Online. On-air. In Spanish. In English. Uptown. Downstage. Jon Secada is always on a mission. For the Mission.
At this moment, he’s on the phone. And he’s still working for the Mission — the Mission of St. Francis community center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
OK, so Secada's riding in the back seat of an air-conditioned car, a chauffeur whisking him between appointments. It's late August in South Florida and Secada may not even break a sweat, literally. It may sound cushy, but Secada is working.
“The Mission — it is a small operation but they do a big job,” says the 48-year-old entertainer, entrepreneur and philanthropist who has devoted much attention to the Mission for five years.
The winner of multiple Grammy awards also admires the Mission because “it’s home-grown. But aggressive. I like that.”
No wonder. It’s a lot like Jon Secada. Self-made, independent and disciplined, Secada is one of those generous donors who holds the nonprofits he supports to the same high expectations to which he holds himself. The man and the Mission will connect in a very special way on Sept. 11.
A family of volunteers
That's when his wife, Mari, their two children — Mikaela, 11, and Jon Henri, 8 — and Secada will help the Mission staff distribute food packages at the facility in the Las Olas neighborhood. Besides meals, the lean and mean community machine provides addiction and recovery assistance, homeless outreach and family counseling.
It is a 24/7 center with a 360-degree compassion compass. Still, volunteering on the 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance makes a difference. “All our lives changed that day,” Secada says.
Like many creative individuals, the songwriter turned to his art to express his feelings immediately following the 2001 tragedy. He may be best known for sizzling love songs, such as his platinum hit “Just Another Day.” But mere weeks after 9/11, he wrote “The Last Goodbye,” an anthem of reconciliation and reaffirmation. Translated into “El Ultimo Adiós,” a music video was recorded “We Are the World”-style by a pantheon of Spanish-speaking stars ranging from Ricky Martin to Jennifer Lopez to José Feliciano.
Next: On call — Devoting time on Sept. 11. >>
Devoting time on Sept. 11 may be special, but Secada would be willing to do something for the Mission on any day of the week.
For instance, on Sept. 12, Secada begins competing on Mira Quién Baila! — Univision's Spanish-language version of So You Think You Can Dance. If he wins competition after competition for a dozen weeks, the Mission will receive the $100,000 grand prize.
Or take a look at Secada's nonstop online presence. In an infinite loop, the suave crooner makes a bilingual pitch for tickets for an over-the-top raffle. The prize — a $3 million waterfront estate that Paris Hilton would envy — stands in bold contrast to the Mission’s dedication to the homeless, but would raise funds for Secada's favorite charity.
“It’s very enticing," Secada says. "Given the amount of tickets they can sell, all in all, you have a very good chance to really win.” His enthusiasm is so contagious that even if you never wanted a beach place, you think you’d be an idiot not to try your luck.
From the streets
Good luck is not the same as good fortune. Secada knows the difference and says it is his profound good fortune that brought him to the Mission. “I am a product of the street where I grew up. I am an immigrant, a Cuban American. My parents came here with nothing.”
Today, he is wealthy from a career that branched out from Gloria Estefan’s backup singer to multiplatinum solo performer. He has played Grease lead Danny Zuko on Broadway, recorded “The Best Is Yet to Come” with Sinatra and served on a federal Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans.
“I have put work into everything I have done,” he says.
As the work paid off, Secada soon began to pay back. A decade before he adopted the Mission, he was helping Pediatric AIDS, music education in schools, Make-a-Wish Foundation and Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
“A lot of things that need to be done, they need to be done in-house, without government help,” Secada says. These things are being done by brave, scrappy, can-do institutions, such as the Mission of St. Francis.
And for anyone who wants to help such places, he offers a terse reminder. This comes from a self-made man, now a superstar. But it’s a message just about anyone can relate to.
“There won’t be money,” he says, “unless you go out there and find it.”
Jack Curry, a former editor at USA Today, is a freelance writer and editor and serves on the editorial board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, specializing in corporate philanthropy and the media.