Philanthropist-entrepreneur J.B. Pritzker took a page from his own family history as keynote speaker of the StreetWise “Hand Up Gala” to explain why the magazine’s vendors have three key traits – Discipline, Courage and Hope – that help them advance their lives.
Another highlight of the September 15 event at the Union League Club of Chicago was the announcement that the City of Chicago has awarded a workforce development grant to fully fund the launch of the StreetWise “EatWise Produce Vendor Program,” which will put mobile fruit stands on city streets in March 2012.
“For almost 20 years we have been able to offer only the magazine, which has done exactly what we needed it to do,” said StreetWise Executive Director Jim LoBianco. “As an agency, StreetWise is taking itself to a whole new level of workforce development. It’s huge for our agency, huge for our reputation, and huge for our mission because of the show of confidence by our for-profit partner as well as by Mayor [Rahm] Emanuel and his administration.”
As the nonprofit partner, StreetWise will identify the employees for the 20 new jobs and train them in more complex skills such as licensed food handling and inventory responsibilities; there is also the potential for franchises.
LoBianco credited StreetWise board member Adam Meek for seeking employment opportunities in green technologies and sustainable agriculture, “leading the charge to keep StreetWise relevant for years to come,” along with Neighbor Capital President John Piercy for choosing StreetWise as its partner. He also thanked Jack McClurkin “who called out of the blue and wanted to know how he could help StreetWise.” LoBianco made him project manager and charged him with writing the business plan – which he did for free.
StreetWise board chair Jonathan Reinsdorf introduced Pritzker as the person who helped raise $45 million for the Illinois Holocaust Museum. Pritzker sees StreetWise combining entrepreneurship and charity efficiently, Reinsdorf added.
“A lot of charities say ‘give, give, give,’ but we are creating jobs and opportunity,” he said.
Pritzker segued into his presentation with humor.
“If you sell ice cream with that fresh fruit and vegetables, I’d be a regular,” he said of EatWise.LoBianco had told him to reflect on his experience as a businessman so Pritzker talked about three earlier generations of entrepreneurs.
His father founded Hyatt Hotels, starting with one motel at age 26 in 1957 and creating a brand; his grandfather was a financier and real estate investor. “His father [the great-grandfather] was the real entrepreneur,” Pritzker said.
“He came here at age 10, spoke no English, had no job and lived in the basement of the Chicago train station. He was truly homeless and he sold the Chicago Tribune on the street corner. But he got a little bit of a hand up one day when he contracted pneumonia and was taken to what was then Michael Reese Hospital. They took his clothes off and had to burn them because of lice. But as he left a doctor gave him a dollar and said, ‘go make something of yourself.’ So I come from a family that understands what it means to get a hand up.”
In trying to live up to his family heritage, Pritzker said he determined that Discipline, Courage and Hope were key to entrepreneurship. “StreetWise brings out those values in the people who are often forgotten and left behind.”
It takes discipline to wake up, come to the StreetWise offices, buy the magazine wholesale and sell a quota, he said. Vendors have to be courageous to sell the product to strangers – most of whom have no idea how the program works. Perhaps most important, they have to have hope.Vince Collasso, for example, was laid off in the economic downturn and was a vendor only two months before his sales style attracted a job as a business development manager. Felicia Atkinson had a stable job until she was raped. But Atkinson had discipline, courage and hope, Pritzker said, as she budgeted her money from selling magazines to pay the security deposit on an apartment. She now pays all her own rent. Percy Smith had been hit by a car, addicted to painkillers and heroin and lost his wife but he used discipline – first in selling the magazine and then in starting a substance abuse counseling program for vendors.
StreetWise is more effective than any other agency in moving people out of shelters, Pritzker said: 60 percent of vendors move out of homelessness within three years. Since its founding in 1992, 10,000 people have come through the program.
The evening also included awards to three important supporters: James W. Mabie, Jerry Roper and Bruce Crane.
Mabie, principal at William Blair & Co., received the Champion Award for having come to StreetWise in “its darkest moment,” when its doors nearly closed in April 2009. Mabie provided not only financial support but leadership to the board of directors “and to me personally,” LoBianco said.
In accepting the award, Mabie said the credit should go instead to the StreetWise board and staff but particularly the vendors who “decide to do something on their own, break away from their problems. I buy it two or three times a week and I have gotten to admire these folks. But it is StreetWise that has given them the opportunity to improve their lives.”
The award for Civic Leadership went to Jerry Roper, CEO of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, who gave his signature and invite list for a StreetWise benefit breakfast with Mayor Richard M. Daley and CEOs of 70 corporations.“I’m passionate about StreetWise,” Roper said in accepting the award. “A number of you do events and this one hits the right spot. We’re pleased in being involved with an organization that has its heart in the right place in making this city the most livable in the world.”
Bruce Crane received the Volunteer of the Year Award as a board member who stepped up to become executive director when the organization was at its lowest point. The former Chief Operating Officer of Crane Carton Company, which was an Illinois Family Business of the Year, Crane cuts sandwiches, makes tuna salad, runs telephone cable, repairs light fixtures but most important, he mentors clients – and him, LoBianco said.
Crane said he took his credo from Ralph Bunche, the Nobel Prize-winning negotiator and peacemaker to WWII Africa, Palestine and the United Nations. “He defined responsibility as ‘see what needs to be done and do it.’ By your presence here tonight, you honor these men and women and give them hope. Everyone deserves that. You make it possible.”