Delilah: A Voice for Important Causes
By Frank Niro
Not many people will be surprised when they learn that popular radio personality Delilah has been elected into the National Radio Hall of Fame as part of class of 2016. It will come as no surprise at all to her eight million regular listeners. About 50,000 of them, on average, attempt to call her each weekday evening. What will surprise a lot of folks is the passion and generosity that she has demonstrated in support of her favorite causes, particularly the organization that she founded informally in 1993, now known as Point Hope. Delilah supports other charitable organizations, as well, including the Susan Polgar Foundation, where she has served as a member of the Board of Directors for the past 10 years.
In 1993, Delilah hosted an evening show on station WMGK in Philadelphia. She was touched by the needs of mothers with small children who were suffering due to homelessness, illness, addiction, abuse and poverty. Initially she provided food, clothing and toys to a mother on the streets of Baltimore that she noticed sleeping on cardboard boxes.
Subsequently, Delilah personally handed out food and clothing to homeless individuals in neighborhoods surrounding Philadelphia. She started by making tuna fish sandwiches and recruited some of her close friends to help distribute the sandwiches and clothing that they collected. Among those who volunteered their time and financial resources were Donna Sperone and Fred Myers, who shared her vision of providing a healthy and loving environment for every child. Delilah conducted an art sale of her personal paintings, including images painted onto used bowling balls that she acquired from a local bowling alley that was about to close. The sale raised thousands of dollars, 100% of which went to support her charitable activities. She understood that many of the homeless individuals living on the streets were casualties of alcoholism, drug addiction or mental illness, as is still often the case. One of Delilah’s initial goals was to distribute information to people so they could make better choices for themselves and their children.
Delilah’s efforts did not have an official name in the earliest days. Labels and branding were irrelevant to her as she simply wanted to have a positive impact on people’s lives. Her unfailing compassion for others, regardless of background or life situation, and a remarkable sense of humor are infectious. According to her closest friends, Delilah has always possessed a positive outlook and engaging personality both on and off the air.
During the late summer of 1993, Delilah tried to break up the monotony of a long summer spell, consisting of sweltering heat and oppressive humidity, by staging her show from a place called Point Hope, Alaska. She identified a tiny six-square-mile spit of land on the Arctic Ocean at the furthest northwesterly place on the North American continent. The Eskimo name for this location is “Tikeraq” (sometimes spelled Tikarakh or Tikigaq), meaning forefinger or point.
In any case, the show was not actually broadcast from Alaska, but Delilah had her listening audience convinced that the radio station had sent her 4,500 miles away to escape the summer heat. “For many generations, Eskimos here in Point Hope have survived in the harshest conditions imaginable, living in ice houses in 50 degree below zero temperatures,” she said on the air. “They did so mostly by hunting walrus, fishing and trading.”
The program that evening was especially entertaining, but the thought of people living their lives in peace and happiness despite unimaginable obstacles gave Delilah great inspiration and admiration for all people seeking to overcome life’s challenges.
“If the people of Point Hope in Alaska can make the best of their situation, then why can’t the rest of us accomplish the same? Sometimes all someone needs is a little boost to get things back on track. The boost might be finances, a place to gain respite, basic necessities like water and shelter, or simply the encouragement that comes from knowing that somebody else cares.”
Point Hope was founded with these thoughts in mind. At the time, the right name for her new organization seemed pretty obvious. Thus, Point Hope was born, although it took some time for the formal legal structure to evolve.
A year later, Delilah relocated to Boston. Not only did she continue her efforts to provide encouragement to those in need, she expanded them with the help of new friends. She built an addition to her home in Massachusetts to help individuals who needed a boost by giving them a temporary place to stay. She provided a safe haven and other necessities like food and friendship. The result was often an escape route from abusive, addictive or enabling situations.
In late 1995, Delilah was dismissed from her radio position by a station that was changing its format to smooth jazz. Despite having a family to support and no job, she continued to give whatever resources she could pull together to those in need. Delilah syndicated her nightly radio program in 1996. It was produced from a small studio in Rochester, NY, and beamed by satellite to fewer than a dozen stations. Then there were a couple of more stations and, later, many, many more.
Delilah relocated to Seattle in 1997 and focused on raising her three children. She took in foster care children and later adopted some of the children. During the next few years she was struck by the inadequacies of the foster care system in the United States and, as a consequence, became a vocal advocate for change by bringing attention to the problems inherent in the processes associated with adoption and foster care in America. The Annual Point Hope “Teenista” allows foster girls between the ages of 13 to 18 to have a day filled with the fun of being pampered while also being mentored and encouraged. Through Point Hope, Delilah developed a “Points of Hope” across America program designed to work side-by-side with other foster care initiatives to identify local organizations and persons making an impact while working with foster kids in communities. She received multiple awards and recognitions from agencies around the country for her work in this area. Delilah was invited to speak on the subject of foster care at a reception given by New York governor George Pataki. Over time, the initial vision of Pont Hope evolved into a dedicated effort to become a voice for forgotten children.
Delilah gained an international perspective in 2003 when a single woman in West Africa wrote an Email from an internet cafe located in a building best described as a shack, at a place called Buduburam in the country of Ghana. Delilah read the appeal from the woman. She was asking for help caring for her two starving children living in a Liberian refugee camp.
