Wednesday was the grand opening of the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Kitchen, in Red Bank, NJ.Â I was lucky enough to be home to watch the opening online as it happened â€”they had it streaming at Bon Jovi.com.Â Â
As a collective group, Bon Jovi fans have known about this restaurant being in the works for quite some time. Bon Jovi runs a charitable organization called the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation that works a lot with the homeless and those who are barely making it. Â He has built homes in many places, including 28 in New Orleans after Katrina. Â Bon Jovi fans are some of the biggest allies in the war on poverty and homelessness, and are quite involved in both volunteering locally in their own communities (which Jon highly promotes) and in donating to his Soul foundation.
I do want to make one thing clear about the Soul Kitchen that people need to know-- if you donâ€™t have money, yes, the meal is given to you free, but you are expected to volunteer a few hours of your time in the kitchen to â€œearnâ€ it. Jon wanted to make it clear that this was a hand UP not a hand out.Â There are many of the rich who think throwing money at the less fortunate is the solution, but itâ€™s not! When someone accepts a handout it does something to their soul. It lowers their self esteem. They lose their pride and thatâ€™s when problems began to set in.
I think Jon understands these problems more than a lot of people think. Heâ€™s not just throwing money at something. Heâ€™s introducing them to an opportunity to gain pride. Thatâ€™s why he set up the restaurant that way. This is the whole concept is the same one that the American dream was built on, but so much of that has been lost now because many of the rich just think throwing money at them is the solution, when it is actually a large part of what is making the problem worse.
The â€œrestaurant,â€ DÃ¨gagÃ¨, where I volunteer at in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is based on the same concept as the Soul Kitchenâ€¦ there are no words to describe the look of pride on the peopleâ€™s faces when they earn their meal instead of just getting a handout. Â At both the Soul Kitchen and DÃ¨gagÃ¨, they are getting more than a mealâ€”they are giving people who believe in their ability as a person and they are giving them the opportunity to take pride in themselves that they can do something worthwhile. When someone takes pride in themselves, their desire to better themselves and their lives increases as well. They strive to find ways to better themselves so that they might move up in the world.
I have also volunteered at a â€œsoup kitchenâ€ nearby, and itâ€™s such a very different atmosphere between the two places. The whole mood is incredibly different. I donâ€™t really like volunteering at the soup kitchen because of the feeling I get inside when Iâ€™m there. Itâ€™s dark. These people feel degraded and downtrodden and you can see it on their faces and feel it in the air. There is no laughter and camaraderie there. Itâ€™s all very somber.Â At DÃ¨gagÃ¨ there is laughter. They play games and talk. People from all walks of life come. Doctors from the hospital up the street come and mingle with the homeless and poor. Youth groups come and sing and play games with the patrons. There is no judging. These people have â€œpaidâ€ for their meal either through money or doing a job. They donâ€™t feel looked down upon. That pride is something you canâ€™t purchase, it has to be earned.
I have actually thought someday that I might like to open a place like this myself. There is something to be said or that atmosphere-- it is addicting and makes you want more. Itâ€™s a win/win situation and that feels good for all involved. You can help people build their lives while enriching your own.
Next summer, Iâ€™ll actually have the privilege of going to New Jersey next June, and I plan on visiting the Soul Kitchen, paying for a meal, and volunteering some time!Â
Here are Jon's remarks fromÂ the opening onÂ Wednesday...Â