JON BON JOVI / Remarks
NATIONAL CONFERENCE ON VOLUNTEERING AND SERVICE
MONDAY, JUNE 22, 2009
MOSCONE CENTER, SAN FRANCISCO, CA
Thank you for inviting me to join you here today and for giving me the opportunity to speak.
Thank you to our First Lady, Mrs. Obama, for her longstanding, passionate commitment to volunteerism and her determined leadership by example in making community and national service an American priority.
Thank you to the First Lady of California, my dear friend, Maria Shriver, whose family tradition of service and activism has be partnered with all the tenacity of an intrepid journalist so she can impact and improve the lives of others.
And thank you to all of you attending the National Conference on Volunteerism and Service. Just by the nature of this convention, if I’m up here speaking to you, I’m preaching to the converted. You have embraced -– be it as a career or a charitable endeavor — the lessons, the need, and the power that volunteering can wield over any number of challenges we face today.
Just four years ago, in August of 2005, I spoke at this same conference in Washington, D.C. At the time, I was a proud, new owner of an arena football franchise and talked about our commitment to charities and causes within our home city of Philadelphia. How we’d given more than a quarter of million dollars to local causes before we’d played our first down; how we’d built a playground for a local children’s home. I was energized and excited about the work we’d done thus far.
It’s no secret that I’m a Type A, workaholic. When I get fixed on a challenge or a problem, I’m tenacious, like a dog with a bone. My wife just shakes her head. My staff stocks up on caffeine. But I go all in.
A lot has changed since August of 2005. A month after I addressed the conference, New Orleans and the Gulf Coast were ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. Then Rita. Moved by what we’d witnessed, the band and I donated $1 million to Oprah’s Angel Network to help victims in the region.
A year later, in August 2006, I traveled down to Houma, Louisiana to hand house keys over to the 28 families who had new homes on Bon Jovi Boulevard.
And in October 2006, I launched the Philadelphia Soul Charitable Foundation – the natural progression from our team’s community service cornerstone.
Our mission statement reads:
“Through the creation of programs and partnerships
targeted at breaking the cycle of poverty and
homelessness, the Philadelphia Soul Charitable
Foundation exists to combat issues that force
families and individuals into economic despair.”
To date, the Soul Foundation has provided funding to create 140 units of affordable housing for low-income individuals and families – not just in Philly, but in Los Angeles, Denver, Detroit, Brooklyn, South Africa and my home state of New Jersey.
Although I’m very, very proud of what we’ve accomplished so far, we know there’s a lot more work yet to be done.
But I’m not here to recite my resume of good works or pat myself on the back. I share this with you because, speaking to you in 2004, I could not have imagined the progress and impact we would make in just five year’s time nor could I have envisioned the profound changes in the American landscape facing us today.
Fast forward to 2009 and we find ourselves in a major recession with tales of economic misery unseen since the Great Depression. People are losing their jobs, their homes, their savings, their insurance… people are losing their grasp on the American dream. People who never imagined facing homelessness and hunger find themselves in need. Traditionally hardworking, blue collar, even white collar, families can’t make ends meet. These are scary times for many of our fellow Americans.
But even amidst the dark storm clouds, there are silver linings. Hope has not been lost.
For starters, we have a new President, and a new First Lady.
The Obama Administration – both in the West Wing and East Wing – is devoted to the pursuit of national service and volunteerism, not only as a way to engage the American public to help solve some of our nation’s biggest problems, but to restore a sense of community – on local, state and national levels.
On April 1st, President Obama signed the landmark Edward M. Kennedy Service America Act to expand national service programs.
Now, President Obama has been clear on our next point. We can’t do any of this alone. While the government can tackle large issues like restoring public schools or modernizing our health care system, it will take individuals working as mentors and tutors, caregivers and hospital volunteers to help locally. We need to address our challenges on both the macro and micro levels.
The more projects the Soul Foundation has completed, the more we’ve learned that in order to make substantive and permanent change, we need everyone – individuals and private donors, corporations, charities and governmental agencies – working in partnership towards accomplishing these massive goals we’ve set for ourselves.
Many of you here today are individuals committed to donating your personal time and energy to help your neighbors. But many of you here today represent non-profit foundations or large corporations, with financial resources to make a world of difference.
