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Lysacek: Homelessness can happen to anyone

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Gold medalist's inspiration: Volunteering
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Olympic champion Evan Lysacek supports Help USA, the nation's largest homeless advocate
  • Help USA provides housing and support services so people can get back on their feet
  • Lysacek: Help USA experience has "taught me so much about working and remaining positive"
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Editor's note: Voting is under way for the 2010 CNN Hero of the Year. The winner will be announced at "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute," which airs Thanksgiving night, November 25, at 8 ET. See the top 10 CNN Heroes of 2010 and and cast your vote.

(CNN) -- Evan Lysacek became a household name in February when he won the Olympic gold medal in men's figure skating.

Since his rise to fame, he has made it a point to get involved with charitable work. He currently works with Help USA, a nonprofit organization that provides housing and support services so the homeless and other people in need can become self-sufficient.

Lysacek, a supporter of CNN Heroes, recently spoke to CNN producer Megan Clifford about the Heroes campaign and his humanitarian work. Below are excerpts from that interview.

Megan Clifford: Why did you decide to get involved with Help USA?

Evan Lysacek: Well, I've always looked up to -- in my lifetime and in my career -- athletes and people who are strong members of the community. As I've gained a little bit of success, I thought the most important thing to do, first and foremost, was to give back and help out.

Homelessness can happen to anyone within the blink of an eye. Job loss is so prevalent in the country today with the state of our economy ... a lot of people have become homeless or jobless very quickly, and they did not see it coming.

Help USA is the largest homeless advocate in the country. Knowing their reputation, I wanted to get involved immediately and asked how. They said, "Come on down, we'll film a public service announcement."

Clifford: What exactly does Help USA do?

Lysacek: Help USA helps [its] clients by teaching the skills that they're going to need to go out and reclaim their lives ... life skills, education, job placement and training, child care, as well as counseling. They provide a variety of services at their residences to help their clients get their lives back on track.

Clifford: How has your work with Help USA affected you?

Lysacek: It's inspired me more than I could have imagined. I thought I would be signing on to teach and give as much as I could ... but in turn, they've taught me so much about working and remaining positive with the circumstances that you're dealt.

As gratifying as it was for me to work my entire life for my Olympic dream and somehow, someway achieve it in Vancouver by winning gold, I get so much more appreciation and I feel so much more heart when I can help more than one person. As memories of competitions, of medals and podiums, fade away, there are pictures that are embedded in my head with families in need that will really stick with me for the rest of my life.

Clifford: You're a sports hero to many people. What is a hero to you?

Lysacek: A hero to me is a person that leads by example, and they don't always take the easy road. Sometimes, they're the only one on a certain path, but they always do what they think is right and they're positive members of their community.

Clifford: Why did you get involved with CNN Heroes?

Lysacek: CNN Heroes honors everyday people who've given extraordinary things to their communities. It inspires everyone to get up, go out and do something -- take a stand for what you believe in, team up with an organization you really care about, help someone in need. That's something everyone in this world could learn from -- seeing a positive force within their community.

It's sometimes difficult to comprehend how you can possibly make a difference, but when it's right there in front of your eyes through a program like CNN Heroes, it's easy to believe that you truly can. And that's why I feel like this is so important.

 
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