For longtime rock star Jon Bon Jovi, both creative juice and philanthropic prowess seem to be flowing quite readily these days. While Bon Jovi reports spending many daytime hours in the studio working on a new album, he is also winning awards for his philanthropic efforts, particularly for his foundation's work with distressed communities and affordable housing.
Besides squeezing out The Boss as New Jersey's top rocker, Bon Jovi is squeezing in a lot of time for his charitable work. His foundation, the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation (formerly the Philadelphia Soul Charitable Foundation) is a non-profit organization doing work all over the country to help poor and middle class families fight the tide of inequality.
Bon Jovi was recently awarded the 2015 Common Wealth Award of Distinguished Service for his ongoing charitable work through his foundation. Now in its 36th year, the Common Wealth Award is one of the most prestigious and long-standing awards, and seeks to recognize outstanding achievement in eight possible disciplines including public service. Prior public service recipients include Christopher Reeve and Cherie Blaire. The award for Jon Bon Jovi includes a prize of $75,000.
The Jon Bon Jovi Foundation began in 2006 as the outgrowth of Bon Jovi and business partner Craig A. Spencer's launching of the Philadelphia Soul Arena Football League franchise. Both of the owners felt strongly about modeling a new kind of sport franchise ownership, one that had the goal of being an agent for good in the greater Philadelphia community. The foundation's very first major initiative was to rebuild 15 rowhomes on that very rundown block where they made their opening announcement in Philadelphia, demonstrating from the start their intention to make a tangible contribution the community.
Over the years, the foundation has expanded its scope to reach beyond Philadelphia and opened up its grantmaking to be responsive to community needs, with the goal of battling the cycle of poverty and homelessness wherever needed. In 2011, the organization opened the JBJ Soul Kitchen in Red Bank, New Jersey, a community restaurant with no prices on the menu that is sustained by volunteer hours and suggested donations. To date, the restaurant has provided more than 34,000 meals. In 2012, the foundation provided assistance in the recovery from Hurricane Sandy.
More recently, the foundation has supported a new safe house for domestic violence in Monmouth, New Jersey, which will house almost twice as many individuals as the previous shelter. The foundation contributed $100,000 to the shelter, as did other major donors including New Jersey Natural Gas, the Verizon Foundation/HopeLine, and the Faith and James Knight Foundation.
Beyond New Jersey, the foundation has funded affordable housing and shelter for thousands of low-income families across the country and world in locations including New York, Colorado, Detroit, Louisiana, and South Africa. Most recently on the housing front, Bon Jovi teamed up with Maria Cole (wife of Kenneth Cole) and HELP USA to build a 50-unit apartment building in Newark, New Jersey. He also went in on a 55-unit affordable housing project in Philadelphia in 2014, and is a big supporter of the Covenant House, a refuge for homeless youth in the city. The foundation reports building 450 houses across the U.S. since its inception.
While the foundation does not accept unsolicited grant requests, it does spell out its specific agenda on grantmaking and provides contact information on its website. Specifically, the foundation is looking to address the needs of those living in poverty or of the homeless, funding housing, training, education or other services. It looks to fund innovative approaches that involve new community partnerships, and that have the potential to be lasting solutions to homelessness and poverty.
Along with songwriting and award-collecting, Bon Jovi has also been making the talk panel circuit in the community, and recently joined NAACP President Cornell William Brooks and others to discuss the struggles of the American middle class, and to support a new nonprofit opening its doors to help families fight back. His song "Livin' on a Prayer" had new resonance with the audience as they discussed the difficulties for poor and middle class families whose jobs are disappearing and living costs rising.