By Steven Shapiro
“When we started, everyone said, ‘You’re crazy. You’re going to pay drug addicts to go to work?’”
Harriet Karr-McDonald and her husband, George, took a leap of faith when they established the Doe Fund in memory of a homeless woman known only as Mama.
“We said, ‘Yeah, that’s what we believe America is. In exchange for hard work, you get money. In exchange for giving up drugs, you can work and you get paid.’ And we were right.”
Through the New York City-based nonprofit, the couple started the Ready, Willing & Able program, which has helped more than 22,000 men transform their lives.
“Most haven’t graduated from high school. And they have experience with the criminal justice system, mostly drugs,” says George McDonald.
Program trainees are provided a place to live and are paid to work, cleaning the city’s streets and parks while they pursue education and other training.
“Graduating from NYU was a dream come true that I didn’t even think I could possibly dream,” says Terrance Coffie, one of the Doe Fund’s most notable graduates.
Coffie told Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric that his life was heading down a dead-end road after growing up in foster care and ending up in prison.
“You become limited to what resources you have, opportunities, and for me, like millions of others, it became a cesspool of life,” he said.
Coffie embraced the Ready, Willing & Able program and took advantage of all its resources. He graduated from New York University and is currently pursuing his master’s degree in social work.
Like Coffie, Angel Lopez grew up in foster care and spent time in jail for selling drugs.
“I had to get some money ’cause nobody was giving me any money. No foster parent was giving me money,” he said.
Lopez made the most of his opportunity with the Doe Fund and took part in the culinary arts program. He now works full-time at the program’s Brooklyn facility as an in-house chef.
“I’m a role model to other guys too that come there,” Lopez said. “They say, ‘Wow, this young guy is in here. He’s teaching us how to cook, how to bake?’ I say, ‘Yeah, bro, you could do it. All you got to do is just stay humble so you won’t crumble.’”