The Sidewalk Angels Foundation: Giving a Voice to Those in Need
By: Lindsay Flanagan
Rob Thomas, the frontman for the band Matchbox Twenty, didn’t travel an easy road to success. While he is a the three-time Grammy award winner, Hal David Starlight Award winner and Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee, he dropped out of high school and was homeless for a time before becoming a self-taught singer and songwriter. He got back on his feet when he and his bandmates, Paul Doucette and Brian Yale, formed Matchbox Twenty and signed with Atlantic Records. After three multi-platinum albums, several chart-topping singles and a Grammy-award winning solo single “Smooth,” (with Carlos Santana), Rob Thomas took his experiences and success and started a foundation to make paths easier for those who are unable to help themselves. In 2003, he and his wife, Marisol, began a non-profit organization called Sidewalk Angels that was named from a lyric from Rob’s benefit Christmas single “New York City Christmas.” After nearly fourteen years, the foundation has raised over three million dollars in much-needed funding and given it to organizations across the United States that provide services to animals and those who are destitute or homeless and are in need.
The organization is run as a parent or umbrella entity that provides funding and marketing to smaller organizations that don’t have the financial support, organizational structure or marketing capabilities necessary to run or even to continue their services. Rob and Marisol Thomas believe that local communities are the best ones to resolve their issues and so the Sidewalk Angels provides the support to those grassroots organizations so they can be successful in making their community a better place.
The Sidewalk Angels mission is to provide help to those who are in need, from supporting no-kill animal shelters and animal rescues to people who are homeless or lack proper medical care. The foundation provides a voice to those in need by fighting for their rights and fair treatment. Rob and Marisol, and through their foundation, believe that these are universal problems that are best handled locally. Among their many efforts, the Sidewalk Angels has provided funding and other assistance to organizations such as Pets Alive, a no-kill animal sanctuary; the Blythedale Children’s Hospital; the Chattanooga Room in the Inn, a shelter for homeless women and children; the Last Chance Animal Shelter in South Carolina; the Animal House in Jamaica; and they have even provided assistance to private individuals in need. They work with homeless shelters by providing support for people’s physical needs so they are not forced to give up their pets. The Foundation selects their recipients based on demonstrated need and use of funds and resources, a shared charitable philosophy, and past program success.
In addition to giving assistance to organizations that help provide adequate housing shelters, medical care and low-cost spay and neuter programs, the Sidewalk Angels Foundation supports education to teach children and others kindness and compassion through animals and supports advocacy groups that fight against cruelty and breed discrimination. They also support public awareness and educational programs that focus on violent crimes against animals and the connection between cruelty and abuse toward animals and violent behavior towards people. Rob Thomas performed on behalf of the Sidewalk Angels at Samsung’s Hope for Children Gala in 2013, which helps to improve children’s lives across the United States alongside Tony Bennett and John Legend. The Gala has, over its 12-year history, raised over thirty million dollars and helped over 500 schools, hospitals and community-based foundations.
The Sidewalk Angels is presided over by Marisol Thomas, who has a degree in marketing from St. John’s University, and shares her husband’s passion for helping those in need. She has been involved with animal rescue since she was ten years old. She has overseen two large benefits that have raised $500,000 for the foundation. She was the driving force behind the launch of Pets Alive Puerto Rico, which is an organization that, in addition to providing no-kill shelters, strives to change the local culture’s treatment of animals to a humane and caring one. In addition to spearheading fundraising efforts, Marisol and Rob personally donated $350,000 through Sidewalk Angels to help launch the Pets Alive rescue project. She also assisted in the launch and development of the Sidewalk Angels Benefit Tour that featured Rob Thomas in an acoustic setting in sixteen different cities. The tour raised over $500,000 for the foundation.
