Oprah’s Big Give Winner, Stephen Paletta, to Give Back Big with Million Dollar Winnings

Sunday night, on Oprah’s BIG GIVE season finale, the world learned who would win the title of the Biggest Giver. Stephen Paletta, who won our hearts as the business savvy family man, also won the coveted title and Oprah’s surprise reward of one million dollars. But for an audience that has grown accustom to “BIG TWISTS,” one could not be more exciting than a partnership announced today between Paletta and fellow contestant, Eric Klein, another audience favorite.

The two want to change the face of philanthropy through accountable grassroots relief via the launch of www.StephenAndEric.org, which allows people who donate to their projects to actually see how their money is being spent through video diaries on the site. They challenge large relief organizations to do the same. Paletta and Klein, who hit it off from “challenge one” on the primetime TV series, proved to be an unstoppable team each time they joined forces on the show. Some of their favorite moments included raising funds and bringing communities together to aid the Denver Children’s Home and ensure a secure future for AJ Egan and her daughters.

“On the show, we realized how like-minded we are about philanthropy, while at the same time, how we compliment each other,” said Paletta. “Eric dreams up these amazing ideas, I’m the business guy, and neither of us quits until the job is done right.” Since the series wrapped, the two have been working on grassroots relief projects in Africa and on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Their video cameras capture the results for donors who can track their progress every step of the way at www.StephenAndEric.org.

“Steve and I are both committed to accountable philanthropy,” said Klein. “That has been clear from the start. What’s strange, however, is that both of our lives were set on a course in 2004 that would bring us to this meeting point.” In 2004, Klein was in an auto accident that changed his life in an unexpected way. Instead of having surgery, he took his $200K settlement to Sri Lanka where politics and red tape hampered the tsunami relief efforts of large organizations. “It sounds crazy, but getting hit by that drunk driver was like winning the lottery. It allowed me to finally do what I’d always dreamed—give back in a big way,” he added.

From day one, Klein was meeting with locals, solving immediate problems and rebuilding the community of Sri Lanka. There, he met President Bill Clinton, from whom he received a written commendation. They continue to correspond about global relief. Just months after Eric’s return, he spent a year leading (and personally financing) relief projects on the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina. There again, he saw the hands of large agencies tied by bureaucracy, while he and others provided urgent aid. In 2004, Paletta’s life was also transformed by philanthropy.

The CEO of his own company and devoted husband and father of three says a trip to Rwanda changed his life. As a result, he and his family financially adopted and correspond with 10 children in Africa. “For the first time, I was really hands-on and connected to the plight of the poor and the Third World,” Paletta said. “The images and the people I got to know would not allow me to just go back to work and worry about making my own money.” Paletta and Klein now work together.

Paletta is a key member of Klein’s grassroots relief organization, CAN-DO, where he leads fundraising efforts, while Klein supports Stephen’s Journey, which focuses on relief projects for children and schools.

Both organizations can be accessed through www.StephenAndEric.org. On the site, visitors can view a video diary, which documents Paletta’s and Klein’s projects. Videos include their recent work in Rwanda to aid 3,500 refugees in the flood-devastated village of Bigogwe where 100 perished. Tents, building supplies, survival packs and food were delivered with donor names attached to each gift. The duo has since returned to Africa where they’re rebuilding schools and libraries. They have also begun efforts on the Gulf Coast to help rebuild Hurricane Katrina-devastated homes.

They are committed to setting a new standard for charity. “Being paired together on that first show was fate,” said Paletta. “Eric and I work well together and it’s resulted into an exciting partnership in providing accountable relief. It’s important for donors to see where their money is going.” Paletta plans to turn his one million dollar BIG GIVE winnings into a multi-million dollar philanthropic movement.

Individuals, businesses and corporations that want to get involved can learn more by visiting www.StephenAndEric.org. Adds Klein, “We had three of the largest disasters in our history almost back to back – 911, Tsunami, Katrina – with billions of dollars in relief worldwide, yet the majority of funds have yet to reach the intended targets. We need to start holding the big agencies accountable. Meanwhile, we are committed to providing immediate, accountable relief with zero red tape.”

About StephenAndEric.org StephenAndEric.org is changing the face of philanthropy through accountable grassroots relief. The website not only lists projects for donors to choose from but serves as a video diary documenting progress every step of the way. The site also serves as a gateway to Klein’s own disaster relief organization, CAN-DO.org, and Paletta’s non-profit, StephensJourney.org, which focuses on relief projects for children and schools in Africa. The two work with all groups regardless of religious affiliation. Individuals, organizations and corporations looking to make monetary or surplus donations to support their efforts can see a list of projects and arrange donations through www.StephenAndEric.org.

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