By Chris Rotolo |
RED BANK – In September of 2017, Dorothea Bongiovi stepped to a podium in front of 500 spectators representing 25 community service providers in Red Bank, and proceeded to chronicle the tale of a Jon Bon Jovi Soul Kitchen volunteer named Carl.
This local resident lived with his parents in the borough and had recently watched his mother pass away while serving as a caregiver for his father, who was battling cancer.
For Carl, the Soul Kitchen was an oasis that provided him with charity as well as a hot meal, but it was during a simple conversation that his personal strife was revealed.
“We learned that he was down to his last $10 and had nowhere to turn,” Bongiovi explained in her address.
Learning of his situation, the Soul Kitchen connected Carl to the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation’s Employment and Empowerment Team, a group of volunteer coaches and human resources professionals dedicated to helping their own volunteers find gainful employment.
“Our vision and our mission is to help unemployed and underemployed JBJ Soul Kitchen volunteers find opportunities,” said Lisa Brodeth Carrick, who serves as the Employment and Empowerment Team program manager.
Carrick helps connect the kitchen’s volunteers to other foundation volunteers who are experts in financial, legal and employment advisement.
In Carl’s case, these volunteer coaches helped him formulate a résumé, secure a position at a local supermarket and worked with local partners like Lunch Break and Second Life Bikes to ensure he had appropriate clothing and a means of transportation. With a success rate of nearly 87 percent in securing job offers, Carl is not the only success story to emerge from the work being done by the Employment and Empowerment Team. According to Carrick, the organization is closing in on a milestone as the group is expecting to receive its 100th job offer for a Soul Kitchen volunteer in the coming weeks, an impressive mark for an outfit founded just five years ago. “There’s really no words to describe how we feel,” Carrick said. “It’s a passion of ours and I know all of our coaches couldn’t be happier to be part of this organization, because we’re helping our neighbors. We’re helping fellow human beings.”
“When we’re able to help somebody, you can physically see the weight lifted off their shoulders,” Carrick added. “They come to us and walk away feeling motivated and empowered, with dignity and confidence.”
An individual must first volunteer for five shifts at the Soul Kitchen to be eligible to receive counsel from the Employment and Empowerment Team and access the group’s vast employment resources.
Carrick says the organization has helped all types of people facing all sorts of hurdles earn job offers, including individuals with disabilities, those who have no prior working experience, former mid-level employees and even ex-executives.
“Regardless of what your past may be and what hard times may be present, we work together to provide people with support and with hope,” Carrick said. “And we’re humbled each time a new volunteer comes to us to share their story and ask for help. It takes such courage to do that and we hope they will, because we want to help them and we have the resources to do it.
The Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation expanded in October 2011 by opening the Soul Kitchen in Red Bank. The nonprofit restaurant offers nutritious, farm-to-table dishes in a restaurant setting that allows diners to contribute volunteer hours or a monetary donation for their meals.
Paying customers are encouraged to pay for their meal and then buy a “Pay it Forward” card to help the cost of the volunteer meal, which allows each customer to have the same dining experience and choose from the same menu. To date, the Soul Kitchen has served nearly 80,000 meals.
This article first appeared in the March 8-15, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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