by JENNIFER FRAKES | photos by Zeena Gregg Photography

Children, Creating Hope

volunteer_thai_2Local resident Jimmy Thai is a tireless volunteer and fundraiser for Build a School – Leave a Legacy, a program that builds schools in rural, remote regions of Vietnam, allowing a safe place for children to learn without the fear of being kidnapped and being put in dangerous situations. Jimmy’s dedication to the program is rooted in a deeply personal experience. Jimmy left Vietnam as a teenager, nine years after the fall of Saigon. He tried to flee 15 times before making it to Thailand. Right before his final escape attempt, he met a boy named Minh. “Mihn was an illiterate eight-year-old boy whose parents harbored me a few days leading up to the journey across the pirate-infested Gulf of Thailand from the Mekong Delta. I never finished teaching him how to read. Every night I was there, Mihn eagerly sounded out words he recognized from crumpled newspapers and asked for my help. Feeling incomplete, I vowed one day to return and build schools for less fortunate children in the rural remote regions of Vietnam,” revealed Jimmy, who is now vice president of technology for SAIC.

To date, the Build a School – Leave a Legacy program has built two kindergarten schools. Their third project is to build a bridge in Cape Ca Mau, Vietnam so children can safely walk to school. The team has plans in 2016 to expand the schools to reach into the Central province and Southern delta region. “We seek corporate sponsorships from U.S. and international enterprises that have a strong presence in Vietnam. We also need more Americans to help us educate less fortunate people around the world,” stated Jimmy. According to Jimmy, volunteers are needed to raise awareness and fundraise. Those who are interested can participate in a Hike 2 Build a School fundraiser on Sunday, March 20 at Black Mountain Open Space Park. Visit for more information.

Name: Jimmy Thai
Community: Barcelona of Torrey Highlands
Volunteer Affiliation: Leadership Foundation Academy’s Build a School – Leave a Legacy program
Profession: Vice President of Technology for SAIC
Family: Wife – Lily; Daughters – Faith and Ashley
Hobbies: Motivational speaking, Vietnamese Boat People writing, yoga, cardio kickboxing
Favorite Local Spots: Rancho Family YMCA, Rancho Peñasquitos Branch Library, Rita’s Italian Ice, Black Mountain Open Space Park, Westview Theatre

Group: Leadership Foundation Academy
Mission: Develop leaders with “Mind-Body-Heart” philosophy; where passion meets compassion.
Phone: 858-769-9090


After all of Jimmy’s hardships early in life, he feels especially fortunate to call 92129 his home. He, his wife Lily, and their two daughters have lived in the community since 2002. “We moved to this area so our daughters could start school in the prestigious Poway Unified School District. Now both of them are Westview Wolverines,” said Jimmy. The Thai family enjoys spending time together and can often be found at the Rancho Family YMCA, the Rancho Peñasquitos library, and Black Mountain Open Space Park.