull someone up. You must bend down and let someone else stand on your shoulders so that they can see a brighter future.”
The group’s goal is to include a large number of donors in the philanthropic process by allowing them to vote on which grants, scholarships and other proposals to fund based on their lifetime giving percentage.
“To attract a wider base of donors, we will serve multiple causes and primarily ask for small amounts each month,” Fong said. “Initially, our causes will include education, poverty, health and environment. We will likely begin local, since we all share a common experience at UC Merced.”
The foundation’s board of trustees, which includes the 12 founding members, have committed to donating a small amount to the foundation each month to raise the initial working capital needed. They are in the process of applying for 501c3 status with help from an attorney who is the father of a UC Merced alumnus.
They will begin engaging family and friends and then individual professional networks. To connect with individuals through the Internet, they are developing a Web site and social networking platform.
“This is a great example of our students and alumni continuing their entrepreneurial spirit in support of underserved communities,” said Chancellor Steve Kang. “I know they will be extremely successful in their efforts because they have already shown us that no charge is out of their reach.”
For more information about the Dear Michelle Foundation, contact Yaasha Sabbaghian  at (650) 520-0552.