James Malinchak stands with Tony Branch, one of Gary, Ind.'s gift recipients.
James Malinchak isn't allowed to reveal many details about the time he spent in Gary, Ind., as part of the new ABC series Secret Millionaire. Can't say who he met or how much money he, as the "secret millionaire," bestowed upon them.
Watch Sunday's episode and you'll find out, he said.
He did disclose, however, that initially he wanted no part of the show.
"I really had a belief in my mind that this was going to be something that was going to hurt people and not help and uplift people," Malinchak, a motivational speaker/business consultant, said. "So I was thinking maybe this was some bait and switch."
By the end of a 30-minute phone conversation and an in-person meeting that ended up lasting seven hours, "I thought it could help a lot of people in America. This is a great, positive thing." He called the show "a life-changing experience" — for the people he met and for him. (More about Malinchak can be found at www.malinchak.com.)
Here's what Malinchak was permitted to say: About a year ago, the show's producers put him on a plane. Didn't tell him where he was going. Didn't allow him to bring much of anything with him. "I had to get comfortable being uncomfortable," he said.
The idea was to live among the people — which he did, in a neighborhood he describes as "tough" — find out who was helping the community and ask them to be part of a documentary on volunteerism. Then, at the end of a week, he revealed his identity and handed them a check to continue their mission.
"The people were just fabulous," Malinchak said. "They're beautiful. The organizations, the people, were some of the most amazing spirits I've ever met. None of these folks I happened to meet had any great wealth as far as income, but they were rich so far beyond income — rich in love, rich in serving other community members, rich in making Gary better. Amazing people."
The toughest part of the process, he said, was revealing his identity after asking the people to trust him.
"I didn't think some of these folks would want to be my friend anymore," he said. "I was nervous about that."
But everything ended well. In fact, he said, he's gone back to Gary to visit and he's flown some of the people he befriended there to his home in Las Vegas.
Malinchak, 41, said Gary reminded him of his hometown of Monessen, Pa., an old steel town that has seen better days.
The people he met in Gary really try to make a difference, he said. They certainly made an impression on him.
"I really believe I got more out of what I learned being around them than they got out of any of the money I gave them," he said. "To see how they are, their essence, it just put an imprint on my spirit that can't be changed."