November 15, 2008

Touring Conference & Awards: Who Says You Cant Go Home

Touring Conference & Awards: Who Says You Can't Go Home

Jon Bon Jovi And The Philadelphia Soul Charitable Foundation Honored With Humanitarian Award
RAY WADDELL

At the Billboard Touring Conference and Awards, Billboard's Humanitarian Award recognizes the philanthropic efforts of a touring professional. Few charitable endeavors could be deemed more "humanitarian" than providing an affordable home for a family in need, which is why Jon Bon Jovi and the Philadelphia Soul Charitable Foundation have been chosen as the 2008 Humanitarian Award honorees at this year's conference, taking place Nov. 19-20 at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York.

Bon Jovi's mission to provide affordable housing to those in need began even before he and the ownership group of the Arena Football League's Philadelphia Soul decided to establish the nonprofit Philadelphia Soul Charitable Foundation in October 2006. The effort is ongoing; just last month, 51 units of housing, developed in partnership with HelpUSA, were announced for Newark, N.J. This project will bring the number of affordable housing units that Bon Jovi and the foundation have been involved with since 2005 to 140.

"Jon's leadership and vision has been amazing, and he truly has leveraged his celebrity status to the benefit of many homeless and low-income individuals finding themselves in an economic crisis involving housing," foundation director Mimi Box says. "Although our mission is broad-helping people in economic distress-our funding priorities have been directed toward those experiencing a lack of affordable housing for themselves and their families. We have met an incredibly large number of folks who just need a little help to stabilize their living situation."

Using an oft-heard but heartfelt phrase in philanthropy, Box quotes Bon Jovi as saying the foundation's goal is to offer "a hand up, not a handout."

Bon Jovi's passion for the foundation is "enormous," according to Jack Rovner, the band's co-manager at Vector Management, and his approach is creative. "Jon's model of combining corporate, private and government monies has yielded over 100 homes in the last three years," Rovner says. "Being part of that has been enormously gratifying, and to find new ways and new projects to initiate it is absolutely a great feeling."

Asked why this particular cause resonates with him, Bon Jovi says, "When you look at the number of families and children that on any given night in our country do not have a place to call home, it strikes a chord-no pun intended-with me. Homelessness hits more people than you can imagine: 3.5 million people, 1.35 million of them children, are likely to experience homelessness in a given year."

Homelessness "is an issue we can address without the help of science," Bon Jovi adds. "One of the causes of homelessness is lack of safe, decent and affordable housing-[which] is a crisis we can tackle, but it will take money, patience and perseverance. So, I've found the challenge which has spoken to me, and I'm trying to make a difference in the lives of these people who want to help themselves but just need a little help."

Bon Jovi says he is "extremely pleased" with the foundation's growth. "And in efforts like this, no one can do it alone," he adds. "Support from all sectors in the communities in which we have built has enabled us to accomplish so much in the first two years of our foundation's existence. Without support from the private sector as well as the many individuals throughout the country that support our mission, we would not have been able to work with our nonprofit partners [Project H.O.M.E., Habitat for Humanity, HelpUSA and others] in providing over 140 units of affordable housing. It has also afforded us the opportunity to be a voice for the low-income and formerly homeless populations who, in some cases for the first time, are achieving the American dream of home ownership for their families. There is a great need in our country for affordable housing, especially in today's economic environment."

Companies including Saturn, ICAP, Kenneth Cole, Coty, Comcast, Condé Nast and SAP have been big believers in the foundation's mission and have supported it financially and with volunteer labor, Box says.

Bon Jovi's star power and dedication to the cause have also "exponentially increased" local support and facilitated involvement with such partners as Project H.O.M.E., HelpUSA and Habitat for Humanity.

Bon Jovi has seen plenty of packed houses in his career, including 99 of them on the band's 2007-08 Lost Highway tour, a finalist for the top tour and top draw awards this year. But it seems a different kind of full house can be highly rewarding as well.

"I've seen what a miraculous thing it is to hand someone the keys to a new home," Bon Jovi says, "not only a beautiful home that they can be proud to own, but a home that they have invested their own time, sweat and resources in."

Longtime band manager and tour director Paul Korzilius knows firsthand Bon Jovi's dedication to this cause. "Throughout my long association with Jon I've always been amazed and impressed by his commitment to the community," he says. "This foundation has allowed it to be a bit more formalized, but this is not a newfound passion, it is lifelong passion. I've seen it every day for over 20 years."

Previous Humanitarian Award winners include Clear Channel Entertainment for Hurricane Relief (2004), Dave Matthews Band's Bama Rags foundation (2005), Music Rising (2006) and Kevin Wall/Live Earth (2007). -Ray Waddell

 

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