Inside the
Winter Issue:

Home Page

Happy Birthday Harry
and Season's Greetings
From The Circle Team

Harry Chapin
Foundation Maintains
"Just Do Something"

Remembering Harry:
A Collection of Rare Photos

Fan Fare

Nancy McCoy

Linda Mitchell

Hitting All
The Right Notes:
An Interview With
Big John Wallace

Run-DMC Star
Strikes a New Chord
With “Cat's in the Cradle”

Behind the Song:
Cat's in the Cradle

Finally... A
West Coast
Jen Chapin Tour!

Consider These Ideas For
Giving Gifts With Meaning
This Holiday Season

DC's Community Harvest
Strives To Provide
"Good Food For All"

Singer- Songwriter
Lea Creates Positive
Energy In Music
and Action

Click to read
the Fall 2003 Issue

Photo by Steve Stout

Harry Chapin Foundation Maintains
"Just Do Something" Philosophy

by Bill Hornung

Harry Chapin's dedication to social causes is legendary--a commitment that is still alive today in the mission of the Chapin Foundation. But what was he thinking? Why did he concentrate on so many issues?

"Harry was the pure expression of tackling any problem and doing whatever he could to solve it. He was totally selfless,' said Tony Curto, one of the founding Chapin Foundation board members.

There was a rhyme to Harry's reason. "He saw how all these issues were intertwined…just feeding people isn't enough. People have to be educated; they have to be self-aware; and they have to have programs to help them move forward," said Jason Dermer, a Foundation board member and longtime volunteer for various Chapin projects.

After more than 20 years, the Foundation maintains Harry's belief that a small financial boost--from $500 to $10,000--can have more impact dollar-for-dollar if provided to smaller innovative grassroots organizations. "Although the sums of money we have given are modest, the benefits to the organizations that received them have been significant," Curto says.

"In the beginning of his career, Harry was inclined to give away his concert money to just about anybody who asked," Sandy Chapin said when recalling the times her husband was asked by skeptics how he could make sense of being involved in so many causes. "He'd say it all is related…that the arts, as an example, humanizes a person to understand his relationship to other people.

The Foundation had a bumpy start after Harry passed away, but the donated proceeds from a Kenny Rogers concert financially stabilized the organization. The Foundation has continued to methodically grow through contributions from Chapin family members, investments, royalties from the song "Circle," fan donations and sales of Chapin-related merchandise. "Our operating expenses are very low, so most of what we make can go into our endowment," said Executive Director Leslie Ramme.

The board agrees that it's time to investigate new ways to expand the endowment so more small financial seeds can be planted that might grow into major social changes. Sandy wants to sponsor more programs like World Hunger Year's Harry Chapin Self-Reliance Awards. Award winners are not only honored but also receive small grants to further their work.

While self-reliance is at the heart of many programs today, the concept was in its infancy when the Foundation first began funding the award. "I feel the award has contributed to the national dialogue about and definition for ‘self-reliance'," said Sandy. "As a result, I think the award is one of the most important things we've done."

The award spawned World Hunger Year's (WHY) Reinvesting In America program, a book by the same name, local workshops and a USDA-sponsored database of self-reliant programs. "None of these would have happened without the Foundation's initial commitment…even though the money behind it is only $15,000 or $20,000 a year," Sandy continued.

So, just as WHY pioneered work to understand the root causes of hunger and poverty through self-reliance, the Harry Chapin Foundation sees arts, environment, health, education and other issues as inextricably weaved together into the creation of a healthy society.

Sandy said efforts like Emily's List, the Children's Defense Fund and Habitat for Humanity International have become important examples of how grassroots efforts can still be effectively maintained even during these times when many political and social campaigns have become multi-million dollar ventures.

Dermer adds he would like to see a greater focus on other Foundation priorities, such as environmental issues. "If we have everything in the world in terms of food, education and healthcare, but the world is an environmental disaster, then things are not going to work too well."

Dermer recently completed a compilation of interviews between Chapin and WHY Executive Director Bill Ayres' on Ayres' radio show On This Rock. The interviews reveal Chapin and Ayres talking about many social issues that remain relevant nearly 30 years later. Said Dermer, "The flip side is you wish the issues weren't relevant because it would mean we had made a lot more progress."

But maybe in an odd way today's turbulent times are a good sign of things to come. "Believe it or not, things are closer to getting back to reality," says Curto. "People are talking about the real issues today. There's still a lot of danger and risk on every level…yet I believe that's the path to getting back to wholesome."

Whatever the outcome over the next few years, Curto added, the Foundation's longevity still will stay true to doing what's right. "We measure courage by holding onto out principles during the hard times, not just the good times. We've got to hold onto the values that were best expressed in Harry's life through his devotion to others in need."

Want to help the Foundation? You can make a donation by calling (631) 423-7558 or emailing The foundation also sells Chapin memorabilia to raise funds.

Watch for the Next Issue of Circle! on March 7