Everyone is worthy of love, even the homeless, the sick, and people who have hit rock bottom. However, the way the system has been set up, it’s taking too long or there are not enough resources to help these people. Today, Jenny DePaul, the Founder of Project Kind, and Cornell Thomas, the author of the book, Extraordinary, joins host Erin Saxton as they talk about Project Kind, a homeless outreach program that provides food, clothes, and shelter to those in need, and its high demands. Be sure to look out for Jenny in her decked-out van and grab a copy of Cornell’s amazing book!
Listen to the podcast here:
Erin Talks Kindness And Giving Back With Jenny DePaul and Cornell Thomas
With me are two special people in my life. We have Cornell Thomas. He is the author of this amazing book, Extraordinary: The Distance Between Good and Great. As you know from my chat with Cornell in an earlier episode, I get right down to it into the nitty-gritty. We also have Jenny DePaul. I sit on Jenny’s board of Project Kind. Welcome, guys. I don’t know which one to start with. Welcome back, Cornell.
Thanks for having me back.
Jenny, we’ll start with you. You helped many people. Tell everybody out there what you’re doing. Why did you start doing it? What kind of help can we give to you?
Project Kind started about several years ago. I was sitting with my family and we were talking about what it meant to live out your purpose. We are having this conversation at a family meeting. We came up with a few things that we believed were true and that we wanted to try and live out. Together, we decided to try and be a reminder to people that they were worthy of love and had a purpose. We started Project Kind. It started right there in our living room.
Where do you live? New Jersey, perhaps?
I live in Rockaway, New Jersey. We have lived there my whole life and I’m raising my kids there. We started doing outreach. Going to Newark was where we started out. We get to know the people there who are experiencing homelessness with the hope of reminding them that they were loved. We then started creating opportunities for people to join us. There are many ways you can help. We would offer the opportunity to provide food, toiletries or donations for housing. It grew from there.
You drive around New Jersey in this pimped out, kicked out minivan. Tell us that story. How did that come about?Everyone's worthy of love. Click To Tweet
Toyota donated this van to us and put all the signage on it. The story behind that is we were featured in a State Farm Neighborhood of Good Campaign. They came and made a video about our family and what we were doing. They contacted Toyota and said, “Could you gift the DePauls this van for their outreach?” They happened to get on the phone with somebody I went to high school with. He knew us. Within 48 hours, they were able to provide us with this van for free.
It’s on the road every day. Walk us through a typical Jenny DePaul day.
I go to Newark or wherever there’s a need. Usually, it’s two times a day, sometimes more.
What time do you wake up every day?
I get up early, but mostly it’s because of my family. My son gets up early so I have to be there to make sure his needs are met. I’m up probably around 5:30.
What is your morning routine outside of taking care of your child?
I’ll go wherever the need is. A lot of times, it is Newark. I’ll go there, meet with different people who want to share their stories on social media. That’s a big part of Project Kind, to share stories because I think that if somebody can put a face to the need, they’re more likely to feel a connection. I want people to understand people’s backstories and what their dreams are, what they’re trying to pursue. I also do mobile street outreach. I’ll be feeding people or giving what people have given me or shared with me.
This has taken root. I met you through a mutual friend of ours, but I know that family’s not the only one that is coming through. Why don’t we talk a little bit about it and let’s name drop a little? You don’t have to say their names, but you could say it’s starting to catch on. People are realizing that with these videos that you’re doing, there is an identity. There’s a face to homelessness, illness, struggle, happiness. There are faces to good and great. You’re sitting right next to this guy. You’re making it real, whether they like it or not. What kind of support have you been getting in emotionally and friendship-wise? Who else has joined your brigade of help?
I was fortunate enough to meet the Ellisons at the Toyota event when they gifted us the van. Rhett is a New York Giants football player. He was at that event. He saw what we were doing. He contacted me afterward and wanted to be a part of Project Kind. Now, he and his wife are on the board.
His wife’s name is Raina. They are both lovely.
They’ve been a huge part of Project Kind. They do outreach. They do events with us. The New York Giants have stepped up as far as monetary donations and putting on a yearly event for our friends experiencing homelessness.
Is it a few times a year or once a year?
It’s once a year.
