Joe Seiler has been leading a double life for the last 27 years. No, he isn’t a spy and doesn’t have a family in another zip code. He has been essentially running a foundation and serving as Chairman of the Board in addition to his day job, and for 20 years most of his colleagues at Delta Dental had no idea.
Joe started out as a performer in New York City. He did wedding singing, lounge acts and theater. To make ends meet, he picked up a seasonal job at Macy’s, which he leveraged into a career and cross-country move. Putting his theatrical presentation skills to use, he became manager of training and development at Macy’s San Francisco – at the time, the second largest Macy’s in the country. But, in the 90s, Macy’s went bankrupt and laid off three-quarters of its HR staff. That’s when Joe found Delta Dental through an ad in the paper and where he has been a senior trainer in our learning and development department ever since.
Around the time he started at Delta Dental, the AIDS epidemic was raging in San Francisco. Joe was losing loved ones to the virus, including his friend and mentor from Macy’s, Doug Ermet. Doug’s mother had moved in with a friend of hers whose son, John Richmond, had also contracted – and ultimately lost his life to – AIDS. These mothers wanted to channel their grief into something positive and approached Joe and his partner for help. They created the Richmond/Ermet Aid Foundation (REAF) to give funding to the agencies that had helped their sons.
Joe knew theater and performing, and he called on his friends to put on a show. They found a theater, convinced performers to donate their time and talents, and ultimately raised $60,000 at their first event.
“We became a 501c3 non-profit and started doing shows every year,” said Joe. “And then we started doing multiple shows a year and different kinds of events. We have raised more than $4 million for local charities in San Francisco, and we’ve expanded to support causes that help with homelessness and hunger.”
But in spite of all the time and great success Joe was having with the foundation, for a long time he didn’t talk about it at work. He had mentioned it to a couple people, including the team who was in charge of community giving. Delta Dental provided support in the form of printing gala invitations or making small monetary donations, but most of the folks Joe worked with or provided training to had no clue about this huge part of his life.
“No one knew for 20 years. I didn’t want to mix it so much. But then I realized that this is part of who I am, and I wanted to share it.”
In sharing, Joe opened the door for Delta Dental to deepen its support.
“It jumped dramatically. Now Delta Dental is a lead sponsor for our events and our senior leadership attends our galas. The support has been super helpful to keep us going.”
“I am proud to support Joe and REAF through our Delta Dental Community Care Foundation. The work REAF does in the community to support the health of the whole person and build a more caring, resilient community here in San Francisco is inspiring – as is Joe’s personal dedication.”Kenzie Ferguson, Vice President of Foundation and CSR
The pandemic has required that REAF go virtual with its events, like most other organizations. Joe has had to adjust and learn how to edit video and direct in a virtual environment. He does all this without taking a penny for his time, talent and expertise. Joe, his partner and friends made a promise to Barbara Richmond and Peggy Ermet. While both women have since passed away, the promise lives on.
“We told them we would keep going until there is a cure, and we intend to do just that. For me, this work hits on all levels of motivation: intrinsic, extrinsic and personal. When you hit on all those levels, it’s a passion. You’re unstoppable.”
REAF focuses not only on raising funds but also on creating public awareness that the AIDS epidemic is not yet over, that too many people rely on local food and nutrition programs as their only sources of food and that there are thousands of homeless and underserved youth who all need our help to live full, productive lives. REAF strives to create community alliances to support these agencies on multiple levels.