When Giving to Others is a Gift
With a focus on her core values, Eloise DeJoria says her happiest moments are those when she is able to give back.
Written by Deborah Hamilton-Lynne
Photography by Weston Carls and contributed
As an actress, model, and the original spokesperson for Paul Mitchell, Eloise DeJoria has a familiar face. She is often seen at events on the arm of her business icon husband, John Paul DeJoria. To many in Austin she is also the face of a woman with a passion for supporting their organizations and causes that support recovery, good health and nutrition, responsibility for the environment, and the arts. Her first foray into acting was a public service announcement against domestic violence, and the rights, well-being, and empowerment of women take center stage in her philanthropic efforts.
Married to John Paul DeJoria since 1993, she is the co-founder of JP’s Peace, Love & Happiness Foundation. Together they have six children, all of whom are active in the family foundation. Her belief that family is her greatest blessing is the motivation for Eloise to invest in both businesses and philanthropic organizations that work to make our world a better place for all. Says DeJoria, “It is a gift to me when I give to others. It is overwhelming and humbling that I have been able to help other people achieve their purpose.”
VV | Your approach to philanthropy as well as John Paul’s is relational as well as personal which is one of the reasons you focus on the health and well-being of women. You are a strong supporter of Eloise House, named in your honor at The SAFE Alliance in Austin. How did you become interested and get involved in that project?
ED | Constance Dykhuizen, who is the director of our foundation, came to me to tell me about an idea of providing a kind of safe house where women could go following a sexual assault and get an exam and information. When I found out that almost all assaults go unreported because of the process, I was interested. Eloise House provides a place where they can be supported in a non-threatening, chill environment. I thought nothing would make me feel better than for these women to be taken care of so that they can provide evidence in the form of a forensic exam, one that is done in a kind and professional way that won’t retraumatize them. It was also important to me that the perpetrators are convicted and have consequences for their actions. There are so many women that are ashamed, that are afraid to tell their families, and are afraid of the men who raped them. That is where Eloise House comes in with all of its resources. It hurts every cell in my body to hear the stories of the women who come to Eloise House so I am grateful to be able to help them find a way to tell their stories and recover.
VV | And now it has been tremendously successful and is expanding I hear.
ED | Yes. In the first month, they saw 200 women, and the numbers have grown every year since then. They are adding a second exam room so that women can be seen simultaneously. We are hoping it can become a model that is used at centers all over the country.
VV | You are also supporting your cousin Brooke Axtell to bring awareness to She is Rising, an organization that works to stop sex trafficking and help the women and children who have been rescued find a life afterwards. I was surprised to learn that Texas has the highest rate of sex trafficking in the United States.
ED | Yes, I was shocked to learn from a member of the Austin SWAT team that they recently had a huge bust where they recovered the biggest number of survivors in Texas. It is a huge problem. Brooke is a brilliant poet and writer and storyteller. In 2015, her speech before Katy Perry performed By the Grace of God was so moving. It opened people’s eyes to the problem and to the hope that there is a life afterwards. She provides mentors and also has leadership courses for the survivors. It fits perfectly with my goal of empowering women, particularly women who have survived domestic violence. I support Brooke and her efforts 100%.
VV | Speaking of storytelling, another of your favorite causes to support is film and film-makers. I know that you and John Paul were some of the original sponsors and supporters of the Austin Film Festival, which just celebrated its 25th year.
ED | Yes, we do support the Austin Film Festival and also the Paramount. I am also very passionate about and dedicated to Girls Impact the World Film Festival, which gives young people the chance to tell their stories. The stories they tell come from around the world. They are about serious issues and focus on solutions to the challenges and problems. The film-makers can be male or female, but the stories have to be about women. And the films are always brilliant. It was started by two young women at Harvard, and recently we have brought the festival to Austin. I am the presenting sponsor for these short three- to six-minute films. I learn so much from the films—they focus on all kinds of issues that affect women from mothering to mental health to sexual abuse to education and women’s rights. Just making the film and telling their stories is so empowering to the girls that participate. Even more than showing just problems, we like to also focus on solutions. We always encourage a follow-up to the pieces, providing resources and solutions. I am very proud to be a part of it. I believe the deadline for entries for 2019 is in January so there is still time to enter. And the festival is in April here in Austin.
VV | Getting back to the personal connection, is there a thread that runs through your approach to philanthropy in regard to women?
ED | Of course I have stories about incidents and life that have impacted me personally throughout the years. Truthfully, I believe that everyone has a story. I have been blessed to make a difference in the lives of others, and in turn it heals me. It is an outreach that comes from not only my experience but from my heart.
VV | What is your overall philosophy of giving and how do you see Austin as a philanthropic city?
ED | I believe that the most important thing about being a philanthropist is that you get more than you give. I mean it. The side effect is the healing I feel. Sometimes if you are too shy to tell your story, you can work to help others, and it is really amazing and fulfilling—what you get out of it. I think Austin as a community is very giving—we are all about making change that is for the good of all. Recently John Paul and the Foundation was honored by Helping Hand, and I looked at the room and thought ‘all of these people care about this city, this organization and these children.’ That is when it all comes back to you. You don’t have to be a billionaire to give. Everyone has something to give. Give your time or give your talent or just give the gift of being there for someone. Everyone can make a difference.
VV | If you were giving advice to women about how to choose an organization or cause to support or get involved with what would your advice be?
ED | First it is good to have a giving nature that enables you to give. Try to give as much as you can—one thing everyone can give is kindness to one another. That said, after you make giving a way of life, be smart about the charity or organization you choose to support. Do your research. We need strong, informed women to support empowering causes, so check them out first. Whether you help a lot of people or just one, it’s exciting to be able to give to something you are really connected to. Giving as a way of life provides deep inner satisfaction.