In 2020, you’re going to learn what this is. Talk to us about that.You have to realize that the people that you're talking to are human. Click To Tweet
The Worthy of Love Fest is a day where we celebrate the fact that everyone’s worthy of love. We bring 100’s of our friends experiencing homelessness to the Giants Stadium, to MetLife. The players are there and we have our partners in kindness come. There are about 120 volunteers and we spend the day together doing spa services and lunch. Cornell is a speaker at the event. The hope is after the event is over, the volunteers and our friends who experience homelessness will stay in touch. We’re matching up people for the day.
Cornell, what’s your message at an event like this? We were talking in our earlier episode when we first met about how important it is being at a proverbial fork in the road and there are messages that you need to give out. What’s your message at the Worthy of Love event as one of the prominent speakers?
One of the biggest messages is don’t give up. Don’t quit on life because you’re dealing with people that are at rock bottom, who hit the floor. The only way you can go is up or you can quit and stop. When we start, when we had our interview a long time ago talking about mindset, it’s different going to a corporation speaking where they have everything, they were able to buy Mercedes, and then talking to a bunch of people that are going to go back out in the street. It’s about not giving up and staying strong and fighting through it all.
We were talking before about the mud, you have to scrape through all of that to get to where you have to go. It’s not going from homeless to a house in a blink and then you’re fine. Jenny’s work is not just that. Once you get that aid, what are you going to do with it? You have to sustain it and the most important thing is having that mindset to sustain it. You’re fortunate enough to meet someone like Jenny that’s going to give you aid and help you out, but you have to keep it going.
Jenny and Cornell, are there resources? Do we do enough or could we be doing more? I know you’re not the spokesperson for the whole entire epidemic and cause, but what could we be doing that we’re not doing enough to help people globally with homelessness?
My experience has been that the system is broken. There’s a lot of people who need help and either the way the system is set up, it’s taking too long or there are not enough resources. With Project Kind, the hope is to fill in those gaps for people and to have the community come together as far as providing them what’s needed for them to move forward. It’s hard to get a job and move forward when you’re sleeping on the sidewalk. I always think that housing first is important. One of my focuses is to get people housed even if it’s for a few months until they can find their job and have their mentor in place and all those things. We’re trying to create opportunities where everybody can be a part of someone’s journey.
Cornell, you do a Positivity Summit. You go all around the country and you speak, are those always called Positivity Summits? What are your events called that you speak at?
It’s called whatever the event organizer calls it. They can call it The Giraffe Show featuring Cornell Thompson. It doesn’t matter. It was a great event.
You are a speaker, but you also do not put on your own events. Your own events, what are they called?
My events are called The Positivity Summit. I started The Positivity Summit. The idea came up in 2015. I was at a Tony Robbins event. A friend of mine and her husband paid for me to go because I couldn’t sell my kidney to go. I was sitting there and I said, “This is cool. The only thing is that only 1% of the population can afford to go to this event and to get this type of stuff and education.” I was like, “What if I created an event where it wasn’t just me speaking? There are people of different races, religions, dialects, that all came down to one area and shared their stories.” The second day, we can do something philanthropic where it’s not just talking about changing the world or helping people, but we went and did it. I wrote up The Positivity Summit while I was sitting there. The next year, we ran the first one in New Jersey, New York and Los Angeles. This next one is going to be in England. Jenny came to the New York one. She asked me to help her with the social media component of Project Kind, a little bit of the structure.
As we start talking, I said, “We’re doing the outreach segment. Why don’t you take care of that?” In New York, she spearheaded the movement. I said, “Come with me to LA. Come with me to England.” I started bringing Jenny around because this is what she does every day. It’s very important for people to understand that you have to realize that the people that you’re talking to are human. Having Jenny there and her being in the trenches every single day, it helped the people that were at the event realize you don’t run up and start taking pictures, videos and saying, “I’m helping someone.” It’s not about that. It’s about the conversation, letting these people know that they’re seen They’re humans like you are. It was a natural collaboration for us. Moving forward, Jenny is going to help us with that second day. I have eleven speakers in England. We’ll have ten speakers in Toronto. We’ll be in Dubai in September 2020 with another ten speakers and another day of outreach.
