All Photos by Drew Altizer Photography
What would prompt A-list actor Chris O’Donnell, busy in Los Angles on set of NCIS: LA, to fly to San Francisco on September 18 (a weeknight) only to return to work at 8:00 a.m. the next morning? It had everything to do with his heartfelt relationship with the San Francisco-based charity, REDF. In fact, O’Donnell is on the Board of Directors at REDF, an organization started by his close friend, George K Roberts and run by President and CEO, Carla Javits. REDF creates jobs and employment opportunities for people facing the greatest barriers to work, including those who have been homeless, in prison or people with mental health disabilities.
The benefit host committee included actor and recording artist LL Cool J and former San Francisco 49er Ronnie Lott, who invited guests to a cocktail reception, seated dinner and a rockin’ private performance by Janelle Monae. Prior to the festivities, we spoke with Chris O’Donnell about his ties to this organization that is near and dear to his heart.
1. You’re known to be a very generous person who is involved with many charities. Why were you drawn to become involved with REDF?
I’ve known George Roberts and Harris Barton for years. They told me about the organization and asked me if I wanted to be involved. When they described REDF, it reminded of me of my dad, who was on the board of a charity that helped to rehabilitate ex-convicts. That made a real impression on me as a kid. I just thought, “Why would you want to help those people?” But then my dad explained that it’s just a better way to do things. So it was kind of a natural fit for me to get involved with REDF, which is a Northern-California based organization that wants to get more exposure in the Southern California market.
I live in Los Angeles, and a lot of the board members are trying to find people with connections who can help those facing the toughest barriers to employment. If someone has been sitting on the bench for 10 years – either incarcerated or with a drug addiction – when they apply for a job, most people wouldn’t want to hire someone whose been out of work for 10 years. If we can create jobs for them where they have a couple of years of experience, it will be easier for them to get that next job. They get the training they need, such as learning how to interview and showing up and putting in a day’s work. The next step is to identify companies that are in a position to hire.
2. What adversities did you face coming up in your career?
Nothing like the people we’re supporting at REDF. We’re talking about people who are really facing the toughest barriers to employment, like incarceration, drug addition and homelessness; those are things that I really can’t even compare to.
3. What is the most valuable job skill that REDF can facilitate?
It’s not even about a single job skill. We’re just trying to find opportunities where they can work on a consistent basis. Whether it’s going out and cleaning sidewalks, silk-screening t-shirts, preparing lunches or going out and doing pest control at buildings – we want to know what are those services that we can build businesses around, where we strictly hire these individuals that want to get involved. We can use that as a platform for them to launch to the next level.
4. What is your best advice for these individuals?
Well, it would be to just get into a job. It’s so hard for them. What’s frustrating is that society is so cynical. They say, “Screw all these people who are sitting on welfare checks since they don’t go to work.” But the reality is that so many of these people that are on welfare actually want to work. They’re dying to work but they just can’t get a job because no one wants to hire them. The job is so much more than a paycheck. It is a sense of self-worth, it is feeling like you are part of a community and it is being able to go home and tell you kids, “I just put in a full day’s work.” It’s one of the most basic things in our society because when people are working, it keeps them out of prison, out of drugs and it also gets them back in the economy and healthcare situations. It’s what makes this country work. There are so many people who want to get back in but just need help. That’s what we’re trying to do.