Oprah Winfrey

From humble beginnings to America's most generous woman

Oprah Winfrey is one of America's best-known celebrities; she's also one of the most generous. The Mississippi-born television host has made the Slate 60 top charitable donations list in each of the last four years with donations totaling $210 million. Forbes valued her wealth in 2006 at $1.5 billion. While she's not donating 100 percent of her wealth as Richard Branson is, she's easily among the most generous celebrities.

As a black woman growing up in the South, Oprah faced a number of challenges as she climbed the ranks in the world of broadcasting. She began by reading the news on Nashville radio and then moved to television,eventually landing a job hosting AM Chicagoin 1984. One year later, after much success, it was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show, and the rest is history.

Winfrey, in addition to being a great interviewer, is also an accomplished businessperson. Early on in her show, she created her own company, Harpo Productions, to buy the syndication rights. It was this bold feat that allowed her to make substantial charitable donations in Africa, the United States and other parts of the world.

Oprah has three foundations that help people, especially children, on a global basis. Her most ambitious project to date is the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy in South Africa. Opened on January 2, 2007, this private boarding school is the crown jewel of Oprah's philanthropic career. This state-of-the-art boarding school affords 250 underprivileged young girls the opportunity to learn in a supportive, caring environment. Winfrey spent five years and $40 million to make the school a reality. Some parents of the children attending the school have objected to the overly strict rules applied to their kids - most notably, the parents can only visit for two hours per month - but Oprah defends the school and its practices by saying the administrators are building a safe place for the children to obtain a first-rate education.

In addition to the Leadership Academy, Winfrey has two other projects that occupy her time away from the studio: Oprah's Angel Network, which funds the building of schools in 13 countries, and the creation and continuing support of the Oprah Winfrey Boys and Girls Club in Kosciusko, Mississippi, her hometown. She has often said that service to the world is the greatest gift anyone can give.

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