Thank you to the Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger and especially the first Lady of
California, my friend, Maria Shriver, whose family tradition of service and activism has been an inspiration to generations.
And I want to GIVE my biggest thanks to all of you for attending this National Conference on Volunteerism as we launch the “United We Serve” program.
Just by the nature of this convention, if I’m up here speaking to you, I’m preaching to the converted. You have already embraced -– as a career path or as a charitable endeavor — the needs, challenges and the satisfaction that volunteering can bring to any number of topics we face today.
Many different roads have brought us to this destination, each of us with his or her own unique story to tell. My becoming “this” involved in philanthropy took shape as the co-owner of an arena football team called the Philadelphia Soul. It may seem an odd choice to some but not to me.
I won’t bore you with the details of my buying the franchise but I will tell you this: I thought sport was a unique way to make a difference in our community. You see, from our inception, I didn’t care if you liked Bon Jovi or football. Everyone thinks they have soul (hence, the name.)
And while we were looking to win on the field, winning off the field was equally important. We were looking for men of character, not characters. This was going to be, not only a safe, affordable place where a family could come root for the home team but also, a place where sponsors would be proud to spend their money. So before we played a down, before we sold a ticket, I went to sponsors, both big and small, and explained that I intended to make a difference in sports ownership and in our community. In our first couple of years, whether it was a foster home who needed a playground, a hospice who needed a check, or the local Covenant House who needed beds… if the Soul could be there, we were.
By the spring of 2005, our focus became clearer. We became involved in the issue of affordable housing and in our desire to break the chains of poverty in and around our area. The Philadelphia Soul Charitable Foundation was born.
Initially, we partnered with organizations like Habitat for Humanity and HELP USA. But it was the mentoring of Sister Mary Scullion and Project H.O.M.E. for which we are most grateful. It was Sister Mary who taught me the important of job training and service providing. These elements were key to the success in and around each of our builds. That something seemingly as simple as basic computer skills are the difference between the quantity and quality of food you can ultimately put on your table…
In the four plus years that we have been at work, we have now helped fun 151 units of affordable housing, not just in Philadelphia but also in places as diverse as Los Angeles, Denver, Detroit, Brooklyn and in my home state of New Jersey.
I didn’t come here today to talk about me but, in fact, to talk about WE… The Power of We and what that means.
We are all aware of the trying economic times we live in. Money is tight everywhere. And yet, the homeless are still homeless, the hungry are still hungry. But there is hope for the hopeless. Volunteerism is on the rise in
America. Maybe it is due to the economy. Or maybe, it’s because we’re reminded that we’re all in this together.
But whether it’s the President’s signing of the Service America Act in the name of Maria’s uncle, Edward Kennedy…
Or the nearly 5,000 of us here today…
Each of us believes we can do it. But as President Obama said, we can’t do it alone.
Government needs to work in concert with non-profits, corporations, and individuals to make what I believe can be a noticeable difference in the places where we live. The cynic will say we can’t fix everything to which I respond, but if each of the hopeful can fix just one thing, imagine what we could do.
Today shines a spotlight on our starting point. It’s Day one of a new season. An era built on the foundation of initiatives like AmeriCorps and City Year. Today we build on that foundation with United We Serve. We’re going to need to sustain the energy captured today and throughout this summer’s initiative. Maybe it’s credits for college kids, maybe it’s tax incentives, maybe it’s just a round table to discuss ideas.
Remember, Michelle Obama not only planted those seeds in the White House garden but she nurtured them. After the photo op, you’ve got to remember, America, roll up your sleeves. Time to get your hands dirty. This journey starts here and now with the first step. President Obama said, “Yes, We Can,” I’m here to say, “Yes, we will,” and someday soon, we’re going to look back and say, “Yes, we did.”
Thank you for all your hard work, for inspiring me and countless others, for showing the country and the world that tomorrow starts now. We’re going to make volunteerism hip. Together and with The Power of We, we can start a revolution. One Soul at a time…