POMONA - Madalenna Lai has tackled some big projects over the years.

Lai has toured with a fishing boat used by a group of Vietnamese citizens to escape from their country in search of freedom and approached Tournament of Roses Parade officials to convince them to give the Vietnamese Cultural House an opportunity to participate in the parade.

Now Lai is working to raise enough money to purchase land to build the headquarters for the "Thank You America and the World Museum."

The project may be a daunting task to some but those who know her said she can make the dream a reality.

"I can definitely see her doing this," said Gary George, who recently retired as director of government and external affairs for Verizon. "She's a go-getter. She has no qualms approaching anybody."

Lai, a resident of Pomona and the president of the Vietnamese Cultural House, said the United States and other countries welcomed Vietnamese immigrants following the end of the Vietnam War, which ended with the surrender of South Vietnam to North Vietnamese forces.

In their new homes, members of the Vietnamese community are leading successful lives, she said.

"That's why we have to say `Thank you, America'," Lai said.

The museum would have space to showcase the accomplishments of the Vietnamese communities around the world and artifacts that are significant to Vietnamese culture.

Lai said she is prepared to knock on as many doors as necessary.

Her quest will not be limited to seeking donations from the Vietnamese community. All people can contribute and she will accept any donation - be it a gift of $1 to $1,000 or more - as long as it comes from the heart.

Lai said she'll pass on donations that aren't heartfelt.

"If it's without your heart, I don't want it. I will find it somewhere else," she said.

Sharing with others is important, Lai said.

"After you succeed, you don't have to give a lot but you have to share," she said.

Lai would like to raise $1 million to purchase land to construct the building.

Exactly were the building will one day be built has not been determined, Lai said.

Diep Fintland, who has known Lai for many years, said the mission Lai has taken on is not easy.

Many of those involved in the fundraising effort are older and drawing the assistance of younger generations can be a challenge because they are focusing their attention on their careers and raising families, Fintland said.

Plus the economy is still weak, and it's difficult for people to contribute, she said.

"I see it as a tough time right now," Fintland said.

However, Lai is tenacious.

George, who has known Lai for about 20 years, said she is a tireless worker.

As a business woman operating a beauty school in Pomona, she not only provided students with job skills, she also worked to offer English as a Second Language education and made time to provide assistance to the homeless, George said.

After seeing her work, the Verizon Foundation provided financial assistance for her literacy and homeless programs, he said.

Lai is not afraid to make sacrifices for a cause.

After several years of seeking to have an entry in The Tournament of Roses Parade the invitation finally came, he said.

However, to help pay for the float Lai sold her home, George said.

Even though she played a major role in making the float project a reality, she refused to ride the float instead leaving that role to others, he said.

Lai said she'd like to raise the necessary funds in five years but it may take longer to do so in the current economic environment.

Lai, who is 68, said she is prepared to put all her energy into raising the money for the project.

"I have strength to work, I don't have strength to fight," Lai said.

She also realizes by the time the money is raised she may be ready to retire but she's at peace with that idea.

"I don't have to cut the ribbon (at the museum opening) as long as I leave the money" for its construction, she said. 

Those interested in contributing toward the museum fundraising effort can make donations out to the Vietnamese Cultural House and mail them to 450 W. Phillips Blvd., Pomona, 91766.


Reach Monica via email or call her at 909-483-9336.