When Harriet Karr boarded a plane from Los Angeles to New York City more than 25 years ago, she was overcome by a profound feeling of loss. The successful Hollywood actress and screenwriter had just learned of the suicide of April Savino, a 19-year old homeless girl she had shadowed in Grand Central Terminal and on the streets of New York City for a new screenplay. Harriet had first traveled to New York to capture the dreams of this girl who struggled with addiction and street life. Now she was returning to New York to say her goodbyes.
While Harriet was on board the plane, George McDonald was sitting in his tiny Single Room Occupancy unit working on April’s eulogy, with each word becoming more and more re-energized for what became his daily fight. Speaking on behalf of homeless people was an honor he had come to know with increasing frequency in the late 1980s. And the people George served sandwiches to in Grand Central Terminal were preparing to rise up with him. They appreciated the food, but what they really needed was a room and a job to pay for it.
They had dreams beyond the Terminal. George not only listened, he believed. George first stepped up to the challenge when he experienced another tragic loss: the death of a woman known only as “Mama” by those living in Grand Central. She died of pneumonia on Christmas morning after being evicted by transit police into freezing temperatures the night before. George realized that no provision he could make—be it clothing or food—would create real change.
It was in Mama’s memory that George founded The Doe Fund. But it was April’s story that brought George and Harriet together for a lifetime of service. Harriet was moved by the passion of George’s eulogy for April, and six months later, they married and began to work together to help homeless people rebuild lives. They also resolved to make New York City understand that homelessness could be overcome. She now poured her passion into proposals and letters instead of screenplays. She developed services and programs instead of plot lines. And together, George and Harriet created their most compelling work: Ready, Willing & Able.
Designed to provide economic opportunity to homeless men, Ready, Willing & Able quickly proved equally effective in transitioning formerly incarcerated men into mainstream society. Today, 30 years after its founding, Ready, Willing & Able has helped more than 23,000 men transform their lives.