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TRANSCRIPT — Transformational Truth with Sunny Lu Williams



TechServe president Sunny Lu Williams is dedicated to lifting underserved communities.

Sunny is the third generation of Taiwanese-American female ownership of TechServ,

which supports and facilitates community impact programs. The culture of TechServ is family-focused and grassroots-minded while enacting positive change.

Sunny shares the deeply personal story behind her high energy leadership approach to improving public health via education and access.

I hope you enjoy.


A quick housekeeping note. After recording a few interviews for my podcast, I realized the hard way that I had experienced some technical issues with the third-party technology that I’d engaged with. As a recovering perfectionist, it is an understatement that this is challenging for me not to give in to the temptation of re-recording my parts. 

However, I am truly prioritizing the the level of authenticity in my conversations. So I thank you in advance for your grace.


This is Kara Kavinsky, your host for Record Scratch.

And my guest today is Sunny Lou Williams.

She is president and CEO of TechServe.

And I’m so excited to have you on this podcast.

Thank you so much, Sunny, for joining me.


Thank you, Kara. Glad to be here.


Thank you. So my friend, Barry, who was a grief coach, she said when I interviewed her, “the cook cooks.” And I can honestly say you could have a restaurant catering business, just amazing. Adam and I are the very gracious recipients of your Asian cuisine. I’ve never seen anything like it when you brought over these dishes and every single dish was so complicated. know this because I’ve attempted maybe one or two of them and just gave up. But you whipped this up like it’s nothing. So I just so appreciate your cooking talent. And that’s just on the side. Like your family must really eat well. But let’s talk a little bit about, first of all, I’d like for you to explain TechServ, the company which is very unique with you being the third generation female owner. And I’d like for you to provide some family background, the TechServ in a nutshell, and then let’s dive into the rest of our conversation.


Yeah, I’d be happy to. Thank you for those glowing remarks. I have a hard time sometimes expressing my emotions. So it’s easier for me to drop off a bunch of food than sometimes just to to have the conversation. So thank you for sharing that. That’s the way that I show love and care. And so I’m happy to do it. Much of that complexity in the cooking kind of translates into the company that we run and that we deal with very complex issues. But my team and I are able to simplify these difficult, many times systemic issues in public health, public education and public safety by just simply looking at basic areas of communication, training and ongoing support to the organizations and people that we serve.

And so with that, there’s a level of very human interaction and relationships that are

formed with our clients over many, many years. Our typical project is a three to five year duration, and we really get to know people, right? We break bread with them. We get to, at minimum, talk about many times meet their families, and we really build this bond with people that are incredibly passionate about serving their communities, whether they’re public safety folks, public health, or our incredible teachers and administrators in public education. So TechServ started in 1992 with my grandmother. She is just an incredible human and inspirational individual. And I’ve aspired to be her for most of my life. And she’s kind of my North Star when I look at, am I doing the right thing? She was the second daughter of a second wife in China in Shanghai. And during the Cultural Revolution, her father recommended that her mother and her siblings flee the country and that he would meet them in Taiwan. 

Well, he never met them.

And that specific recommendation was actually to reduce the number of mouths to be fed in that family. So as they were literally fleeing the country thinking that they were going meet up with their father, And I never had the pleasure of meeting my great grandmother, but my grandmother’s mother, who was illiterate, lost a daughter on the way. My grandmother lost a sister and they ended up fleeing to Taiwan with no financial way to survive. So my grandmother at the time was almost 13. She started with her mom, seamstressing, washing laundry, doing all those things. and she had the aspiration to become a civil servant. And so she took these exams. And this is where when I work in public education today, I think to myself, there were pathways then, pathways that you could literally just study these rules, take these tests, you could take them over and over and over again if you needed to. But they led to careers like standards of living where you could feed your family. 

