I am currently focused on volunteering my time and community service work in two main areas: Homelessness and At-Risk Youth, with the main purpose being that “everyone deserves a second chance.” I first got involved in community service work and causes for social good approximately one year ago when I visited the LA Mission, a non-profit shelter for the homelessness. I immediately rolled up my sleeves and started volunteering in the LA Mission kitchen to help feed the homeless. I have been volunteering at the Mission every Saturday and Sunday mornings to help feed the homeless. I have also been working very closely with REDF, the only philanthropy in the US that invests exclusively in social enterprises focused on employment, for the homelessness and for reentry. Volunteering as a Technical Advisor for REDF, I have been working with one of their social enterprise non-profits, called RoseBud Café. RoseBud is based in Pasadena and trains youth- in-transition (youth who are either homeless, out of school and/or out of work) on how to become a coffee barista with the objective being to provide the youth with part-time or full-time employment with a strategic partner coffee company, like Starbucks. I am also starting to mentor the at-risk-youth from RoseBud to give them guidance, confidence, and a plan to help improve their lives. In addition, part of the overall strategy is to bring together different social enterprises and non-profits that focus on at-risk youth and homelessness and have them form partnerships to help fund different programs that will provide job opportunities for the youth and homeless and create a real social impact, with the underlying theme that “everyone deserves a second chance”. The first example of this will be Coffee With A Cause, which will be a roll-out expansion of the RoseBud social enterprise concept that will involve RoseBud partnering with different non-profits who will help fund the new locations and bring a social cause to each community, while providing employment opportunities for the youth.
How did you get started in the social good causes?
Well, as the father of six children, I watched my kids get involved in the community and doing all types of volunteer work and community service work for difference organizations over the years. A friend of mine recommended I speak with the people at LA Mission in downtown Los Angeles. One day we were talking about the homelessness situation and he recommended that I speak to Ivan Klassen over at the LA Mission, who is a fellow Canadian. I went to visit the LA Mission and they gave me a tour of the facility and I was overwhelmed by the commitment that they have there to try and help the homelessness, provide them with hope and opportunity, giving them a chance to improve their lives.
Ivan recommended that I spend a morning working in the kitchen to help feed the homeless because the kitchen is the heartbeat and pulse of the Mission. I went on a Saturday morning and I said this is great, and I’ve been going pretty much every Saturday morning and Sunday morning since then to volunteer my time. That led me to other conversations with some friends of mine who introduced me to REDF, which is the Roberts Educational Development Foundation. REDF is the largest social enterprise investor for homelessness and reentry in the United States. I met with the senior management and started to get involved with them over the past year and that’s led to my community service work with one of their social enterprise portfolio companies, called Rosebud Café.
When you were starting out with all of the volunteer work, making a social impact, was there ever a time that you doubted that you would have an impact? And If so, what kept you going?
Yes, because the social problems that I am focused on, homelessness and at-risk youth, are enormous social issues that need to be addressed. These problems are so large and so overwhelming that you wonder whether your time and your efforts will actually make a difference. However, it didn’t take me very long to realize that everybody’s efforts and my time specifically, does make a difference. When I was working at the LA Mission, I think it was the second weekend serving breakfast to the homelessness that goes through the LA Mission program, I remember one of the gentleman saying to me “thank you Mr. Morrie.” I had just given him his plate of pancakes and donuts and I looked at him and asked him, “How did you remember my name?” He replied, “we were introduced last week and your smile and your enthusiasm made a difference for my day, and I remembered that, and I appreciate you helping out.” That one instance confirmed that yes, we can make a difference and we can make an impact pretty quickly!
How did you decide on your first non-profit organization to work with? And let’s take it a step further and how do you decide which non-profit causes you want to work with going forward?
I think it’s very important to align yourself with an organization that shares the same mission statement, the same values and objectives that you have personally. Two of the areas that I have really focused on in the past year in my community service work and volunteer work has been centered or focused on at-risk youth and the homelessness.
I’m very interested in helping young people, at-risk-youth and youth-in-transition. These are kids who are either homeless, out of school, out of work or all of the above. These kids need guidance, mentoring and a second chance. They need hope and an opportunity to improve their lives and a path forward to realize their potential.
Homelessness as well is just such a huge problem, you see it everywhere here in Los Angeles, not just on skid row. You see it across the city of LA, all the way to Santa Monica and everywhere in between. It’s pretty much visible in your face every day. When you look at a Non-Profit Organization, I think it’s important to not just understand what they are trying to do, but you have to go and meet with the people who are managing that non-profit, and understand what is involved to help them, how you can make a difference, and make sure that what they are actually doing is what you believe in. It is important to do your own due diligence to make sure that what they are saying and what they are actually doing, are in line with what you want to do. The message needs to be consistent so you have a shared message and a plan or strategy to attack that particular problem in order to make a difference and make an impact.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
The toughest decision I have had to make in the past few months involves which social causes and non-profit organizations that I want to volunteer my time with and develop a long term relationship with. There are so many non-profits and social enterprises to consider, however, it is critical to perform your own due diligence, to spend time with each of them, get to understand what their true mission and cause is all about, how they go about implementing and executing their strategy, and how sustainable is their model. I have decided to focus mainly on at-risk youth and homelessness as two of the main social causes to volunteer with and commit to. As a result, I have done extensive due diligence on a number of non-profits and social enterprises in these two areas and made a decision to work closely with the following entities: LA Mission, REDF, Liberty Hill Foundation, RoseBud Café and Arts For Incarcerated Youth Network.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
Once I make a decision to pursue something, I am all in. I am extremely passionate about things that are important to me and I am extremely determined and resilient in my approach. As a social community volunteer and aspiring individual, you have to find something that you are passionate about and you have to be extremely focused, disciplined and determined. All of these traits are extremely important to be successful in any new arena, especially as a social good community service volunteer.
What does the future hold for your volunteer work? What are you most excited about?
I am currently focused on volunteering my time with different social causes and social workers in the at-risk youth and homelessness areas. I am providing strategic advice to the social organizations and the social leaders who run these programs. I am really excited about the RoseBud Café that I am working with. I am helping them expand their social enterprise concept to several new locations with the objective of creating a new brand, called Coffee With A Cause. This will be a collaboration between RoseBud and several strategic partners who are non-profits with a specific social cause. We hope to have multiple locations across southern California very shortly! I am also very excited about mentoring several of the at-risk youth and youth-in transition who need guidance, support and hope. This is extremely rewarding to me and something that these youth desperately need.
What social purpose book has inspired you?
The following book really inspired me and has proven to be extremely relevant and helpful in my quest to make a real impact with social organizations and social good leaders:
Purpose Incorporated……….. “Turning Cause Into Your Competitive Advantage”……… by John Wood. This book was written by a former senior Microsoft executive who founded Room to Read, an international education non-profit organization serving over 12.5 million children around the world.