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'Medicine man' lifts up a community

by Jeff Rossen, NBC News Correspondent

His laugh is infectious. His spirit...awe-inspiring. And when you hear his story on tonight's Making a Difference, you'll wonder why the rest of us don't smile more often. Jacob Massaquoi has little to smile about, frankly. He's a Liberian refugee...with a story that would make many cry. Jacob was forced to flee his home in Liberia when rebels killed his brother, and tried to kill him. He landed on Staten Island, New York. Without a penny to his name, Jacob didn't whine, or complain, or ask for a handout. Instead, he stuck HIS hand out, to help others.

Jacob opened the African Refuge, a community center in his new neighborhood. Somehow (and I'm still not sure how he did it), Jacob convinced nurses to volunteer their services for those without health insurance....he convinced immigration lawyers to swing by once a week, for refugees trying to get American citizenship. He finds jobs for the unemployed, and flashes a warm smile when people need them most.

Jacob's center is open to anyone who needs it. He's already helped more than 1,000 people...and now he wants to expand to other locations.

When we arrived to tape, we were surprised by the center's location. It's basically a converted 3-bedroom apartment, inside a low-income apartment building, down a cold hallway. But, when that door swung open...there was Jacob. Big smile. Big laugh. And he basically pulled us inside (like my grandmother when I come visit...which isn't often enough, but I digress).

Jacob threw his arm around me...and our producer Victor Limjoco and associate producer Ali Rosen...and I thought to myself, "Wow...why can't I be like this guy." Jacob is happy helping people. That's it. That's all he needs. I said, "Jacob, don't you dream of living in a big house, with nice things?" His answer was as simple as his mission, "Poverty is in the mind. I am rich because I help people."
With the economy crumbling around us...our friends and relatives losing their jobs....we should all channel our inner-Jacob...a man who seemed pretty rich to me.

For more information on Jacob's community center, go to the African Refuge Center's Web site:

http://www.itspnyc.org/african_refuge/