Rob Thomas is the Vice President of the foundation. After the initial success of Matchbox Twenty, Rob released a solo album before collaborating with his band again in 2007, where they released a greatest hits collection that featured six new songs. Rob then released another solo album and then Matchbox Twenty released another record, NORTH, in 2012. That was their first full-length album since 2002’s More Than You Think You Are. In 2015, he released his third solo album The Great Unknown and is currently touring with Matchbox Twenty on a 20-year celebration tour. Rob has also penned hits for artists like Willie Nelson, Mick Jagger, Seal and Mary J. Blige. Over his career, Rob has contributed to record sales of over eighty million.
The foundation’s board also includes Marisol’s mother, Mrs. Maria Maldonado, who serves as Secretary. She oversees all of the foundation’s donations and fundraising efforts and manages the relationships with the foundation’s beneficiaries. She also manages the foundation’s social media campaigns and emails. Before becoming the secretary of the foundation, she was a legal secretary for twenty-one years at Rucigay & Rucigay, Esq., in Queens, NY. She also assisted in the social media marketing by Melissa Lopez Maldonado, who is also a production editor for John Wiley & Sons. Additionally, Jeff Maldonado serves as a co-director and co-manager of the social media marketing. He has over ten years experience in consumer marketing and business communications. The final board member is Michael Lippmann, who is the founder of Lippmann Entertainment, which manages high-profile musicians that include Rob Thomas and Matchbox Twenty. With the Sidewalk Angels Foundation, he provides strategic leadership and negotiation for all of the Sidewalk Angels’ events.
In addition to their work with the Sidewalk Angels, Marisol and Rob use their platform to raise awareness about the often-misdiagnosed Lyme disease and are part of the Global Lyme Alliance. Marisol suffers from a condition called neurological lyme borreliosis and babesiosis Lyme disease, a dangerous and painful condition with which she was recently diagnosed. Over the years, Rob has written several songs about Marisol’s struggles with her health, including “Her Diamonds” and “Ever the Same.” Rob said that those songs “almost painted her in the victim light” so on his 2015 solo album he wrote “The Great Unknown,” which shows her strength. And that strength was certainly needed shortly after the album was released. While undergoing an MRI for an unrelated condition, doctors spotted a lesion on the base of Marisol’s brain. Rob was in the midst of a tour and, understandably, postponed several tour dates while Marisol went in for brain surgery. Rob’s fans rallied around the couple, though, and in Marisol’s honor they were able to raise over twelve thousand dollars in support of #TeamMari for Sidewalk Angels. The lesion turned out to be benign, but the frightening episode allowed Marisol to speak out about her condition.
Both Rob and Marisol serve on the board of directors for the Pets Alive Animal Sanctuary, which is one of the oldest no-kill shelters in the United States. The mission of Pets Alive is to improve the lives of pets in any capacity, from rescue and adoption to advocacy, collaboration, intervention, and education. They have locations in Middletown, NY; Westchester, NY and the aforementioned Puerto Rico. Before becoming board members, Rob and Marisol were volunteers at the shelter—as were Marisol’s parents—and they adopted their dog, Tyler, who has since passed away. However, Rob and Marisol’s fans donated to Pets Alive in Tyler’s memory, raising over six thousand dollars. Rob and Marisol have two rescue animals of their own, Samy and Oliver, who live with them in Bedford, New York.
Marisol Thomas said of her husband’s song “The Great Unknown” that “any endeavor you go into is the great unknown. Your motive, your intention and your purpose are the only things you can control. Whatever is going to happen when it’s done, you have no hand in.” The Thomases are those types of celebrities who prove that through hard work, dedication and compassion that the world can be a better place with endeavors like their foundation. Perhaps it’s because the Sidewalk Angels, just like Rob Thomas’s music, connects with everyday people who are forging through their own great unknown.
For more information about Rob and Marisol Thomas and the Sidewalk Angels Foundation, you can visit their websites and social media channels:
If you’re interested in donating to the cause, go to http://bit.ly/swadonations.
You can find out more about Rob Thomas and Matchbox Twenty at:
Facebook: www.facebook.com/robthomas and www.facebook.com/matchboxtwenty
Twitter: @thisisrobthomas and @matchboxtwenty