And I think of all the barriers that we’ve put against people being able to make a living now. And so she was able to do that. And she started civil service at a very young age at 17. And she ended up being one of the first police women in Taipei. There’s this beautiful photo of her and her cohort of six or seven police women. They didn’t police the streets or go into investigations or they didn’t arrive on scene to incidents or anything, they were what we would consider today as administrative officers. But man, she could disassemble and reassemble a gun in like 15 seconds flat. So she trained on weapons and trained and showed other police men the weapons that they were carrying on the street and so forth. And so she did all of these things and she had this passion to say, “Hey, I really believe that education is a change agent. And if I’m given the access, then I’m going to study and then I’m going to do these things.

So in her almost early fifties, her kids, my father and his siblings started to immigrate to the US, began studying for their masters and so forth. And she wanted to come and get her driver’s license and get her citizenship. And at the time, my dad and his siblings were kind of like, “No, mom, you don’t need all that, plus you’re too old to do it.” So this is kind of a family legend, right? 

She’s got a ton of grit and she goes, “Watch me.”

She gets her driver’s license, studies for her US citizenship. I remember quizzing her when I was in elementary school. Like, this is what it means to be a citizen of another country. It means that you need to understand the history of why this country is as it is today and how it became what it is today, and the mechanisms of how it can change in the future. She has these formative, of course, I call them grandma-isms, and I don’t know that that’s really a appropriate moniker for it, because it almost seems like, you know, kind of stereotyped the grandma. So let’s just call them Judaism’s because she selected for herself. Her English name is Judy.

So she has these Judy-ism’s just phenomenal, kind of transformative thoughts that have kept with me all these years. And that one introspection, I guess, of hers to me in her studying for her US citizenship test has impacted broadly the work we do at TechServ, which is what are the mechanics of how we create processes, how those become policies, and vice versa. How do we create policies and how do they ultimately create or permit certain processes to exist?

And so she got her US citizenship and then she was like, “What’s next?”

She kept studying. She kept looking at what does she have access to? What can she participate in? And so at the time, my father and my older uncle, Uncle Po, they were both computer science majors and that was the heyday of beginning personal computing. And she thought, “I want to participate in this. I’ve been a serial entrepreneur most of my life. I ran an ice cream, ice cream store cafe, ran various different types of businesses on the services side. So she had at one point kind of gathered the other police women and decided to do almost kind of like this. Police women meets event management meets like event bouncer type of service. Like, really?

She’s like, well, you know, the neighborhood all knew that we were running police officers. So we thought we’d just use our branding and you know, and I was like, that’s amazing. And so she’s like, why don’t I start a company? And I didn’t know that she had started TechServ until I was reviewing the stock ledger in 2018. 

I had no idea. And it was just a a very pivotal moment for me because it’s almost like, wow, was I you? Like, did you really do that? Right? So there’s a little bit of a disconnect of the person that’s real and warm and caring has been always a mentor and a support and listening year to me for so, so many years. And then this person that has served the decades of her life just said, no, I’m not going to do it this way. I’m going to do it my way and watch me because I’ll get it done.

And I always had this kind of awe coupled with fear, coupled with a unquenching need to honor her struggles and say, “I’m doing something with my life to honor what you went through.”


Your grandmother is an amazing human to aspire to, and that’s a lot to take on.

That’s a lot.


I have a closer relationship than I would say most people have in their grandmother-granddaughter relationships. I really see her really as a mentor, as my primary mother figure, and I see her as this incredible woman. And I mean that in all the identities that women have to undertake. And she has shared with me things over the years that now that I’m 41, I look back and go, that was probably not appropriate to share with me as a young person during those stages of her life and doing the things that she was going through. But at the same time, I look at it as this is another Judy-ism, no matter what’s going on in your family, it stays within the family.

And that’s something that I have had a really hard time coming to terms with. And I will say that that’s probably one Judaism that I don’t subscribe to. We have a very large dynamic, incredible family with our own amazing dysfunctions as any family has. That one Judy-ism I felt over the years, I really tested into saying, “But if we don’t have the support and necessarily the communication within a family or any group organization, we need to reach out.

