The Chicago native who went from living on the streets to owning his own brokerage firm says he sees a lot of himself in the eyes of homeless teens. And he hopes they can see their futures through him.
Chris Gardner, the entrepreneur and author of "The Pursuit of Happyness" who overcame childhood poverty, domestic violence and a period of homelessness in his late 20s, spent time Friday with a group of teens from La Casa Norte, a bi-lingual supportive on Chicago’s West side.
His message: stay on track, dream big and work hard.
"You look like I did when I was your age," the genial Gardner said as he embraced one of the group.
The meeting was arranged by a friend of the organization, who noticed Gardner’s picture at the center of an inspirational photo collage on La Casa Norte’s “vision wall.”
He is a hero for some and a role model for many others, said Executive Director Sol Flores.
"I think one of the things they will take home is that you can achieve anything you want in life," she said.
And Gardner has achieved a lot.
Gardner and his 14-month-old son lived in the bathroom of a public bus station before he became a star trader at Bear Stearns. He founded his own firm just a few years later with just $10,000. Now Gardner Rich has offices in San Francisco and New York as well as Chicago.
"I’m not doing anything that you can’t do," Gardner told the group of a dozen young men. "Homelessness is not hopelessness. ... It is a temporary situation."
"I wanted to have my questions ready," Flores said. "To see someone go from the streets to CEO, hopefully I can do it now."
Gardner will be honored by La Casa Norte at its annual “Esperanza Celebration” fundraiser in October.