April 21, 2009
JON BON JOVI’s remarks upon the acceptance of award
Thank You, Kenneth and Maria – for your friendship, your kind introduction and the incredible work you both do for so many.

• Mario Batali and his wife, Susi
• Julie Panebianco

I’d also like to thank Dr. Lucy Cabrera and everyone at the Foodbank of New York City for this very gracious honor.

Truth be told, when asked, I was reluctant to accept this award. I felt guilty being praised for doing what brings me so much personal satisfaction.

But then I heard that nearly 300,000 meals were served across these 5 boroughs every day. At first I thought it had to be a typo. So I called, I asked and I was humbled.

After going to the Bronx to see the Foodbank and it’s massive operation and then heading to the Community Kitchen of Harlem, where people have lined up along a city block for a meal, I thought, “How can I not lend a hand? How can I not be a part of this?”

Like so many of you here tonight, my interest and involvement in charity work has evolved over the years. There are so many needs in the world, yet so little time and even fewer resources. Early on, much of my focus seemed unfocused, but it has since become the cornerstone of my continual learning. Let me explain.

In 2003, I became the co-owner of an Arena Football League team called The Philadelphia Soul. I approached sport ownership in a unique way that would bring together community and philanthropy. We would be a role model for role models, a team united as men of character, not “characters.” From the Soul’s inception, I didn’t care if you liked football; I didn’t care if you liked Bon Jovi. I knew by creating an environment that was both family-friendly and affordable, we’d connect the Soul to the community through our focus on public service. Don’t get me wrong; as important as winning was on the field, the impact we made off the field mattered every bit as much.

The team’s philanthropic vision was the launching pad for The Philadelphia Soul Foundation. Our mission has been to help combat the issues that force families and individuals into economic despair, to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness. And although I’m very proud of the work we’ve done so far, we know there’s a lot more work to be done.

Just a few years ago, I would speak about the need to increase the minimum wage, citing the difference between a $5.15 an hour and a $10.00 an hour job as the determining factor between the quantity and quality of food you could place on your table.

We spoke of the pride of home ownership and of sweat equity. We made a point of explaining that job training and service providing was the difference between a hand out and a hand up.

I could not have imagined a fast forward to 2009 where we find ourselves in a major recession with tales of economic misery no one has seen since the Great Depression.

People who never imagined facing homelessness and hunger find themselves in need.

This is no longer about just a minimum wage.
This is no longer someone else’s problem.

Traditionally hardworking, blue collar, even white collar, families can’t make ends meet.

At times like these, the problem seems overwhelming. Still, many people want to help; some just don’t know how (or who) to help. It can be hard to imagine one person making a difference in the face of such challenges but here’s just one statistic that blew me away:

• Every year, more than 15,000 hours are donated to the Foodbank by volunteers.

THAT is just one example of individuals making a difference.

The number of volunteers across America is growing. In trying times, Americans are here for each other. It is what I have often referred to as “The Power of WE.”

There are those who say I have a romantic view of the world but I truly believe that people want to do good and want to help others. Perhaps there is a silver lining in these troubled times – it is the motivation to see beyond ourselves, the opportunity to look beyond our differences, and truly make a difference. It is time to be each other’s keeper.

To quote President Clinton, “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.”

Eliminating homelessness and eradicating hunger — these are issues we don’t need to wait for scientists to cure. We’re not looking for that magic pill. All it takes is time, money, and the desire to facilitate change. And the results are tangible, even if they sometimes seem small.

Let me leave you with this…
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, we partnered with Oprah’s Angel Network to build 28 houses in Houma, Louisiana. What the Angel Network’s approach taught me was that it didn’t matter if your donation paid for the entire house or just the placemat and napkins. That placemat completed the dining room table where a family would eat a meal together, turning that house into a home and that street into a neighborhood.

Maybe I am that romantic but I think – no, I know – that with “The Power of We,” we are witness to a revolution. There is a domino effect that is going to lead us to something great. And we are here, not just to see history, but to make history together, one soul at a time.

Thank you for this evening and this honor.

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