We need to have other modes of coping, of support, and being able to just say our peace and hear others and receive what they’re sharing. And so I didn’t really understand why there was this Judy-ism of, you know, what’s happening in the family stays in the family until I learned that my parents actually divorced when I was very young and I didn’t have a formative memory of my biological mom.

And I had these struggles with what I now knew and understood to be my stepmom, who is the second generation owner of our company. She has very, very high expectations of me when I was younger. And it was near impossible to meet those expectations. And being the personality type that I am, I strove not only to meet those expectations, but to exceed them. And it was very draining on my own mental health.

It was very draining on just kind of the normative expectations of a Taiwanese high schooler. And so when I went to Purdue, I felt for the first time in my life that I could take a breath and discover who I wanted to be and discover my own identity and completely, not in the sense of off my family, but just being away from this incredible aspirational grandmother, this very expectation, high standard setting mother and all of the other things that was happening in my family that shouldn’t have been on the shoulders of 18, 19, 20, 21 year old.


Yeah. And so let’s provide a little roadmap here. So your grandmother was in Taiwan.

And your family started immigrating over to the United States, right outside Chicago.

And then how old were you? Because you were born in Taiwan, correct?




And how old were you when you came over to the United States?


I was only three, but I will tell you, I have very, very clear memories of, so I started speaking at a very early age. And when I got back in touch with my biological mother, She shared with me that I started speaking at like 10, 11 months old and complete sentences.


Quoting Shakespeare… 


Like I don’t know about Shakespeare, but she she did say I had complete sentence sentences. And I remember I remember being me at two and three years old, if that makes sense because to this day, it doesn’t really make sense to me. But I remember very clear, vivid memories. I remember doing calligraphy work with my grandfather, who was an incredible artist.

And I don’t remember four, five, six, seven.

And I think it was because it was very traumatic. And immigrating to the United States not only meant immigrating to somewhere brand new where I didn’t speak the language, I remember very clearly going through ESL classes, English as a second language classes at my elementary school on the south side of Chicago. And I now know is because I mentally blocked it because I remember very vividly now some suppressed memories of meeting my mom for the first time and my dad trying to say, “This is your mom.” And me going, “That’s not my mom. I know who my mom is.”


These types of memories that surfaced and looking back on it, thinking to myself,

This is why I don’t have clear memories of that time frame because there were some protectionary mechanisms going on at that time. So I think that from a timeline perspective, there was some loss of identity there because there were some things that I think adults were trying to push that just I knew were not true, but I had to adjust to. So my grandmother from the age of probably five or six, she would take me back to Taiwan for the summers. So I spent the summers all with extended family and that really supported this kind of ongoing long-term ability to be very adjustable in new places, but also being able to form relationships very quickly and to hold on to those relationships for a long term.

So by the time I was in elementary school, my father and his siblings were all now in the States, San Diego, California, and Philadelphia, and also in the Chicagoland area.

And as cousins, we saw each other pretty much every summer. So I have a very close relationship with my cousins as well. And during this timeframe, I still didn’t know. I still wasn’t consciously aware of the fact that my mom was my stepmom. Since this record scratch moment didn’t actually occur timeline wise until it was 25, I found out via LinkedIn, if you can believe it. This young woman contacts me. I have been like a super user LinkedIn from the very beginning and I just loved it. I mean, Facebook came out the year after I graduated college. So I wasn’t super excited about the whole social media components from like a day to day lifestyle. I was really excited about, wow, this is like a digital Rolodex. I was of the generation where I canvassed. Like we went door to door. I worked for Illinois Public Interest Research and we walked door to door to door to inform and educate people about what was going on with public policy and research. So the fact that I’m like, oh my gosh, I can connect with all these folks and just send them instantaneous messaging. This is amazing. But I also got a lot of inappropriate stuff. Like I had men contacting me and that was inappropriate. And so when this young woman contacted me, I was like, I don’t know. This seems very scammy. 

It was my biological mother’s second daughter. They had grown up celebrating my birthday.


Don’t you think it’s interesting? I just want to point out, so your grandmother was the second daughter of the second wife.

And now it’s your mom’s second daughter contacting you through LinkedIn.


