By Cynthia Price, Director of Communications
You just never know when you touch people’s lives, says Joel John Roberts, CEO of People Assisting The Homeless (PATH). That’s especially true for Roberts whose life was touched at an early age by a family that adopted him from Fanling Babies Home, a Hong Kong orphanage run by ChildFund International (then Christian Children’s Fund).
In a soft, conversational tone, Roberts talks about his upbringing and how he always felt special and always knew he would pass it on. He doesn’t hesitate to share his story, describing it as both normal and special.
His adoptive grandparents, who were from the United States, were missionaries who started a ministry in China. His parents wanted to extend the ministry and decided to adopt a child, Joel.
“I was always told they searched all over China for me, so I always felt really special,” he says “I could either look at it as I was rejected or that I was this special person that this family searched all over the world for. And they picked me.”
Roberts didn’t choose to be adopted from an orphanage and have his life transformed. He says, “Even as a kid I knew I was going to pass it on.” Today he’s the CEO of PATH, a national nonprofit organization that helps communities across the U.S. integrate homeless support services with permanent, affordable housing.
Roberts says that in L.A., homelessness is “such a significant issue.” With more than 50,000 people homeless in Los Angeles County, L.A. is considered the homeless capital of the world.
Roberts, a realist, knew that something different had to be done. Helping the homeless couldn’t just be about providing food and shelter. The biggest issue was lack of affordable housing and today PATH has $350 million in capital funding for affordable housing. “We wouldn’t have done that if we hadn’t have looked at the problem differently,” Roberts says.
He described it as similar to what Child-Fund does. “It’s not just about helping children,” he says. “It’s finding out why there is a problem and what can be done. Is it a lack of clean water that keeps children from going to school? That makes them sick? Is it war? What can be done to change the system?”
“We just have to help and plant seeds. You never know what can happen when you invest in these children,” Roberts says of those who support ChildFund. “You just never know when you touch people’s lives.”
Roberts recently attended a conference of social entrepreneurs. People were speaking about changing the paradigm. When it was Roberts’ turn to speak he said, “I’m one of those kids that was helped. There is hope when you invest in people.”
And that’s what ChildFund continues to do.