SPEECH: Joseph Calhoun at the 2017 Ready, Willing & Able Graduation

Joseph Calhoun offered words of wisdom and encouragement to the Ready, Willing & Able graduating class of 2017. Joseph is The Doe Fund’s Training and Advancement Manager and a graduate of Ready, Willing & Able, himself.


Good evening, class of 2017, family, and friends! For those of you who don’t know me: I’m Joseph Calhoun. I’m a Training and Advancement Manager here at The Doe Fund. And I’m also a proud graduate of Ready, Willing & Able!


It’s my pleasure to share this momentous day with you. The day you all become Ready, Willing & Able graduates yourselves! I’ve been to many graduations, but it never gets old. I feel the Doe Fund love in this room.


Almost fifteen years ago, I walked through the doors of the Harlem Center for Opportunity. I was there because life hadn’t gone the way I planned. You see, not long before that, I had two jobs and I was going to school at night. I supported myself and my family.  


But then I lost my job…and my second job. I had to give up school…and then I had to give up my apartment. I was homeless. How did this happen? I was supposed to be providing for my children.. Not sitting in a shelter on Wards Island. If I was going to overcome this obstacle, I needed help. That’s where The Doe Fund came in.


I remember that first day…seeing all the guys in blue pushing those buckets. I may be all about the bucket now, but in the beginning, it was a different story. My route was 86th Street. Back then we went all the way to East End. I’d spend my whole shift hiding under my hood. I was embarrassed. I was a hard worker. I went to school. And I was doing this?


Harriet, I don’t know if you remember this, but you used to talk to me all the time when I was out there. You’d tell me not to worry. That I was going to do well in this program. You gave me a lot of confidence. And you were right. After a while, I started to feel different about the bucket. That bucket got me working, earning a living again, taking care of myself. I was on my way back to who I wanted to be.     


Like some of you, I joined the security team while I was a trainee. I don’t know why, but a lot of guys started coming to me for advice. I loved motivating them and helping them stick with the program. And that’s how I discovered my calling for helping people. It took all my plans going off track to figure that out.


You see, it’s not about what your plans were. It’s about responding to where you are now. Because there will always be bumps along your road. That’s part of life. But if life was easy, you wouldn’t be a success story.


I graduated a long time ago–we didn’t even have caps and gowns back then! But I remember how hopeful I was on my graduation day. I also remember being a little afraid. I remember thinking, “What if I fail? What if I can’t do this?” But like I’ve told many of you in my office: the question is not “what if I can’t.” The question is “how can I do this.” This program has given you what you need to answer that question.


Even though I’ve been to many graduations, this is the first time I’ve had the chance to speak at one. So I’m going to take advantage of it and give you some advice! 


One: Use the principles you’ve learned here to keep growing and moving forward.


Two: Keep the hunger. Keep the focus. And stay humble.


Three: There’s a big difference between a hand out and a hand up. Sometimes being a man means asking for help.    


And, finally: We are Doe Fund for life. These doors will always be open to you. Let us know about your many successes…and let us know how we can help. May your successes be many. Congratulations, class of 2017!

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About Author: The Doe Fund

Founded in 1985, The Doe Fund provides life-transforming services for the homeless, the formerly incarcerated, disenfranchised youth, and people living with AIDS. The organization's flagship Ready, Willing & Able program has helped tens of thousands of individuals achieve permanent self sufficiency through paid work, transitional housing, and employment training.