Where the heart is: Lawyer gives house to homeless family for a year


At age 51, Tony Tolbert, a lawyer and UCLA lecturer, told his mom he was moving back home.

At first his mom, Marie Tolbert, wasn’t thrilled.

“I thought he was out of his right mind,” Marie chuckled.

But she had a change of heart when she found out why.


He told her he wanted to give up his house in Los Angeles to Felicia Dukes, a homeless mother of four, for a full year. No strings attached.

Tony explained, “I sat down with Felicia and her family. I said, ‘This is your home for the year. Make it be yours. Do what you want to do with it, decorate it as you want, enjoy the space.’ ”

Felicia was living paycheck to paycheck before she fell on hard times and become homeless. She said, “I got behind on my rent. After I had my daughter, I wasn’t getting my regular paycheck — I was getting disability, so it wasn’t covering entirely. I just tried to figure out what should I do?”

The biggest life lesson here: when you give to the world, you get sooo much back. Tony said giving his home up unconditionally was freeing in a spiritual way.

“For me, it was a very liberating process, and trying to tap into generosity in its truest sense.” Tony said. “Not giving like half-giving or giving with one hand and then saying, ‘OK, but I need to get something back.’ ”

Fast forward a year later, people who heard about his good deed were inspired to help Felicia with financial counseling and spiritual coaching.

I’m happy to report that Felicia has saved enough money to move into her own home. She and all her kids are doing well.

Meanwhile Tony loved the experiment in generosity so much, he has loaned his home to three more families.

Now, I want you to think about what you can do to make someone’s life better. It doesn’t have to be giving up your home — it could be something small. We’d love to hear about what you will do!


One of my favorite Oprah quotes is, “Now that you have seen it, you can’t pretend that you didn’t see it.” Ain’t that the truth? Tony said you don’t have to be Oprah or Warren Buffett to give. He had a home to offer.

Tony told me his parents were the epitome of the true meaning of generosity. They always opened up their home to people in need. As he mentioned in our original Go Inspire Go video, his parents were a big influence on the man he is today.

Not everyone is able to give big like Tony, but that’s not what the moral of this story is about. Like he said, you don’t have to be Oprah or Warren — you just have to do what is in your power to help. It’s about giving what you can. It also don’t have to involve money or even a tangible thing. Volunteer. Use your power — your talents, resources and be generous in any way that feels good to you. I believe the key to joy is giving unabashedly.

More info:

Take Action
1. Learn more about Alexandria House and support its great work in helping women and children move from transitional shelters into permanent housing.
2. Consider what you can contribute (time, skills, resources) that might make a difference in someone else’s life.
3. Give or share something (little or big) with someone today.

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