Pete Seeger, Chicago job-training organization Growing Home, and Ashford & Simpson are the 2010 WhyHunger Chapin Award honorees, and will be feted June 21 at Gotham Hall in New York when WhyHunger, formerly known as World Hunger Year, celebrates its 35th anniversary.
The awards recognize the honorees’ inspiring work and dedication on issues of hunger and poverty on a local, national and global level. Hosting the dinner will be Tom Chapin, brother of the organization’s late cofounder Harry Chapin–the folk-rock singer-songwriter of hits like “Cat’s in the Cradle,” who died in 1981.
“We’ve been discussing the name change since World Hunger Year’s [WHY] inception, when Harry was alive,” says Chapin, himself a singer-songwriter who frequently acted as his brother’s “one-man benefit back-up band.” “‘Why WHY? What year is that?’ It’s every year!”
WhyHunger, Chapin continues, “connects to the whole thing. The name says it: ‘Why hunger?’ It’s a clarification more than anything else and connects to all 35 years of its work.”
The organization’s mission remains to identify and address the root causes of hunger and poverty and provide innovative, community-based solutions–while challenging the public to ask why hunger is one of the biggest crises facing humanity today.
“When Harry and I were trying to come up with a name, we worked on the ‘why questions,'” says WhyHunger’s executive director and co-founder Bill Ayres. “‘Why is there hunger in a world that can feed itself? Why is there hunger in the world’s richest country?’ Going back to the ‘why’ questions is going back to our roots: You can never change anything unless you ask the ‘why’ questions.”
Pete Seeger is the fitting recipient of the 2010 WhyHunger Chapin Award. Thirty-five years ago he joined Harry and Tom Chapin in performing at the first World Hunger Year benefit concert.
“Pete Seeger is a living legend and an American musical icon,” says Ayres. “He is also a man who has always stood for the hungry, the poor and the oppressed. It is for all of those things that we are proud to honor him at our 35th Anniversary Dinner.”
The singer-songwriter team of Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, who participate in various charity organizations and regularly perform at benefits, will be recognized as 2010’s ASCAP-Harry Chapin Humanitarian Award honorees.
“I have such high regard for their artistry and humanity,” says Chapin. “It’s rare when people put their careers on the line and use their stardom to do good. Harry said years ago that ‘being a star is sort of silly, except that I have a bully pulpit that I can use and maybe make a difference.'”
Growing Home will receive the Harry Chapin Self-Reliance Award for its groundbreaking programs in job training and fostering the creation of green economies. The organization provides job training for homeless and low-income individuals in Chicago through a social enterprise business based on organic agriculture.
“One of the great things about the dinner is finding out about groups we’ve worked with for years,” says Chapin. “They tell us what a difference the recognition means to them in terms of fundraising. They’re the ones on the firing line, facing hunger in America day-in and day-out while the rest of us just pop in and out at benefit concerts. Every year we come away emotionally charged by the Self-Reliance Award winners.”
Chapin reports “good news and bad news” pertaining to WhyHunger today.
“The good news is that the organization is better and stronger and more committed than ever,” he says. “Harry would be over the moon!”
The bad news, though, is that WhyHunger is needed more than ever, says Chapin.
“There are people at food banks now who worked their whole lives and are out of work,” he says. “When Harry started the organization with Bill, it seemed like hunger was more a world problem than an American problem. But there is enough food to feed the world–we just have to connect everything.”
The 2010 WhyHunger Chapin Award dinner’s honorary co-chairs are Senator Patrick Leahy and American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) president/chairman Paul Williams.
“It’s amazing how the organization has grown and made a difference over the years,” concludes Chapin. “Every year I walk away from the dinner saying I’m so glad to be a part of it.”
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