Excerpt: 'Awearness'

Designer Kenneth Cole has edited a book on global issues, including poverty, genocide and climate change. "Awearness: Inspiring Stories About How to Make a Difference" is a collection of 86 stories and conversations by 90 individuals who were inspired to do their part to bring about social change.

Read an excerpt of the book below and click here to check out more books in the "GMA" library.

Chris Gardner

On Giving + Getting Second Chances

Chris Gardner
Chris Gardner's struggle to overcome homelessness was the subject of the

Kenneth Cole

2006 film The Pursuit of Happyness, based on his memoir by the same name. Now the owner and CEO of Christopher Gardner International Holdings and a highly successful stockbroker and entrepreneur, he is also a committed philanthropist and speaker, working with a number of organizations to help the homeless, including Glide Memorial Church and CARA, among others. glide.org; thecaraprogram.org.

I am living proof that a few small decisions, mixed with some bad luck and bad timing, can mean the difference between having a home to sleep in at night and being homeless. In the early 1980s I was a single parent caring for my son, Chris, Jr., in San Francisco. I was employed, working hard, and doing all I could to care for my child, but like so many people I slipped through the cracks. We lost our rental apartment and my son and I had no choice but to sleep in the park or sometimes a locked public bathroom. Then I learned about Glide Memorial Church and Reverend Cecil Williams, who runs its shelter, kitchen, health-care services, job training center, and other resources for the poor and disenfranchised. He saved our lives. I know for sure there wouldn't be a Chris Gardner today if there wasn't a Reverend Williams back then. Glide is truly an oasis in a desert of hopelessness, a place where old, destructive ways are thrown out and new ones created. They serve over a million meals a year and provide the services that get people back on their feet.

I live in Chicago now, where I work with the CARA program, which assists the homeless and at-risk populations with comprehensive job training and placement. I believe in CARA's philosophy of second chances and helping people who are trying to help themselves by giving them the necessary tools and skills. In fact, one of my most trusted employees is a graduate of CARA.

I never could have imagined that telling my story in the book and movie The Pursuit of Happyness would help others. I am humbled that people all over the world write to tell me that I've given them hope. And I'm proud to have put a face on homelessness—and it's not the face of a drug addict or a convict. It's the face of a workingman who lost everything except the will to survive, succeed, and make a better life for his children. It is estimated that twelve percent of the homeless population in the United States is employed; in some communities that estimate is as high as 30 percent. There is often a fine line between getting by and not having anything.

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