What kind of presence do you have at The Positivity Summit other than talking? Erin loves me, a philanthropist that tells all the world how much they’ve donated to charity, which I’m pretty sure is the opposite of what you’re supposed to do. There’s a charity. There are donations for the tax credit. There’s philanthropy, which you’re not supposed to be talking about too much. I think there’s some code that you’re supposed to pinky promise swear. We all know who gives a lot and we hear about it. Maybe we don’t know, but there are those types of people. What do you do on day two? Is there a signature branded aspect that ties back into Project Kind?
With The Positivity Summit, the second day is focusing on a homeless house program where we’re going to have somebody who is in need and help them with money that’s raised through the summit to help them move forward. Also, the Kindness Closet.
The Kindness Closet is what Jen is doing it right now. She has a couple of NORC. The Kindness Closet is a place where people can not only get food and clothing, but mentorship and learn a trade. I would love the expression I was saying to Jenny the last few weeks, maybe she’s sick of hearing it, but you can give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man how to fish, he eats for the rest of his life. If you’re showing someone a trade, a transferable skill they can use in the workplace, if you show someone how to go to a job interview and win that job interview. If you have that mentorship, now you have someone that’s going to sustain that success. It’s not the success model of things a little different when you give someone something and then you walk away from it. Eventually, we want to have a Kindness Closet in every place where we do a whole of The Positivity Summit. It’s going to be the community’s job to run it while we’re there. We’re not going to be able to go to Dubai and Africa every week and check on it. It’s getting the community involved to say, “Let’s help people that are at a disadvantage together.”When you're open to something, it comes your way. If you're close to it or you're a cynical, nothing's going to change. Click To Tweet
That’s great. How can people learn more about Project Kind and The Positivity Summit?
Project Kind has a website, ProjectKind123.org. We’re on Instagram and Facebook. You can go there. I post people’s stories daily and opportunities for people to be a part of their journey. Everything is through social media. If they follow along, they can join us anytime in lots of different ways.
The holidays are coming up. Do you have a list of things that you need locally for New Jersey? To help fill the Kindness Closet, is there a list for people?
On the website, there is a list of our regular needs which are for our mobile street outreaches. In the closet are blankets, socks, toiletry, clothing, pretty much anything. They can go there and print the list out. They’re easy things to get. We’ll take used things, new things and school supplies.
Come on, teachers. The kids and every family can bring in something small. On behalf of that class, it’s big. Even one person doing something small makes a big difference to our people.
We have Project Kind Clubs running in schools. That’s always something we’re looking to add on to. That way, the kids can be a part of everything.
They’ll feel good about something and learn something. When they want to get it to that next level, how can they get more involved in attending The Positivity Summit?
My website is Cornell-Thomas.com. Everything through social media is @CornellThomas or you can reach out to me, [email protected]. The funny thing is when I say to get my email and say reach out or whatever, people are very surprised how quick they reached back out because I believe that people come in your life for a reason. I met you through Jenny. We met and immediately within a minute, we hit it off. God puts people in our paths for a purpose. If you reach out to me, I’ll tell you about Positivity Summit and how you can help. Jenny is not going to say this, but I will say it. We look for sponsors every single day, 24/7 hours a day because this is what we’ve been doing out of our pockets to make it work. Anybody that wants to jump on and say, “We want to help this mission,” please reach out and we will appreciate it. We’ll give you hugs and high five.
When you’re in that moment at a crossroads, but once things go not so great in your way, how can you avoid ending up in homelessness? How can you avoid hitting rock bottom or whatever that is? It’s a tough one. I apologize in advance, but we can’t just talk. We have to try to help in advance.
I would say a great analogy is if you’re going down the river and there’s no raft, you’re just looking for a branch. Jenny is a branch. Erin Saxton is a branch. I would like to think I’m a branch. There might be other branches. Some people don’t have those branches to hold on to that can sustain them for a little bit.
Some people don’t have a support system at all. One challenging moment could change their whole path until somebody comes along.
Without any branches, what can one do?
It is the mindset. You have to be able to sustain your stuff long enough and not freak out long enough so you don’t drown. Eventually, hopefully, that branch comes or you create that branch yourself. The one thing about our country, you can say whatever you want about it, is you can educate yourself on anything. You can go somewhere that has Wi-Fi. You can go to the library and Google, how do I become of this? How do I become of that? You can educate yourself. I love the story of Pursuit of Happyness about Chris Gardner. You see that movie and you’re like, “There’s no way. This has to be sensationalized.” That really happened. He was locking himself in the bathroom at night, sleeping with his son, putting his foot up against the door until he figured out how to make it work.
