After moving to New York in 1967, George McDonald spent the first 15 years of life as a New Yorker working in the apparel business and spending time with celebrities like Joe Namath. "It was an exciting time to be alive in New York City, except I started fighting with that internal conflict of stepping over a homeless person in the doorway after spending a couple hundred dollars on lunch," he explained.
Wanting to do more for the homeless, he began working towards a career in politics. His effort began by simply handing out sandwiches to the homeless in Grand Central Terminal and has grown into the non-profit organization The Doe Fund that he founded in 1985. He now runs the organization with is wife Harriet Karr-McDonald, helping thousands of homeless and formerly incarcerated people every year.
The pair met at the funeral of April Savino, a spirited homeless girl they had both come to know separately. In his time spent handing out food to the homeless, McDonald came to know Savino, and Harriet became close with her while doing research for a screenplay on the homeless community that had formed in Grand Central Terminal.
Both were so saddened after Savino took her own life after losing all hope in escaping the cycles of drug addiction and homelessness, they redirected their careers to focus on providing the people with a way off the streets. They married three months later, and have continued to collaborate professionally for the past 30 years
The Doe Fund provides housing and support to people who are lost in the vicious cycle of homelessness, criminal recidivism, and substance abuse. McDonald knows that it is very easy for people to get trapped into this cycle, and his efforts at the Doe Fund are aimed at finding more preventative solutions. A large part of what their foundation does is introduce homeless, or those recently released from jail into training programs, giving them skills to find jobs.
"Growing up I had always seen myself as a politician, it is what I always wanted to be. I wanted to be President," he told us. "I believe that you should always shoot for the moon." His political aspirations were a big part of his effort to make legislative changes early on, but he has since realized that working as a non-profit allowed them to help people more directly.
Their efforts serve 700 formerly homeless and incarcerated individuals daily through their largest training program Ready, Willing & Able. This program offers individuals the chance to live in safe housing, find support in drug relapse prevention, occupational training, and educational opportunities.
The Doe Fund has also developed a group of social enterprises, finding jobs for people who want to give back to their communities. Most notably their Community Improvement Project that cleans and maintains 150 miles of New York City streets. You will see them all over the city wearing their iconic blue uniforms, making our streets a cleaner and safer place.
"Over the years I've really come to realize that it's not about the politics," McDonald said. "The work that I do is very satisfying, and although I had wanted a career in politics it became clear that you don't always get what you want, you get what you need. I needed to help people, and I've been blessed in being able to do so."