Bill Clinton Honors Jon Bon Jovi at 10th Anniversary of JBJ Soul Foundation

Andy Kropa/Invision/AP
Jon Bon Jovi attends the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation (JBJSF) benefit gala, celebrating ten years of combating hunger and homelessness, at The Garage on Oct. 6, 2016 in New York City.

Ten years ago, the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation launched with a mission of finding solutions to solving the very serious issues of poverty and homelessness.

On Thursday night, the foundation celebrated its 10th anniversary at The Garage in New York City with an A-list crowd of political figures, including former President Bill Clinton, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, as well as Katie Couric, Michael Strahan, Savannah Guthrie, John McEnroe and emcee Willie Geist.

The evening also honored Cuomo and Maria Cuomo Cole with the JBJSF Inspiration Award for their "vision and execution of creative and innovative solutions for the homeless population.

The seeds of the foundation’s mission came to Bon Jovi on a cold night, as he peered out his hotel window and didn’t like what he saw outside City Hall. “This elderly man laid down underneath a little blanket trying to keep warm and I thought to myself, 'This is not what our forefathers thought when they looked at the Declaration of Independence,'” Bon Jovi said. “This is not where our country was meant to be.”

Since then, the JBJSF has helped fund the development of over 500 units of affordable housing in 10 states and provided more than 55,000 meals at two Soul Kitchen restaurants in Red Bank and Toms River, New Jersey. The JBJ Soul Kitchen is a community restaurant that serves an in-need and paying customer. In-need customers volunteer their time and the paying customer effects change by paying more than the suggested donation.

Speaking to the audience, Clinton described Bon Jovi and his wife, Dorothea, as “good Samaritans.”

“I came here to add my voice of thanks to Jon and Dorothea, who house the homeless and feed the hungry. And remind us all that underneath our differences, we’re not so different after all,” Clinton said. “I trust people who’ve got the friends they’ve grown up with, who never walk away from their roots, and know that the people you feed at the Soul Kitchen are just as good as the people you met at the White House.”

Speaking to Billboard on the red carpet, Bon Jovi said he may expand the Soul Kitchen in other states.

“There are two paths. We can continue as we are and make 10 restaurants like it, or we might decide that we are going to brand and go really big,” he says. “Dorothea and I always said we wanted the book to be written, and now we believe the book has been written. We know how to do it. We know how to run the restaurant. We know what it takes, and therefore we could replicate this coast to coast.”

Booker said if anyone can make that happen, Bon Jovi can. “When I was mayor, Jon helped build a lot of homes in Newark,” Booker said. “I was proud someone from New Jersey, in quiet ways, helped thousands and thousands of New Jerseyans.

“I think he is going to create a model,” he continued. “Here is a guy who is leveraging his resources and stardom to shine a light on other people. That is what makes him extraordinary. His light reflects back on others. He is a patron saint of New Jersey.”

New Jersey native Geist, who served as MC of the evening, said his first introduction to Bon Jovi was as a fan listening to Slippery When Wet as a middle school student, and to be part of the event was “mind-blowing.”

“For me to see him use all the fame that he has achieved and all of the recognition for this and to elevate all of these problems to the top of mind from homelessness to hunger and to help our state of New Jersey makes me proud,” he told Billboard.

Bon Jovi keyboardist Dave Bryan told Billboard that charitable giving is “a mantra of our band.” “We have done it as a band and then we do our own individual charities,” says Bryan, who works with schools supporting Save the Music and MusiCares. “We have built houses and raised millions of dollars on that end, and Jon was really passionate about this. We support each other and we are very lucky to be able to do so.”

Bon Jovi recently drove that message of community home onstage at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank at an Oct. 1 show, where the singer talked about the community spirit of helping out those less fortunate with a nod to the Soul Kitchen volunteers.

The band -- which is in the midst of a short tour presenting the forthcoming album This House Is Not for Sale, due Nov. 4, in a live setting. The Tidal x Bon Jovi series is set to make stops at the London Palladium on Oct. 10, Toronto's Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Oct. 17, and -- for the first time on Broadway -- at New York City's Barrymore Theatre on Oct. 20, for a Tidal live stream.

Bon Jovi says he “enjoyed breaking the show down” for fans and having an honest presentation of the album’s message and explaining the lyrics to the audience.

“It was so important to get the lyrics across to people -- that is why I created that little Playbill [program] that was on on everyone’s seat, because I wanted everyone to read the lyrics and know what they mean,” he says. “And then to talk about it was from my heart. It wasn’t scripted, and I didn’t think about when or where I had breaks in the show. I just did it. My intent is to talk about it.”

The evening concluded with Bon Jovi doing what comes naturally: performing an acoustic set of songs, including "Living on a Prayer," "Who Says You Can't Go Home," a jazzy version of "You Give Love a Bad Name" and a cover of the Beatles classic "Here Comes the Sun." Bon Jovi was joined by guitarist Phil X and violinist Lorenza Ponce.