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Wendy Atlas Oxenhorn has been in the helping, non-profit field for over twenty years. In 1990, Oxenhorn co-founded STREETNEWS, the newspaper sold by homeless men and women in the subways and streets of NYC. In its first year, it had a circulation of 250,000 and generated over half a million dollars for the homeless, creating work for over 2,000 of New York's homeless population as well as starting 150 like-papers sold by the homeless in cities around the world.
In 1999, after a tragic event in her life, Wendy picked up the harmonica and began to play blues with an elderly man from Mississippi who played in the subway stations. She left her day gig to play the blues, practicing alone in abandoned stations late at night, then playing with the man from Mississippi, taking a solo then passing the tip bucket. This was her first experience helping an elderly musician. Someone told Wendy that the Jazz Foundation was in need of a Director. She went for an interview and says she was the only one who showed up for the job. "It wasn't my charitable resume with all my years experience that clinched it. When they heard I played blues harp in the train stations, they hired me on the spot."
At the time of her hire, the Jazz Foundation had been assisting 35 cases a year in NYC and had $7000 in the bank. It has since become a national organization and now handles 6000 cases a year, which included the re-housing of nearly 1000 New Orleans musicians and their families who suffered from Katrina and created gigs for them these past seven years. Over 20 million dollars have been raised since she became Director. Several thousand musicians have been saved from hunger and homelessness and over 300 musicians have been cared for till their passing and even given dignified burials, memorials and celebrations of life; including Odetta, Abbey Lincoln, Hank Jones, Elvin Jones, Johnny Mae Dunson, Freddie Hubbard, Jimmy Norman and so many more, some of whom were able to keep the roof over their heads till the end because of the Jazz Foundation paying their rents and mortgages during their crisis.
Watch an interview with Ms. Oxenhorn on Bloomberg here.
Hear and see what JFA's Chairwoman has to say.