Bread for the City CEO George Jones will receive the John Thompson Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award forhis work as an advocate for the fight against poverty. The honor, which recognizes a community member who has significantly affected D.C. residents and has been a leader in solving issues in the District, will be given to Jones at the Kennedy Center on Jan. 19 as part of Georgetown’s annual MartinLuther King Jr. Day celebration.
Bread for the City, a local nonprofit organization which has locations in Ward 2 and Ward 8, aims to assist city residents in need of a variety of resources, including food, clothing, medical care and legal services. Under Jones’s leadership, Bread for the City has grown tenfold, from an agency with a budget of $1.5 million when he was hired in 1996 to a $10.5 million organization today.
“We’ve expanded our facilities, our reach in the D.C. community and the services we offer. These developments have allowed us to serve our clients more holistically than ever before,” Jones said. “When I came to Bread 19 years ago, I never imagined we’d be growing our own produce, offering yoga classes or leading community media trainings.”
Molly Cielinski (COL ’17), a weekly volunteer with the organization, echoed Jones’s sentiments and said the organization goes beyond just providing food and clothing for D.C. residents in need.
“It often acts as a sort of community center, a place of safety and of advocacy for people. I have seen many of the same people come in week after week just to speak to the women behind the desk who have become prominent figures in the community,” Cielinski said.
Bread for City COO Jeannine Sanford said Jones has been a driving force behind the organization’s progress and development in recent years.
“We’re starting to dedicate resources and energy to alleviating the conditions that perpetuate poverty, and not only addressing the symptoms, but trying to get at the causation. [Jones] has really been a champion for digging into that,” Sanford said.
Additionally, Sanford praised Jones’ leadership style.
“It’s great to work with him on a day-to-day basis,” Sanford said. “He’s steady, even-tempered. He has his eyes on the prize. He asks the good questions, he makes you feel like you can take chances. He is the epitome of leadership.”
In the same way his staff appreciates him, Jones said he is proud of the work they are doing.
“I am extremely proud that seemingly every week someone in the community — a resident, someone at another nonprofit, even government officials tell me of the high quality of the work the dedicated staff of Bread for the City does day in and day out,” Jones said. “More and more of our staff members are spending time advocating for the public policy reforms that will bring about economic justice for those living in low-income communities.”
Jones’ passion for community service has been evident throughout his life: he previously served as a case manager for the homeless and people suffering from mental illness in Los Angeles, Calif. In 1995, as Jones began to look for opportunities to move back to his home state of Virginia, he learned of an opening for executive director of Bread for City.
“I’ve always felt called to work in a setting that served the community,” Jones said. “I came in and met with [Bread for the City’s] staff and board of directors, and I jumped at the chance when they offered me the opportunity to lead the organization.”
After being on the ground, Jones said he understands the importance of including clients in decision making; the organization invites Bread for the City clients to serve on its board of directors to help guide the organization’s advocacy.
“We have a client advisory council that provides input about the issues they care about, and our staff helps our clients testify before the D.C. City Council and other government leaders to directly address the challenges they often face living in low-income communities,” Jones said.
He added that he is touched to be receiving the Thompson award this year and credited much of his success to the Bread for the City staff.
“I’m extremely humbled to be the recipient of this award, largely because of who the award is named for, John Thompson, Jr., and whose legacy it honors — my personal hero, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Jones said. “More importantly, I think this award is a testament to — and calls much deserved attention to — the very important work that our staff, Board of Directors and volunteers do to make a difference in D.C.”
As a result of Jones receiving the Thompson award, Georgetown and Bread for the City will enter into a year-long partnership, primarily coordinating on racial equity. Jones noted that Georgetown officials have expressed interest in attending racial equity trainings with the nonprofit.
“Our racial equity work centers on our effort to help reverse the socioeconomic disparities facing communities of color, greater unemployment rates, shorter life spans, lower incomes, higher incarceration rates, et cetera,” Jones said. “Perhaps the University will agree to partner with us in hosting community dialogues designed to mobilize the cause of economic justice for people of all races.”