Deborah Koenigsberger, founder, Hearts of Gold

Some people ignore the homeless while others offer a dime. But former model and stylist Deborah Koenigsberger decided to form Hearts of Gold to help this underserved population. Since 1996, her nonprofit has been improving the lives of New York City’s homeless mothers and their children through intensive services such as housing assistance, life skills workshops, beauty makeovers and more. Celebrities such as Vanessa Williams, Tamara Tunie and former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, who all serve on the advisory board, have recognized Koenigsberger’s work.

Rolling out got to the heart of the matter with Koenigsberger as she talked about the importance of empathy, the holistic approach of her services and more.

Much of the success of your program depends on your team and their effectiveness in reaching the population you serve. So what do you look for when hiring a staff member?

Anyone who works or volunteers for Hearts of Gold has to care about the moms and kids that we serve. It’s all about empathy at the end of the day.  Deep down inside, my team cares about the moms and kids and their issues, and that makes them work harder.

One of the reasons most of these services fail is that they don’t treat holistically and get to the root of the individual’s problems. Please advise as to how your organization does this.

Hearts of Gold is able to do this because we really connect to each family. We don’t offer generic solutions. We target how to get these moms on their feet and on to a healthy, successful lifestyle that they can aspire to and achieve.  Since we are so grassroots, so hands-on, we can respond to their individual issues and help them directly.

How do you balance meeting the demands of stakeholders and ensuring that service has been properly delivered?

Everyone on our board is on the same page; we have the same mission. We come to decisions together, and no decisions are made in a vacuum. This is the key to a functional board and a functional organization.

Your line of work can be very stressful. How do you decompress or recharge?

I get all my stress out at the gym. I also love to travel, and I make it a rule to carve out family vacation time.