You know, I actually, I’ve never connected that before, but yeah, And it’s so strange to me that it’s using mediums that I trust and connecting with me. And she wrote a very professional message. I don’t refer to the message very often. I think for me, there’s still some reconciliation that I’m still doing. I think she just simply wanted to reconnect my biological mom and I, and she wanted to connect my blood sister and I.

We ended up meeting.

They were both very emotional about it, and I just felt very numb.

And I had a really difficult time understanding, but it made lots of other things in the trajectory of my life make a lot of sense. And so the Judy-ism of whatever is happening to the family, stays in the family, is one of those things where secrets are transformative. Whether you’re the secret keeper or whether the secret is about you, even in my current practice, tying it to TechServ because it’s easier for me to tie it to tech serve. I can’t even know me for a long time. It’s easier for me to tie it being very tangible than rather tying it to myself. I look at it as, secrets can be very transformative most of the time that’s very negative impact. And when we come together with shareholders and stakeholders of communities, I am always like, “You need to be honest with me.” 


Oh, absolutely. Well, and in business, in the work that you do, there must be transparency as you are receiving grants and needing to follow the money and provide

those deliverables and all the proof and so forth. However, you, like me, when I interview someone, or whether friends, obviously, that’s vault. When I interview someone, they tend to overshare when I’m writing an article about them. And I protect them. I just feel naturally protective of everyone I interview and want to help them divvy out the personal from the private. And people love those personal connections. And I think that maybe Judy, Grandma Judy, was identifying those very private things. And I think there’s some psychological evidence that one of the most challenging things for children to deal with are discovering that their life may have been based on a foundation that’s a trapdoor versus quicksand or a solid foundation. So it’s a big disruptive moment for sure in your record scratch moment. So go on. So what happened as you met with this family, these relatives of yours, and where did that happen?


So I would say that I agree with all the points you just made about what you share that’s personal versus private, but you can’t hide people. I had a hard time. I didn’t immediately move on this message. I needed to have my own, how do I do with this? So what I first did for myself, I had individual conversations with my mom. It’s just so happened I was on my way back to Taiwan because when my grandparents got older, I made a commitment to honor them by taking the trip back every year to spend time with them because they were just so incredible in their generosity and their formative in my life. So I just wanted to spend that time with them. And just so happened, I had a trip back to Taiwan coming up. 

And so I had the conversation with my mom first. We were sitting down and I said, “Hey, I had somebody contact me.” And her name is such and such. And she professes that I have a sister and a whole, essentially other family. My mom got pretty rigid for a second and she just said, “I will tell you what I can tell you, but this is really your father’s story and your grandparents’ story.” So I went back to Taiwan and at the time my grandfather was bedridden. He was at the later stages of Alzheimer’s and he had just had recently a stroke. So he was not able to speak. My grandmother had been cleaning and pulling some things together. And she had a bunch of photo albums stacked up in his prior office. He was one of the first economic advisors in Taiwan. He had many businesses, did real estate and commercial development and so forth. But he loved art and he was a phenomenal calligrapher. I mean, Kara, his work was just absolutely incredible.

And I have several pieces hanging in my home. He’s just a phenomenal artist. And he was sitting there in an afternoon and I was going through some albums. And in the Taiwan and Chinese culture, there’s certain albums. Like if you have a wedding album, it’s always red and gold and always has she as a character on the front. And I thought to myself, Oh my gosh, I’ve never seen a wedding album of my parents before. And so I’m grabbing this particular album because my grandfather has Alzheimer’s. I was wanting to show him pictures and if I knew the people, I would share some stories and whatnot just to kind of reengage him. And I saw panic in his eyes when he saw the photo album. 

So I went to it. I was like, because I was not sure why there was panic, So I was like, well, I’m not one to cover over a problem. What’s the issue? So I opened this album and it’s my dad. He’s in like this whole full on white tux and he looks very dashing. There’s photos of the car and the groomsmen and various things. And so I’m like, oh my gosh, grandpa, look how handsome dad was. And it’s still like there’s like a fire in my grandfather’s eyes. I get to the page where it’s a bride and I stop and I pick up the photo album and I walk to the bathroom and I hold that photo up to my face.


