We’re gearing up for our 2010 Annual Awards Ceremony next week, and we’re so excited to be honoring Virgin Mobile USA and Virgin Unite for their commitment to the fight against youth homelessness through their RE*Generation project.
In what follows, CEO Dan Schulman describes their work and why it’s so important to end youth homelessness.
When we looked to establish a charitable initiative for Virgin Mobile, I felt it was important that we involve our customer base by supporting a cause that would resonate well with them. At the time, we were exposed to the issue of youth homelessness and were moved by the lack of awareness for the issue in general throughout the country. The decision to focus on this cause seemed natural especially because we had a high population of teens and young people as customers.
The Re*Generation was established in 2006 with the support of Virgin Unite, Virgin Group’s charitable arm. The Re*Generation is Virgin Mobile USA’s initiative to address the issue of youth homelessness and empower a generation to help its own. In June 2007, we worked with legislators from both the House and Senate to have Congress officially declare November as National Homeless Youth Awareness Month with the support of singer-songwriter and former homeless youth, Jewel.
Over the past three years, Virgin Mobile has continued to expand its efforts in this area. When we decided to make our annual Virgin Mobile Festival free this past summer, given the terrible economy, we also introduced our “Free I.P.” program. It gave people the opportunity to volunteer at a homeless shelter in order to upgrade to a V.I.P. ticket at the concert. Through this program, more than 30,000 hours of community service were donated by volunteers throughout the country, more than $80,000 was raised, 1,000 pairs of sneakers were donated to homeless youth organizations, and 7000 hygiene kits were produced for distribution to homeless youth organizations. The Free I.P. program was an acclaimed success and we are continuing to integrate it into various branding programs including our sponsorship this year of the Lady Gaga tour.
Where do you draw your inspiration?
I grew up in a family that valued giving back to the community. One of my attractions to joining Virgin was the brand’s, and Richard Branson’s, commitment as well to businesses giving back and contributing to important social causes.
When we first got involved, we worked with some key non-profit partners including StandUp4Kids. They had a program that put supporters out on the street to get somewhat of a taste of what it’s like to live on the streets. There I was, dressed shabbily with no money, no cell phone, trying to get a dollar for a cup of coffee. I can never fully understand the difficulties that homeless people experience, but I did feel what it’s like to be invisible to people walking by, and feel completely minimized. It was a very profound experience for me, and only heightened my commitment to the issue.
With more than 1 million children and teens living without a home, it is more essential than ever that broad-based awareness complement significant private philanthropy and government support toward solving this pressing social issue.
Why do you think ending homelessness is possible?
Through our efforts and the work by so many, we have made incredible strides to date and I’m hopeful that our work to raise awareness will continue to gain momentum for the issue and help to lessen the impact over time.
We’re very excited about partnering this year with the National Association to Educate Homeless Children and Youth NAEHCY. They provide liaisons within school districts to support homeless youth onsite at school. These and other innovative programs will help make a difference.
And the efforts we started with programs like TXT2CLOTHE and TXT2DONATE were early examples of mobile giving which has exploded over the past few years. By making giving accessible and easy, people are more likely to contribute and then hopefully get involved as well. Lady Gaga has a PSA about homeless youth that appears during each of her concerts – she starts touring again in July – with a direct appeal to Text to Donate.
Through our programs, more than 200,000 items of new clothing have been made available to homeless youth through partner organizations. Virgin Mobile has provided more than $3,000,000 of its own money to support awareness programs, and generated close to $500,000 in donations.
The triggers of youth homelessness- poverty, family instability, mental illness, homophobia and abuse- are societal issues that are complex and have followed our human experience for hundreds of years. Virgin Mobile believes that there is more that can be done on both a national and local level to appropriately respond to these breakdowns. We are one organization working to make a difference with a handful of partners. We will remain passionate and committed to moving closer towards the goal of ending homelessness, and empowering people to help make a difference for some of the kids living on the streets.