For the past four years, Washington Redskins Coach Jay Gruden and his wife, Sherry, have been under-the-radar Leesburg-area residents. The couple enthusiastically jumps into the local spotlight this month for a very good cause: raising awareness of the often-hidden issue of homeless youth in Loudoun. And what better way to make a splash—and raise some cash—than celebrity karaoke?
The Grudens are the hosts for Mobile Hope’s inaugural Harmonizing for Hope event, Aug. 25 at Sterling’s Bungalow Lakehouse. The nonprofit’s leadership plans to make the karaoke contest a signature annual event.
Mobile Hope, which serves homeless or precariously housed young people in Loudoun, has evolved to focus on the often-overlooked 18-24 age group. Like many Loudouners, Jay Gruden said he wasn’t aware of the problem until Sherry brought it to his attention.
“I never realized how many kids—not just young kids but 18 to 24—who have problems and such need in Loudoun County,” Gruden said.
That population holds a special place for the Grudens, who are the parents of three sons in their 20s.
“We thought it was a great opportunity to help some of the youth around here and get them jump started—help them out with clothes, medical supplies, school supplies. I don’t think a lot of people are aware that there are so many kids in need. I sure as heck wasn’t,” Gruden said. “We’re trying to bring awareness to the kids who are local and need some help.”
For Donna Fortier, founder and CEO of Mobile Hope, the fundraiser is a chance to shine a light on a sometimes problem and to connect young clients with positive role models.
“We are so happy about it,” Fortier said. “One of the things we often tell our struggling kids is that not only does this situation that they’re in not define who they are and what their future is going to be, but letting them meet with folks who can be good male role models and mentors and letting them see successful men who have overcome obstacles. It’s a nice thing that they can see that a very large organization cares enough about them to get involved.”
Mobile Hope was launched as part of Inova Loudoun Hospital’s mobile health program. As head of that program, Fortier noticed that the needs of at-risk young people went way beyond healthcare and that more services were needed—both for crisis support and help in moving toward long-term self-sufficiency. Mobile Hope became an independent nonprofit in 2014 with a focus on meeting the needs of the vulnerable older teen and young adult population, whose members find themselves having to leave their homes or aging out of foster care.
“We are finding that those kids 18 to 24 are truly overlooked and unacknowledged. We work to improve what’s called the social determinants: what people are born into, how they’re raised, education, their housing component, all of that,” Fortier said. “One of the things I think has been coming out is the lack of affordable housing. What we’ve been trying to say is there’s workforce housing—and, yes, we need that—but then there’s pre-workforce housing and that’s where our kids come in. … These kids don’t have the references, they don’t have the savings accounts, they don’t have referrals. They’ve never been on their own in a successful way.”
On Mobile Hope’s priority list is establishing a combination emergency housing/life skills facility in Loudoun where young people can live and learn life skills as they transition into more permanent housing.
For the Grudens, who have been involved with the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation, the event offers a chance to make a difference in their own back yard.
“We’re just branching out a little bit,” Gruden said.
Celebrity karaoke is big, thanks in part to television host James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke on “The Late Late Show.” Mobile Hope was looking for a signature annual fundraiser along the lines of the Loudoun YMCA’s much-anticipated annual Chocolates Galore and More event, Fortier said, and karaoke seemed like a perfect, fun fit.
Sherry Gruden has been a driving force in organizing the event, Fortier said, and the Grudens are bringing plenty of star power to the table. Redskins tackle Morgan Moses and linebacker Will Compton are on the program, and Gruden is on the hunt for undiscovered talent as the team’s training camp kicks into high gear this month.
“I’m going to find out who can sing when we’re at training camp and get them out there,” Gruden said.
The event will feature some other surprise singers, Fortier said, and one of the highlights is a special performance from a group of young Mobile Hope clients who are working on an original song.
“I’m going to try to stay as far away from the microphone as possible,” Coach Gruden said with a chuckle. But, he will be a celebrity judge for the event, along with one of Loudoun’s best-known faces, Chris Cooley, the former Redskins tight end-turned-Leesburg-based ceramicist and gallery owner. The panel of judges also includes Tony Howard, president and CEO of the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce, and Kristina Bouweiri, CEO of Reston Limousine.
Sherry Gruden is also planning to step up to the mic. The coach’s wife has been known to take the stage for a cause, competing in a celebrity dance event for a charity in Ohio while her husband was offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals.
“We are so appreciative of the humbling support that we get,” Fortier said. “I think it speaks volumes to our community helping us to raise awareness on an issue that is hard to accept.”
Mobile Hope’s inaugural Harmonizing for Hope karaoke event takes place Friday, Aug. 25 from 5 to 8 p.m. at Bungalow Lakehouse in Sterling. Tickets are $50. Find details at mobilehopeloudoun.org.