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Kevin M. Ryan

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Up Close With Jon Bon Jovi: 'Each of Us Has the Power to Effect Change. You Needn't Be a Rock Star.'

Posted: 05/18/2012 3:12 pm

I have always been a big fan of Jon Bon Jovi, not only for his music, but for his deep involvement in the community. He has been a friend to Covenant House for more than 30 years, and last year was enormously generous in his support of our Rights of Passage transitional living program for homeless youth in Philadelphia. Jon takes on innovative projects like the Soul Kitchen, his restaurant in Red Bank, N.J., that offers diners who cannot pay the suggested donation opportunities to volunteer time to the kitchen or in the community in order to earn a "dining certificate." And he is continually pushing creative solutions to the poverty and hardship that weigh kids down.

On June 12 at Covenant House's Night of Broadway Stars concert in Lincoln Center, Jon will receive the Beacon of Hope Award, which is bestowed upon advocates and activists whose lives and work offer opportunity and hope to homeless and trafficked young people. He will share the award with our friend Leo Carlin, a partner in T.W. Cooper Insurance, who is also president of the board of the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation and a board member of Covenant House Pennsylvania.

I wanted to know more about what motivates Jon to play an important role in helping homeless youth -- his concern for them goes back more than three decades when, inspired by our New York City shelter, he wrote "Runaway," his first hit. We talked about the challenges that kids face today, and how each of us can have a positive impact in the world:

Jon, you're a pretty busy guy. But you accepted President Obama's invitation to join the White House Council on Community Solutions last year. Why was this important to you?

In 2008, like so many others, I was inspired by Mr. Obama. I truly believe that we are the change we want to see, each of us. I wrote to the White House shortly after the election to suggest a council on volunteerism. After some thought they suggested the WHCCS and offered me a seat.

What did you learn as a member of the Council?

There are many people across the nation who truly care about and provide inspiration in their communities. These people aren't rock stars or politicians -- many of them don't even get paid. They rarely have an opportunity to have their voices heard or have the funding they need and many can not get the attention of the media to even spotlight their messaging.

You met with a lot of young people across the country over the last year, including homeless youth living at Covenant House. Did anything you hear or see surprise you?

Kids are kids. They all need love, guidance and mentors who lead by example. Yet, some have had to grow up fast and have had more than their share of challenges. But thanks to organizations like Covenant House there is always hope.

Why Covenant House?

I remember that the first Covenant House was located near the old bus station at the foot of the Lincoln Tunnel in New York City. I would look out the bus window on my way to work in a recording studio and often think "there, but for the grace of God go I..."

You wrote "Runaway" in 1980 about those kids?

I did. Once a young person is ready to get off the street, they can always count on Covenant House to provide a safe haven and a place to sleep without fear, a place where they can focus on the rebuilding of their lives, get counseling, and help reconnect to education so that they are better equipped when the opportunity comes to find work and eventually a place of their own.

Jon, you've channeled a lot of your passion for social change into the work of the Soul Foundation. Why is the Foundation important to you?

I have been blessed both in my professional and personal life. Having the opportunity to make change is both rewarding and necessary.

You're receiving the Beacon of Hope Award from Covenant House at Lincoln Center on June 12, along with our friend Leo Carlin. What does that mean to you?

It will be a fabulous night, certainly, highlighted by the kids' performance as well as their stories. I'd like to congratulate my friend Leo Carlin. His tireless advocacy on behalf of Covenant House in Philadelphia deserves to be recognized. There are many, like Leo, who have earned this award much more than I, but on behalf of all of those who really dare to make a difference, I'll say thanks for the inspiration. I'm grateful.

Back at you. You've inspired a lot of us to roll up our shirt sleeves and make a difference in the world. Do you have any advice for budding advocates and activists who want to have a positive impact on the world?

As I have said before, each of us has the power to effect change. You needn't be a rock star. You needn't be a politician or invent the magic pill. But each of us working together in what I refer to as the "power of we" is capable of great things.

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