Oh my gosh.


And that’s my record scratch.

(upbeat music)


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(upbeat music)

Sunny :

I had felt for years and years that people, my family, outside of my grandparents just didn’t understand me. I was like, I was always held at arm’s length or there was just something about me that was too much or too loud or just too, too, whatever.

And I have felt myself trying to follow the rules and be this example. And I was the eldest grandchild and all of these things. And just to be perfect and it was exhausting.

And I’m like in my mid twenties exhausted, a bunch of accolades, sure, but I’m exhausted. And I can’t even find joy in these accolades.

And I look at this picture and I am the spitting image of her. I’ve never met this person in the last 20 plus years, but I felt at the same time just a moment of peace wash over me and then just numbness. So I walk back to my grandfather, which he’s since passed, and it’s been almost a decade since his passing. To this day, I just cannot imagine what he was mentally going through, but couldn’t express.


Did you at that time, at that visit, was your grandma aware of your discovery?


It took me four days to get up the courage to talk to her about it. And it was the last day of my trip where I was like, I have to do this. And so we sat and we talked for hours and hours. And if I hadn’t known that, I probably would not be able to enjoy the life that I have now. I probably would have made very different decisions which would have resulted in me believing that I had lived my duty, but that I had not experienced my joy.

So I did not meet her [her birth mom] that day. And it took me some time to be able to reconcile for myself before I was able to meet with her. And she was incredibly gracious, incredibly loving. And there’s where all of these phenomenal stories came about of how they’ve always celebrated my birthday, wondered how I was doing, and so forth. I had grown up not ever knowing, right? Or and/or had suppressed it. And so I look at that to say, in not just our businesses, but in our lives, if we could free ourselves from these expectations and free ourselves from what is required, but just envision what could be, I gained a sister and another mother and people that genuinely care and wish me well.

And it was freeing for everyone.It is this great relief for me to know that even though I’m sure my grandfather was mentally panicking through that whole time, even without being able to verbally communicate, at least had the peace to know that I knew, right?

I finally knew and hopefully could move on from that.

Then I did.


Yeah, that sounds like a burden to hold on to that you released that from him.


Absolutely, yes, 100%. And I think that I would not have been as open-minded to marry my husband who had a child because we dated and then I found out he had a kid and I went, nope, not for me. And I had to go through that journey ’cause that wasn’t his burden. We have a beautiful son And that wasn’t his burden to bear. That was my issue. And so for me to have to go through what I went through to say, you know, there’s no perfect family. There’s no perfect environment. There’s what you can deal with, what you will have the patience to deal with, and what you must deal with because that’s the definition of love. And I am a stronger, more open-minded person knowing this of my own identity.

And I know myself well enough to have said that if I had not gone through this at the time that I went through it, if I had not had the self-destruction and the issues that I had to come to terms and face. And it wasn’t this catalytic moment that suddenly everything was fixed or, “Oh, this was this huge epiphany that now I’m the person.” No, it took years. And there’s times that I still struggle with it.


That moment and just the discovery of it’s disruptive.

It’s dynamite.

It blows everything up, right?

Like everything that you knew was true has been shattered.

And you have to rebuild it yourself with a stronger sense of self because you finally knew who you were.

So I can understand how that was so validating to your feelings of something’s off, not 100% feeling of belonging in some way, or at minimum, not being honored for who you are on that personal level and celebrating your personality versus expectations. And that’s, there’s a difference there. 


Absolutely. And I think at a very human level, we give people the ability to show up and present what they want to present of themselves. But we don’t give them necessarily the grace to say, “What else is happening in their lives? What if they can’t manage how they show up today?” Right? And without that interest and care, we don’t delve further. We don’t stop to say, “Okay, this meeting is not important. How are you? What’s going on?”