My role has been that of Robin Hood in many ways – uniting the private and the public, the governmental, charitable and individual. Our goals are the same. Our paths needn’t be parallel. We need to work in concert.
Still, the challenges facing us seem overwhelming. Many people want to help but don’t know HOW or WHO to help. Others might feel that there is little they as an individual can do in the face of such insurmountable obstacles. But every single person can make a difference.
In the midst of these troubled times, there has been a surge of compassion amongst Americans!
Despite the state of the economy, donations to community foundations went up!
The number of volunteers across America has ballooned!
In trying times, Americans are here for one another. This is the “Power of WE.”
Some might say I have a romantic view of the world but I truly believe people want to do good and want to help each other.
Jewish Tradition teaches of the 8 ascending Levels of “Tzedakah,” Charity.
In 2nd place is charity happily offered anonymously to the deserving poor who graciously receives.
But in 1st place… the ideal form of charity…
Offering a gift or loan, forming a business partnership, finding employment or teaching the tools and skilled needed to be successful and independent on one’s own.
It mirrors the timeless analogy of feeding a man a fish versus teaching that same man to fish, thus feeding him for a lifetime.
But let’s be honest with each other. The secret all of us here today already know is that dedicating yourself to helping others FEELS GOOD.
It’s heartwarming. It fulfills me.
Look, I’m a rock star. I have experienced so many things in my life, so many adventures, so many adrenaline rushes. But the way we feel when we break ground on an affordable housing project… or offer a clean, dry bed to a homeless veteran… or hand a family keys to their new home…
Well, I wish I could bottle that feeling and sell it – I’d make millions.
(And turn the proceeds over to charity, naturally.)
But it makes us want to do more and more.
So the ultimate silver lining in these stormy times may be the motivation to see beyond ourselves, the opportunity to look beyond our differences and truly MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
Now, more than ever, it is time to be each other’s keeper.
To quote former President Clinton, “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.”
I’ve had an incredible career, one I would not trade for the world. Through my charitable and philanthropic endeavors, I’ve found a way to give back to the universe which has given me so much over the last 25 years. I found an issue that spoke to me and became passionate about it. And I think we’re doing some good.
But many of you have been doing this work much longer, and better, than I. So I am here to learn from your experiences and efforts as much as I am to celebrate and applaud your work.
As I said earlier, just by joining you here today, I’m preaching to the converted. This room is practically the Vatican.
But unlike myself, most of you will not have the opportunity to testify before TV cameras about how wonderful it feels to give back to the community; you won’t have the power to redirect the media spotlight towards an important issue or project. But you don’t need the cameras. You can start a revolution one soul at a time in your own community.
If this is, indeed, a church full of believers, it is our job to become missionaries.
Convince them to lend their time, their energy, their money.
I don’t care if it’s the newly unemployed signing up to volunteer because they have hours to fill or resumes to pad. It doesn’t matter what the means are, they accomplish the same ends – helping others.
If volunteers discover, like we did, that their work enriches their lives… bonus.
If our product is Volunteerism and National Service, then we need to turn ourselves into outstanding marketing teams and publicists to recruit others to our cause.
Back in 2004, I announced at this conference that I wanted people to believe “volunteerism is hip.”
I wanted volunteerism to be the new black.
Well, I’m tweaking that statement a bit now.
I don’t want volunteerism to be hip.
Hip is whatever is popular at the moment.
It’s a trend, a fad, a fashion. It’s fleeting.
Trust me, as someone who has survived a fickle industry for 25 years, following what ever is “in” at the moment is no longterm plan… Don’t aim for hip.
On the other hand, black is always in fashion. Black is always classy. Black is timeless.
So, yes – I want volunteerism to be the new black.
I want people to do good and to feel good and to lead by example. So, I’m here to put myself on the line.
I am answering President Obama’s call to national service.
And I will again pledge to all of you who give so much, so selflessly to others and who don’t get the accolades or the opportunity to speak out, that I won’t let you down.
I am one of you.
Thank you for all your good work, because it is what will make America the Land of Dreams envisioned by our forefathers and previous generations.
It’s what will build a bridge over the troubled waters of this current economic crisis.
And it is what will fuel our fellow Americans to make the world go ‘round for the next generation.
I truly believe we are tipping off a Domino Effect.
We are here together, not just to witness history, but to make history, together.
One soul at a time.
Thank you and God Bless America.