Nightclubs and social activism are two things that do not necessarily go hand-in-hand. But when Jared Williams took over as the owner of Ventura’s swankiest nightspot Table 13 — now called Hush — last year, he envisioned a place that would serve not only as the hippest joint in town, but as a hub for those who want to make change in the world. And by “change,” he doesn’t mean breaking a 20 for a gin martini.
“At Hush, people love to gather to enjoy relationships and good food and good drink,” Williams says. “It’s a good venue for open communication in a form that is non-threatening. And when you make a profit, you have a responsibility for stewarding that profit.”
Truth be told, Williams was an activist before he became the proprietor of a club, but beginning Aug. 9, those two sides of his life will fuse in an official capacity, as Hush hosts Party for the One, the launch party for JustOne, a local social justice taskforce that began, in loose form, about five years ago. Its concentration is three-fold: aiding the homeless and working poor; helping orphans; and stopping human trafficking worldwide. While those are three admittedly massive problems to deal with, group co-founder Greg Russinger says their contributions to solving them involve “simple conversations.”
Don’t get him wrong, though: the members of JustOne are doing more than just talking. They have already instituted a series of programs designed to accomplish the goals they set for themselves — or at least make a dent in the problem on a local level. One is the Laundry Love Project. Partnering with four laundromats in Ventura and Santa Paula, the group helps clean the clothes of individuals and families without access to washing machines and who cannot afford to spend money at public laundry facilities. They also provide tutors to work with children for the two hours it takes to complete a load. Gumball machines have been placed in 12 area businesses specifically to help fund the project.
“It’s taking a basic, simple laundromat and turning it into a harbor of relief,” Russinger says, adding that versions of Laundry Love have emerged in San Diego, San Francisco, Portland and in Texas.
Another JustOne program also involves transforming an everyday object into an agent for change. A Trashcan Can Make a Difference distributes specially designed receptacles to participating homes and businesses, encouraging them to fill it with new food items that are picked up at the end of the month and delivered to distribution centers. “For most people, [a trashcan] is a symbol of waste, but for other people it’s a symbol of hope,” Russinger says. “It’s saying, ‘We in the city can be generous if we just participate.’ There is no reason why organizations that have been working their butts off should be doing major fund drives if the city participates on a monthly scale.”
That is why Russinger and Williams are reluctant to call Party for the One a “fundraiser.” While they appreciate any donations people are willing to give, the concept behind the event is for attendees to “hear who we are verbally, see who we are visually, participate to be part of who we are and to give their heart out, to give their life,” Russinger says. “But if you want to give money, go ahead.”
The party also marks the official launch of the Activist, a cocktail for which a percentage of all sales will be donated to various charities.
To attract a crowd, Hush will provide live entertainment in the form of singer-songwriter Kendall Payne and house DJs Fred Rock, Myron and Kidd Spin. Celebrity appearances are also promised. But, Russinger says, “The issue itself will attract people. That’s the utopian hope.”
Beyond Aug. 9, JustOne has events planned for the next 18 months, Williams says. Their next campaign is tantalizingly titled Sex & Chocolate, and although it sounds like a Hush theme night, it is a reference to the two major forms of slavery that still exist in the world: sex trafficking and forced labor in African cocoa fields. The plan is to throw parties at different clubs and layer the night with images and films alerting people to the issue. While Russinger admits there is a threat of the message going over the heads of club-goers when they’re expecting nothing but a party, he says if just one person can have their point of view changed, then the group has done its job.
“That’s why it’s called JustOne: just one person, just one laundry, just one trash can,” he says. “ ‘I have a dream,’ one man said.”