Right. I’ve heard people offer up advice on that, like walking in saying, “Okay, clearly I have spit up on my shirt. It’s just been that kind of morning with the toddler. If someone can, for instance, entering a meeting or today, we will eventually record some video elements to this, but today wasn’t the day, right? So totally okay. I love you. I’m super flexible and whatever way I can support you.


And I love that, right? I love the acknowledgement and the validation and the, yes, it’s fine. And then if we expand that to processes, to systems, not systems in the sense of software systems, but systems in the sense of a collection of processes.

And if we show up and we say, that’s just how it always is, or this is the expectation,

there’s no equity in that. If you don’t already have the interest and care for the person, it’s not going to extend to the process or the system. And so the work that I do in transformational change agency for our states and our health systems and our nonprofits and our academic institutions, it comes down to, I need to know is the person across from me truly interested and do they really care?

I’ve been incredibly blessed to be able to select the customers that we work with because not everybody due to financial or other constraints can make that decision.

But I work for and with people that are incredibly passionate and care and are in the jobs that they are in because they want to make a difference. And I look at that as I have to be vulnerable and I have to share why.

And I’m very appropriate in self-disclosure because that’s one of the things that we talk about in mental health and substance use disorder. But I’m clear on why I work in substance use and mental health. I’m clear on why I work in access for better education, better pathways to education towards not just a living wage, but an acceptable standard of living. And I’m vitally clear about supporting our public safety folks if those folks coming into public safety have truly the right calling, which is to protect and serve, protect and serve.

And so I look at this to say my journey has allowed me to be more open and to be more accessible and to also be more sincere in what I’m doing because it’s my responsibility to share my story. There’s an accountability that only comes into play when another person for the same intents and motivations that are collaborating with me to take our stories for the benefit of the greater community, not for ourselves, but for our greater community. 

And I think anyone listening to your record scratch podcast is a person that is either on the same journey and wants to be with like-minded folks or is somebody that is considering how do these stories help me to see myself and what I’m doing in a different light? – That’s the point in sharing how we persevere, how we are resilient in the face of pretty crazy things.


I have one more question to ask you, and that is, what are you most proud of?


I am most proud of how Rob and I have come together as parents over the years.

And I feel like children are the only ones that can really judge whether or not their parents have been great parents. I say that with laughter, but also with humility in that I have a 22 year old and I have a 3 year old. So I definitely have not been perfect. I would say that I’m really proud of how my husband and I have communicated over the years and learned from our mistakes, both individually and collectively, and how we have had some very clear struggles, not only within our own marriage, but also in the struggles that our eldest has had. And I’m just proud that we’re here. We’re still together.

And we’re about to go on another 20 year journey of raising yet another one. So I’m just proud that we not only survived it, but we continue to be willing to improve as parents, as co-parents and as individuals, as we, let me tell ya, being 41 and 45, raising a three-year-old is a whole different scenario.

But I’m just glad that we’re in the place where we can do it and still recognize our limitations, but also being older parents, we have a broader well of patience than we did in our late 20s and early 30s.


Yeah, well said. Well, and I remember giggling to myself when I brought over my first gifts for Auggie and one of the books was, I could not believe I found an astrophysics board book.



That was amazing.


But at the same time, the more I realized the impact, I thought, oh no, I don’t wanna perpetuate this kid taking on too much or…



I know he’s brilliant. Perhaps I need to follow it up with some really goofy silliness.


Thank you, thank you, thank you so much. It’s so great to speak with you as always. And I’m so grateful for you sharing your story.


Same, and I’m honored to be a guest and thankful for this outlet.


Keeping things in the family is not always the best approach for personal mental health.

Being vulnerable and sharing your story can be healing. Because of doing the latter, Sunny Lu Williams is a better leader, a better friend, a better wife, and a better mom as a result.

Thank you so much for listening to “Record Scratch.”

I’d appreciate it if you would like it. Provide a review, share with your friends and subscribe. I really appreciate you.

Thank you so much.

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Record Scratch is produced by the incredible Marilou Marosz, 

Original music written and performed by Adam Gibson.

(bells ringing)


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