There are stories out there of people doing what is coined the impossible. It’s not possible. It’s possible. It’s hard. It’s tough. You’re going to struggle, but you can do it. Have that hope. I always find when I’m open to something, it comes my way. When I’m open to the possibility of meeting new people, I meet new people. I’m open. If you’re close to it or you’re a cynical or you get really hard, nothing’s going to change. Open your mind and realize the possibilities that are out there and not just being so closed off because of Jen’s Project Kind van rolls into Newark and you’re like, “Screw that, that can’t help me.” You walk away. You have no idea what could happen. There have been people that might have thought that and walked to the van and their lives have been changed. What if they weren’t open to the opportunity? They’d be the same situation they were in. I think it’s being open-minded and realizing that.
There are people that I’ve still visited several years from now in the same spot and having the same conversations with them. Sometimes people just aren’t ready.
Does that get frustrating for you?
I want more for them, but I can’t make it happen. It is up to them to be ready to move forward. I do try to love them where they are at the moment. Everybody deserves food and to be warm, no matter what their decisions are. I continue to do that. There are many people that we have been able to help them and they’re not experiencing homelessness anymore. They’re doing wonderfully, so it can work. Cornell is right. They have to believe it. A lot of the people that I serve have forgotten and adapted to what’s around them and accepted it. I’m trying to remind them.
You’re doing amazing work with Jenny DePaul’s Project Kind 123. Cornell Thomas, your book, Extraordinary: The Distance Between Good and Great and The Positivity Summit. Both of you, thank you. I feel like knowing you makes me a better person. Honestly, you guys do great work and without people like you, I think we’d all be in a pretty bad spot. On behalf of the world, thank you very much. Please reach out to Cornell and Jenny respectively, together or individually. They both could use your help and we all could use them. Let’s give them support. Thanks again for being here. Thank you and everybody on behalf of everyone here at That Girl from Jersey, see you real soon.
- Extraordinary: The Distance Between Good and Great
- Project Kind
- State Farm Neighborhood of Good Campaign
- Worthy of Love Fest
- Positivity Summit
- Project Kind 123 on Instagram
- Project Kind 123 on Facebook
- @CornellThomas – Twitter
- [email protected]
About Jenny DePaul
Project KIND 123 creates opportunities and builds support systems for those experiencing homelessness. We believe in strengthening our community through kindness and helping those who are in need to achieve their goals.
Through our mobile street outreach team, we provide food, needed items, mentoring, emergency/temporary housing, information, referrals to assisted programs, encouragement and support.
Our goal is to help those experiencing homelessness by providing the supports that will allow them to focus on their strengths and purpose while overcoming their challenges and circumstance so they are able to get off the street. We do this through kindness and lending a helping hand.
We encourage others from our community to get involved and spread kindness by offering a volunteer program for all ages that engages with our community through our outreach projects, highlighting kindness and sharing stories. We encourage others to come together and share love, resources, time, talents and knowledge.
About Cornell Thomas
Who is Cornell Thomas? That’s a question that even I wasn’t quite sure about until 5 years ago. When I sat down to write the about section for my website, I didn’t want to give you some generic answer. I could have easily said that I’m an entrepreneur or speaker but that’ doesn’t tell you who I am.
I am the youngest son of Bobby and Tina Thomas. That sentence is very important in regards to who I am. If not for my parents I wouldn’t be the man you see today. My father passed away when I was just three years old, and although my time with him was brief I have learned through others the amazing legacy that he left behind., as a police officer and community leader.
My fathers passing forced my mom to become our everything. She was now our main provider, mother, and life educator. She was forced to become an expert problem solver, and that skill was passed down to her children. My mom raised us on the old adage, Everything happens for a reason”, and that one lesson out of the myriads she has taught me was never forgotten. It’s what I remembered when I suffered a career-ending basketball injury, and the first thing I think about when any adversity comes my way.
In that dark time my mom’s teachings served as my light. It was that bouncebackability ingrained in me since my youth that has allowed me to find my purpose through the pain. Now I speak all over the world sharing that knowledge with others, so who am I?
I am a former athlete, a speaker, an author, a thinker, an actionvist, but more importantly than any of those titles I’m a husband and father.