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The Business of Giving: From Homeless to Harvard


Gift of money can be gift of possibility for disenfranchised.

With the markets about as calm as a roller coaster, what we're thankful for is all too often an afterthought. I don't know anyone these days who doesn't treat their stock portfolio as a scene from a gory horror flick: "I'm afraid to look -- but I can't help it -- oh, I shouldn't have looked."

But while sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner with my family last week, I thought about what I'm grateful for. Those people surrounding me at the table -- my wonderful wife, the kids I'm so proud of, and the grandchildren who never stop making me laugh -- top the list. But I am also thankful to have a job that I love.

I've spent most of my career working for the Children's Aid Society, a New York City nonprofit whose sole mission is caring for the health, education and well-being of children. My first job with Children's Aid was as a social worker; today, I am the CEO.

It's been an exciting and fulfilling journey, and as any of you who have decided to commit yourself to a single occupation know, you truly gain success when you're motivated as much by the journey as the end result. My long weeks are fueled by one thing: The expectation that the hard work we do will unlock the potential that exists in the children we serve.

One of those children is Krystal John (her name has been changed to protect her privacy). At the age of 16, Krystal, her mother and 3 younger siblings were in the middle of a crisis that no child should have to live through. Krystal's mother desperately wanted to split from her abusive husband. But with 4 children to care for, she felt she had no other choice than to continue sharing a home with a man who left and her children feeling anything but safe.

Counselors at our Family Wellness Program helped Krystal and her family navigate New York City's complicated housing assistance program, and Krystal began an incredible journey from homelessness to Harvard. In her junior year of high school, social workers convinced Krystal's mother to leave her husband and enter the homeless shelter system which is the only way families can qualify for Section 8 housing assistance. Krystal spent more than a month living in a shelter according to rules of the city's Emergency Assistance Unit.
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