Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation Honored at Heart of Camden Gala

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Bon Jovi earns honor for effort to aid Camden

Written By: Joe Cooney, Courier-Post Staff

CHERRY HILL — Rocker Jon Bon Jovi came to town Friday night to accept the “Small Things, Great Love” Award at the second annual Heart of Camden Gala. And during his remarks — contrary to the egotistical image one might conjure of an international superstar — the New Jersey native barely used the pronoun “I.”

“We are big believers in the power of we,” said the singer, founder of the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation. “Tonight we’re here to shine a light. We’re coming together to take control and make a difference.

“Government can’t do it alone. Residents or rock stars can’t do it alone. This award is not about me, it’s about us.”

The musician’s philanthropic efforts in the Delaware Valley began in 2006 when he helped support the construction of nearly 300 affordable housing units in Philadelphia.

In 2009, he turned his attention to Camden, and in the last two years his foundation has helped to clean up vacant lots, provide shelter for the homeless and — with a $262,000 grant to Heart of Camden — build nine homes in the Waterfront South area.

Heart of Camden Executive Director Helen Pierson said, “Jon Bon Jovi’s work, his spirit and the mission of his foundation is to help the families of Camden. He’s trying to give people better lives. And that fits the mission of the award.”

The award takes its names from the words of the late missionary Mother Teresa, who said, “We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”

The inspiration for the Heart of Camden Gala, said event co-chair Ann Baiada, was the “20/20” segment on Camden hosted by Diane Sawyer that aired in 2007.

“(Sawyer) mirrored the lives of kids in Moorestown with the kids in Camden,” said Baiada. “And I felt bad because we live in Moorestown. We had to do something. We finally met with Monsignor (Michael) Doyle and he told us, ‘just think of the children.’”

Doyle is the longtime pastor at Camden’s Sacred Heart Church, which started Heart of Camden in 1984.

“So last year we had our first gala and we honored Msgr. Doyle,” Baiada continued, noting that the $175 tickets to the event sold out quickly.

“We could have sold 1,000 tickets,” she said of the event held at the Crowne Plaza on Route 70. “But we had to cut it to 675. We hope to raise more than $200,000 this year. Jon has a good heart and he’s done a lot for New Jersey and he took a great interest in Camden because he believes in the same things we do: building homes; helping the homeless; and making neighborhoods safe.”

Camden Mayor Dana Redd introduced the rock star, saying that she had the privilege of being blessed by Mother Teresa when the nun visited the city in 1976.

“Tonight is about the city of Camden and her people. We have a great partner in the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, a strong partner in providing hope to our residents,” said Redd.

Invoking the prayer before the meal, Doyle referred to a couple of Bon Jovi song titles.

“God bless Jon Bon Jovi,” said the Irish cleric. “Help us continue ‘Living on a Prayer’ for Camden. And, oh, God, make sure ‘It’s All Right.’”

Bon Jovi, who declined to speak with the press, ended his remarks by saying, “When we were working in Philadelphia we learned a lot and were taught the difference between giving somebody a hand up and not a handout. Now, we’re committed to turning Camden around for the next generation.”