REDF’S 2015 Benefit – Don’t Stop Believin’! – Carla Javits

When the Bay Area’s homegrown band Journey struck the unmistakable chords of “Don’t Stop Believin’” at the iconic Warfield Theatre last week at a benefit for REDF, they connected with the deeper place that rock-n-roll takes us at its very best.

The full house was inspired by both the music and the personal story of Arnel Pineda.  Mirroring the evening’s larger purpose to celebrate job creation, Arnel experienced homelessness in the Philippines before his life changed dramatically when he got his dream job as Journey’s lead singer, as he described in an op-ed published in the San Jose Mercury News. It was particularly meaningful for Arnel, and for REDF, that Journey was the headliner for our annual benefit to build support for REDF’s mission to create opportunity for people facing significant barriers to work by building the social enterprise sector. 

Social enterprises are mission-driven businesses that make money in order to make a difference. They hire people who would otherwise be shut out of the workforce, providing them the chance to build their skills, confidence, and resume so they can maintain long-term employment and create a better future for themselves, their families, and their communities.

Chris O’Donnell, star of the popular TV series NCIS and REDF Board member, kicked off the evening by noting that “Tonight is about jobs, growth, impact, and hope.”  Chris continued, “Work was important to my father personally. He loved his job.  It gave him a feeling of pride and accomplishment. Working allowed him to support his family and contribute to society. I feel the same way about my job.  I love what I do and feel so grateful for the opportunity that my career has provided me. But how would I feel if something in my past kept me from working? How would I feel if I was shut out of the job market – essentially shut out of society? How would I feel if, despite my best efforts, no one would give me a second chance? I’ll tell you how I’d feel. I’d feel hopeless.”

Like Arnel, far too many talented, motivated people in the U.S. fall on hard times and find themselves excluded from workforce even though they are ready to engage and contribute.  While people from more affluent neighborhoods and families may get a second or third chance if their lives go off track, men and women who grow up in tougher circumstances do not.  Episodes of homelessness or incarceration, struggles with mental health issues, or addiction can lead to a downward spiral.

REDF’s work intends to break that cycle.  During the benefit, we debuted this video, which describes how we’ve helped more than 10,000 people move into the workforce.  One of those people was Katelyn Dalton, who won the evening’s Stuart G. Moldaw Award. Katelyn shared her inspiring story, which included overcoming homelessness, incarceration, and struggles with addiction, in this video.  Katelyn moved the packed Warfield crowd to a standing ovation when she described her transformation into the vibrant, high-energy working woman we could see onstage. She talked about how she had the chance to transform her life thanks to the job and support she received from Goodwill Silicon Valley, one of the high-impact social enterprises in REDF’s current portfolio of grantees.

Katelyn’s success is just one of many REDF has seen unfold. REDF has evidence of impact. Independent research shows that after working in a social enterprise, incomes increased over 250%, government aid declined significantly and, showing the potential for long-term impact, people who participated in the research were far more likely to be employed a full year later than those who received more traditional workforce services.  And the business approach we have taken makes the model sustainable for the long haul.

REDF announced our own “journey” at the benefit, kicking off our national expansion just before the band came on. Next year, we are taking our work on the road, dramatically expanding our footprint in California, which is our flagship, to other communities throughout the U.S. Our goal is to catalyze and create the jobs and opportunities that will allow 50,000 more men and women to find jobs and hope over the coming five years. We will invest in the growth of social enterprises and build an ecosystem of enthusiastic and active support from the business community, citizens, philanthropists, and the public sector that will take this movement to a scale never seen in the U.S. and keep it growing for decades to come.

Symbolic of the kind of support the business community can deliver, REDF presented the first ever George R. Roberts “Good Business Award” to Bank of America for its commitment to employment of people facing barriers to work and investments in the growth of social enterprise.

The generous crowd of technology titans and regular rock-n-roll fans dug deep and kicked off a fundraising campaign that will enable us to put this show on the road.

The results?  As the Warfield marquee broadcast it to all: Jobs, Growth, Opportunity, Hope.  Stay tuned!  And Don’t Stop Believin’!