Delancey Street: Transforming Behavior (and Lives) Through Behavioral Psychology, Fastidious Attention to Detail, and Love
Mimi H. Silbert, PhD
CEO & President, Delancey Street Foundation
AAOHN 1.83 | ACSM 1.75 | CDR 2.0 | NCHEC 1.75
Delancey Street was started in 1971 by Dr. Mimi Silbert and three friends with the dream of creating a new model to turn around the lives of people living in poverty, substance abusers, former felons, and others who have hit bottom. Based on behavioral psychology principles, the Delancey Street model envelops residents in a culture in which everyone is treated with respect, contributes to the needs of the community, is trained to perform meaningful work in three marketable skills, trains others, and is committed to continual growth. Nearly five decades later, Delancey Street has helped more than 18,000 people graduate from poverty to self-sufficiency, built eight residential centers in California, New York, North Carolina, New Mexico and Massachusetts and launched 10 successful commercial ventures that generate 60% of its operating budget. In response to more than 10,000 requests to teach the model, Delancy Street Foundation has developed Delancey Street’s Institute for Social Renewal, the Delancey CIRCLE, which stands for Coalition to Implement Revitalized Communities, Lives, Education and Economies and focused more efforts on public policy and adapting its model to new settings and populations.
The dynamic force behind Delancey Street Foundation is its CEO and President, Dr. Mimi Halper Silbert. Delancey Street Foundation, which Dr. Karl Menninger called “The best and most successful rehabilitation program I have studied in the world,” serves ex-felons, prostitutes, substance abusers and others who have hit bottom. Locations include New York, Massachusetts, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, Los Angeles and is headquartered in San Francisco, with all residents living drug, crime and alcohol free. For 46 years, Delancey Street, a residential educational community, has provided residents with academic, vocational, and social skills, and the discipline, values, and attitudes they need to live in society legitimately and successfully – at no cost to the client or taxpayer. There are currently over 20,000 successful graduates. Silbert lives in Delancey Street, abides by its rules, where everyone functions as an extended family, sharing everything. There is no staff and all functions are performed solely by the residents without ever an expert helping. Although the residents are often violent long-term gang members who have been in and out of prison most of their lives, hard core addicts where the average resident has dropped out of school at sixth grade, is functionally illiterate, and has never even worked at an unskilled job for more than three months, Silbert believes that they can become their own solution to these problems. Delancey Street’s approach is to develop their strengths rather than to focus on their problems. With no staff and no government funding, these residents have not only turned their own lives around, but have built the entire organization.
Silbert has been awarded 11 Honorary Doctorate Degrees including Brandeis, ,UMass, Golden Gate University, San Francisco State University and Ben-Gurion University in Israel. She has received several President’s Medallions, has been entered into the California Hall of Fame, has a park named for her from the Port of San Francisco, and has received numerous religious, community and governmental awards. Her entrepreneurial spirit has earned her a place in the San Francisco Business Hall of Fame and numerous social entrepreneurial awards. Her work in the Delancey Street Foundation has been written about in over 50 books, endless articles and television segments, including 60 Minutes and 20/20.
Although Delancey Street is her primary life’s work, Silbert is also a recognized national expert in criminal justice. As a criminal justice planner and evaluator, Dr. Silbert has directed the review of over 100 police, probation and sheriff trainings and evaluations and has sat on the Board of State and Community Corrections (over California Department of Corrections and Counties Criminal Justice) for 30 years. She has lived in Delancey Street for 46 years, raised her children there and feels that those with whom she has cast her lot to prove her belief, that with struggle, courage and discipline, together they can find their strengths and transform impossible dreams into reality by pooling their resources, supporting one another and living lives of purpose, integrity and unity.