Delilah said that she “felt God telling me I had to check out this story.” She learned the truth of what the woman told her. She discovered that these people were living in a United Nations sponsored camp of Liberians in Ghana, displaced since the first civil war of 1990. The camp was equipped for a population of 4,000, but when Delilah first visited the camp in May 2004, she found more than 60,000 people living there. Instead of two little children needing help, there were more than 10,000. She also discovered that there was no electricity and no fresh, running water. Instead, children were sent into sewage ditches to make a small pile of rocks and pebbles to filter the water, collect it and hand it up to the adults waiting in the line to collect it. Or, for those people who were able to afford the expense, water trucks would drive into camp delivering dirty water dredged from a nearby lake for a price. Water borne diseases were rampant and there were children dying daily. Others were orphaned. Many adults were traumatized and in poor health, even crippled. Food supplies were scarce and toilet facilities can most politely be described as unspecified. Education programs were essentially non-existent and there were no paid jobs available for anyone in the camp.
Point Hope was formally incorporated in early 2004 and approved as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization in May 2005. Donna Sperone and Fred Myers, the friends that helped her chase her vision more than ten years earlier, were the first to join the Board of Directors. In 2006, Point Hope partnered with the Seattle Seahawks and their star running back, Shaun Alexander, to provide backpacks filled with school supplies, chess sets and other learning materials for inner city children in the White Center district of West Seattle.
As her resources have grown, Delilah has expanded her personal financial commitment to Point Hope and its mission, thereby enabling a broader platform to reach areas of desperate need. Her commitment remains rooted in her passion to offer help, hope and healing to those in need by providing support, services and resources to families with young children.
Delilah has personally visited the refugee camp at least once each year since 2004. On each visit, she brought resources and volunteers to help lift those people, especially the children, out of poverty. In 2006, Point Hope purchased 22 acres of land near the camp for a school, an orphanage or children’s home and recreational areas for constructive youth activities. Later, a medical clinic was established in partnership with the World Health Organization, with a licensed physician on duty to provide medical intervention, health education, capacity building and preventative medicine.
Today, Point Hope continues to raise awareness and champion the cause for vulnerable children everywhere while endeavoring to circumvent political, racial, geographical, denominational and generational boundaries in the process of offering hope to people in the world who are suffering. In order to impose a level of sustainability to its efforts in Ghana, Point Hope recently purchased 40 acres of land about twenty miles west of the camp for erecting Point Hope Village, a vision of a village that will function, in part, as a learning center where people can acquire skills. Half the land will be set aside for training people how to grow rice, a crop of increasing importance for the Ghanaian diet.
Among the Board members of Point Hope is former Women’s World Chess Champion, Susan Polgar. “Susan is a pioneer in women’s chess, an ambassador to the game and a true role model to millions of young people worldwide,” Delilah said. In addition to being on the Board of Directors for Point Hope, she is the founder of the Susan Polgar Foundation, a nonprofit organization to promote chess, the sponsor and organizer of the prestigious annual Susan Polgar Foundation (SPF) Girls’ Invitational, the SPF National Open for Girls and Boys and the SPF World Open. During the past 12 years, the Susan Polgar Foundation has awarded more than $4.5 million in college scholarships through its partner colleges and universities.
“After spending some time with Delilah I can say that she is one of the most remarkable people I have ever met,” Susan said. “She is even nicer, more compassionate and more caring in person than how she comes across every night on the radio. She is also one of the most generous persons, helping so many children around the world. She is everyone’s friend.” Appreciative of Susan’s consistent mission to make a difference in the lives of young people, Delilah joined the Board of Directors of the Susan Polgar Foundation in 2006.
Delilah, syndicated by Premiere Networks, will be recognized for her contributions to the radio industry at a ceremony at the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago on November 17. She was elected by a panel of 400 industry professionals and will go into the National Radio Hall of Fame, a well deserved honor, along with other notables of the airwaves including Steve Harvey, Michael Savage, Bob Kingsley, Eric Ferguson, Kathy Hart, Jeff Detrow and Jerry Cesak.
There are two words that have become associated with Delilah the radio personality: love someone. For many of her listeners, that short phrase conveys only notions of romantic attachment. But it is more than a suggestion of romance. It is a command to engage with other people, to share something of oneself in a way that gives a boost to someone in need of a hand up. There are many thousands of children and families who have never heard her radio voice, but her real voice has reached them in a way that has genuinely changed their lives. Delilah’s passion for “forgotten” children is demonstrated through her ongoing commitment to improving the lives of children through Point Hope and other organizations. Her ability to be generous to others has expanded with her professional success, but the foundation of that generosity was born of a spirit that identified the need of another and responded with a gift as simple as a sandwich. Love someone. No hall of fame required.
Contact the author:
Mobile phone: 503-347-0750
More Back Story:
Safe return – Delilah’s 2006 trip to Afghanistan and Iraq
What Rain? – Mission, Vision & Values of Point Hope
USA Today article by Janet Kornblum
Love Matters – Delilah’s new book, 2008 (photo of Delilah with the author of this article)
Delilah on Nightline 2008 – With link to her “Stupid Human Trick”
A Message from Delilah – With links to other Internet articles
“Your stories need to get told” – Personal reflections (with photos from Delilah’s farm)
My Inner Donkey – Halloween on Delilah’s Farm (photo only)
Susan Polgar Foundation – announcement of Delilah’s board membership
Meeting the Incredible Delilah – Susan Polgar Daily News & Information
Delilah, a Very Special Woman – Susan Polgar Daily News & Information
Happy Times! – Susan Polgar Daily News & Information
A Truly Special Individual – Susan Polgar Daily News & Information
Delilah on Today Show Tomorrow! – Susan Polgar Daily News & Information
The Queen of Radio – Susan Polgar Daily News & Information