Ne-Yoâs Compound Foundation Spreads Holiday Cheer

Fresh in designer denim and crisp footwear with his signature diamond dog tag chains gleaming, three-time Grammy Award winer Ne-Yo places his hands in his pockets and sighs. The singer/songwriter admits, “I think I’m kinda past Christmas gifts. From a standpoint of material things, its nothing that a person can give me that I don’t already got, ya know?”

Instead of holing up at one of his many plush hideaways-with How the Grinch Stole Christmas on repeat, the new Motown VP now banks on gratitude. Six years ago, the man born Shaffer Chimere Smith committed himself to a lifetime of giving. Using his own label name as an imprint, The Compound Foundation was born. With the assistance of his mom, Loraine Smith and business partner, Reynell “Tango” Hay, Ne-Yo describes its purpose as dealing “…very heavily in child welfare--kids in group homes, kids in foster homes. We try to inspire these kids to be more than just a foster home kid. I won’t say that the system doesn’t work, but there are definitely improvements that need to happen.”

Compounds holiday season is filled with an annual giving tour in partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Their mission--visiting four cities in four days, is to gift as many foster children as possible. A wonderland for teens and tots, the gymnasium at the Downtown L.A. Boys and Girls Club is packed with everything from the latest game systems to action figures and beauty products. Between signing autographs and doling out free hugs, Ne-Yo adds “…we did Las Vegas yesterday, today is L.A., tomorrow is Newark and we end in Atlanta. Roughly 500 kids per city. We give out toys and shoes and I think there’s some bikes over there too! We just try to spread holiday cheer for some kids who might not otherwise get it.”

Stabilizing The Compound Foundation before he and partner Monyetta Shaw became parents to 2 year-old Madilyn and 14-month old Mason, Ne-Yo says that childhood welfare has long been on his radar. “I’ve always felt that making sure that kids are appreciated and that they understand their self worth, is super important for the world period. But now that I have my own children it just amplifies how good it feels to do something positive for these kids.”

His charitable responsibilities require more than flashing his multi-million dollar smile at toy drives or highbrow galas. Compound has expanded its resources to mentor young adults-18 and up-who are on the verge of aging out of foster care. Assembling a team of dedicated professionals, sponsors and volunteers they facilitate GED preparation, counseling, music therapy, and offer college scholarships. Loraine Smith, who prides herself on “not being one of those celebrity moms who’s afraid of giving out my cell phone number to these kids,” says that she enjoys organizing Compound’s C.E.O. Academy at Clark Atlanta University. Each July business professors and entrepreneurs, like Lisa Price of Carol’s Daughter, hold youth business seminars. “They talk about collateral properties, give instruction on how to interview and how to tie ties. The kids also come up with an elevator pitch. At the end of it we give away a $10,000 dollar scholarship, which is sponsored by 100 Black Men. It’s an 8-week program. Its not like we just give them the money and send them on their way.”

Reluctant to pin a dollar amount to the outreach and gifting that they do, Smith explains that the children crave their advice more than anything else. With African-American and Hispanic children comprising over 60% of all foster care cases in the U.S., Ne-Yo believes that it’s crucial for the public to know that black celebrities give back. “I hate to take things from the standpoint of color, but sometimes you have to. A lot of people who do the right thing don’t do it for the spotlight, so a lot of the times the world doesn’t get to see it. I feel like that’s something that needs to change.” Pausing for reflection, Ne-Yo looks down, shakes his head and says, “…the world is just going through something right now. I don’t know what the hell is going on, but it’s a lot of  negative things happening all in a row. We need a celebration of positivity just to break up the monotony--some happiness to bring to this crazy world we’re living in right now. We’re just trying to do our part.”

For more information on The Compound Foundation, visit www.compoundfoundation.org

Chie Davis is a multimedia journalist that’s contributed to media outlets including CBS, The Huffington Post and KCET’s Artbound. Follow her on twitter @chieone