Jessica Seinfeld on transformative vision

Renata Black, EBY Co-Founder & CEO
Credit: Marsha Lebedev Bernstein

Jessica Seinfeld – Founder, GOOD+ Foundation

Where did this desire of yours come from to start GOOD+?

My mom is a social worker, so I grew up volunteering with her and my family in homeless shelters.

Then in college, I had both paid and unpaid internships. I worked for the state’s attorney’s office, for the chief medical examiner’s office—I was always involved with organizations that help people who are living in poverty or working really hard to just stay afloat.

Working to help others has always been the ethos in my family. Right after the birth of my first child, Sascha, I was struck by how expensive it is to buy equipment for a new baby and then how quickly they outgrow it. And here, in this great city, so many people have so much and so many have so little. Why would I not create a pipeline and link the two?

It happened very simply. I didn’t have a one-year plan, nor a five-year plan, I just had many friends who wanted to give away their gear and clothing, too. What motivated me was knowing there were even more people who needed these items living in my own city.

We started with a weekend drive at Chelsea Market in New York City. The idea clearly resonated with a lot of people and we grew very quickly. People started hearing about us and organizations across the country started asking to be a part of what we were doing. I really wanted to grow strategically, not necessarily quickly. I first and foremost wanted to do a great job here at home in New York City, with the women we were helping. (I talk about women a lot because single mom-led families consist of the 63% of families in the U.S.)

Where are the families you’re helping located and how do you select them?

Primarily, it’s women and families living in poverty across the country. Some of our families have two working parents who have two and three jobs but can just barely keep their heads above water.

We have carefully selected about one hundred partner sites across the country who are doing amazing, transformational work for families. We work hand in hand with them, per family—making sure we take care of the needs of each family.

One of our favorite partners is the Nurse-Family Partnership, a program that provides in home nursing care for low-income mothers and their families. These heroic nurses teach pregnant women how to get ready for a baby, how to take care of themselves, and how to be a parent who creates a healthy and safe home for their baby. Before working with us, they had no tools to teach with. For example, with our resources, nurses bring along diapers to their in-home visit and teach a soon-to-be mom how to diaper a baby or how to give a newborn baby a bath. Our tools allow our nurses to be teachers instead of telling people what to do.
Early on, our idea was to give much needed basic necessities to women in need. It was the immediate reaction I had to having just given birth to my own child and wanting to make the financial stress easier on others.
But, soon into this venture, I started to really question the model. I wanted to shape the organization into something that helped families make effective changes in their own lives. What I realized is that you can help a baby, but if the parent(s) is struggling, there is only so much that will change in that baby’s life. That’s where my approach changed to being focused on the entire family.

Is that part of the reason for changing the name from Baby Buggy to GOOD+?

I was so attached to the Baby Buggy name because, first of all my husband thought of the name. It was personal, and I am nostalgic about that time in my life when I had a brand new baby and I was able to turn the good fortune of having my own healthy baby into something that would grow to help so many other families.

But, truthfully we outgrew the name very early on. David Saltzman, my friend and the Executive Director of the Robin Hood Foundation, who had been my mentor in starting this organization, told me early on we were going to outgrow the name Baby Buggy. Since I had no big plans or idea of how big we would become, I kept the name that felt personal to us. I didn’t know exactly what I was doing when I started but I knew I had to do it. I had unrelenting faith in the concept and I was buoyed by explosive support and growth since our first days. I almost liken our evolution to the growth of any baby. We are born as simple creatures, but we grow to be sophisticated thinkers and doers.

Over a short time my organization grew to be a sophisticated, strategic, established operation. We learned through our experiences and by staying laser focused on our mission and doing the hard work. The name GOOD+ comes from the essence of what we do. Our Goods plus the services and education of our partners moves families out of poverty. Our partners all say they retain clients at a rate of almost 100% because of the tools we provide them. Clients keep coming back to programs because they receive the items they need for their families- like strollers, cribs, and diapers.

Parents feel good about working hard to accomplish their goals – like getting their GED’s, or learning parenting skills they never saw modeled by their own parents, and our social workers see real change in behaviors and drive in their clients. The formula works. We see people turning their lives around every day.

Given your vision of success, when will you be able to sit down and say, “I did it!” When is that moment?

That’s so funny, yesterday was the moment for me.

One of our moms has been working towards getting her daycare license. But to do that, she had to work three jobs. She had an overnight job. In the morning, she would leave her night job and head straight to her day job, briefly sleeping on the floor until her morning had to start. She literally worked around the clock to accomplish her goal. She is a role model in how to change your life and propel yourself forward.

To celebrate getting her daycare license, we showered her with goods for her two babies. She looked at me and said, “I don’t understand why you do this? Do you know how you’ve changed my life?” She was utterly baffled by all the gear, equipment and clothing she received from us. She could not comprehend that we, as an organization, are paying attention to hard working people who have it really tough in this country. Just knowing that we’ve made this extraordinary woman’s life better, is why I do this every day. What more could I ever, ever ask for?

Another breakthrough moment was when I proposed a name change to my team. They were worried and skeptical about a sudden change to our identity, especially as a non-profit organization. How would we tell this story to the public and not lose momentum or support? I explained that we are not changing the work, nor people’s perception, we instead have the opportunity to tell our whole story. It is the story of our growth and the hard won understanding of what low income families really need to improve their lives and their standing in the US.

Our story has changed from when I started this fifteen years ago and we owed it to ourselves to acknowledge the deeper more impactful way we work every day.

I don’t know if the general public understands exactly what we’re doing day to day, but changing our name at least signals that we are bigger and more effective than we seemed with our old name.

What was your breakdown to breakthrough moment?

As a normal person, it was a huge adjustment once I got married and became more of a public person, or married to a public person. That was a rough transition for me. It’s taken me a long time to be comfortable with who I am, in whatever way the public sees me.

It’s okay, because I will always have people who don’t believe what I’m doing is real or have a perception that, because of who I’m married to, that I don’t work hard. That’s their projection of their own story on me. But it took time to understand that dynamic. I would consider the time I spent reading nasty things said about me and actually feeling sad about it a breakdown.

And then, a breakthrough would be growing up—even as an adult—and developing a thicker skin and not worrying what people think or say. What matters to me is having great purpose in life. I can’t think of any other way to leave this planet one day than having people say, “She was a good person who tried to always do the right thing for her family, friends and the world at large.”

So is that what you want your legacy to be?

There are more than a few people in my life who would say when at their lowest moment, I never left their side until they were okay again. I would like to be remembered as an authentic, loyal and hard-working person who stayed true to her family values.

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