Jon Bon Jovi's charitable works to be honored at Heart of Camden gala

Some Camden residents will have more to live on than prayers thanks to the man whose "Livin' on a Prayer" was a No. 1 Billboard single.

More than $200,000 is expected to be raised for new housing projects in Camden's Waterfront South at Friday's Heart of Camden Gala at the Crowne Plaza in Cherry Hill, where Jon Bon Jovi will be honored.

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Jon Bon Jovi is expectedto attend Friday's gala.

The event, which quickly sold out of its 665 tickets, at $175 apiece, will recognize the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation with the Small Things With Great Love Award for its charity work in Camden.

The musician himself is expected to be there to receive the award, but will not be performing, said Mimi Box, executive director of the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation.

Bon Jovi agreed to be at the gala "to be able to use the celebrity he can bring to the table . . . to advocate for people who may not have a voice," Box said.

This is the second year Heart of Camden, a nonprofit dedicated to the redevelopment of Camden's Waterfront South neighborhood, will host the award gala. Last year, the award went to Msgr. Michael Doyle, longtime pastor at Sacred Heart Church, which started Heart of Camden in 1984.

About $150,000 was raised during the first gala in April 2010 for a community center and gymnasium on Broadway in Waterfront South.

The award gets its name from Mother Teresa's famous words: "We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love."

Giving the award to Bon Jovi is to some extent a PR move because of the contributions he is sure to attract for Heart of Camden, executive director Helene Pierson acknowledged. But the award mostly recognizes "the amazing work" the entertainer and his foundation have done in one of the nation's poorest cities, Pierson said.

"We could've sold over 1,000 tickets if we had not sold out," she said about Bon Jovi's appeal. But she said 665 was already large enough that they could not hold the event in Camden. Any more would have been hard to coordinate.

"We're not that well-oiled of a machine," Pierson said with a laugh.

Heart of Camden has had a great impact in what has been one of the most deteriorated areas of Camden. The nonprofit has done streetscape projects, installed a rain garden, and rehabilitated more than 200 homes to give low-income residents homeownership opportunities.

Most of the money raised Friday will be used for new housing projects, but $10,000 will go directly toward a mortgage down-payment for a young family that lost its home in one of the large warehouse fires this summer.

Since 2009, the Soul Foundation has provided financing for housing projects developed by Heart of Camden and St. Joseph's Carpenter's Society in East Camden, as well as the youth housing and mentoring program CRIB run by Hopeworks, a nonprofit in North Camden that works with at-risk youth.

Box declined to disclose how much money the foundation has invested in Camden.

"We don't do the projects ourselves," Box said. "We're honored because it's really they who do the work."


Contact Claudia Vargas at 856-779-3917, cvargas@phillynews.com, or @InqCVargas on Twitter.