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Dr. Mimi Halper Silbert – Delancey Street

| California Heroes | November 6, 2013

delancey streetA Hero To Former Substance Abusers, Ex-Convicts, Homeless and Others

The dynamic force behind
Delancey Street is its President & CEO, Dr. Mimi Halper Silbert. Although she does not share the same background as her fellow residents, she lives at Delancey Street, abides by its rules, and takes no salary. Her tenacious spirit and unlimited energy have built an organization unique in its entrepreneurial and self-governing structure. Her dedication in enacting her vision of an educational community of change has inspired residents to break their destructive cycles and take responsibility for themselves and others. Dr. Silbert has garnered national and international attention for her achievement at Delancey Street, demonstrating her belief that the people who are the problem can, themselves, become the solution.

Mimi Silbert serves as the Board Chair, President, and CEO of the Delancey Street Foundation, which Dr. Karl Menninger called “The best and most successful rehabilitation program I have studied in the world”. Delancey Street serves ex-felons, prostitutes, substance abusers, and others who have hit bottom, in six national centers, located in New York, Massachusetts, New Mexico, North Carolina, Los Angeles and headquartered in San Francisco, all living drug, crime, and alcohol free. For 40 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 18,000 thousand successful graduates. Silbert lives in Delancey Street, takes no salary, and the organization functions as an extended family, sharing everything. There is no staff and all functions are performed solely by the residents. Every resident helps the other on an “Each One Teach One” concept. If someone reads at the sixth grade level he tutors someone who reads at the fourth grade level while another resident who reads at the eight grade level tutors him. Although the residents are often violent long term gang members who have been in and out of prison most of their lives, hard core dope fiends where the average resident has dropped out of school in the sixth grade, is functionally illiterate, and has never worked even at an unskilled job for even three months, Silbert believes that the people who are the problem can become their own solution. Delancey Street’s approach is to develop their strengths rather than to focus of 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 from four people in 1971 to the many thousands who have now gone through it and have helped the communities in which they live as well.

HB – Mimi Silbert


We are a community where people with nowhere to turn, turn their lives around.

Delancey Street is the country’s leading residential self-help organization for former substance abusers, ex-convicts, homeless and others who have hit bottom. Started in 1971 with 4 people in a San Francisco apartment, Delancey Street has served many thousands of residents, in 5 locations throughout the United States. Residents at Delancey Street range from teenagers to senior citizens, and include men and women and all races and ethnicities. The average resident has been a hard-core drug and alcohol abuser, has been in prison, is unskilled, functionally illiterate, and has a personal history of violence and generations of poverty.

The minimum stay at Delancey Street is 2 years while the average resident remains for almost 4 years – drug, alcohol and crime-free. During their time at Delancey Street, residents receive a high school equivalency degree (GED) and are trained in 3 different marketable skills. Beyond academic and vocational training, residents learn important values, and the social and interpersonal skills that allow them to live successfully in the mainstream of society.

Any act of violence, or threat of violence, is cause for immediate removal from Delancey Street. Interestingly, former gang members, who have sworn to kill each other, live and work together peacefully starting in dorm-rooms and moving up into their own apartments. Residents learn to work together promoting non-violence through a principle called “each-one-teach-one” where each new resident is responsible for helping guide the next arrival.

 Delancey Street Story

In 1971 Delancey Street began with 4 residents, a thousand dollar loan, and a dream to develop a new model to turn around the lives of people in poverty, substance abusers, former felons, and others who have hit bottom, by empowering the people with the problems to become the solution.

John Maher and Mimi Silbert at Russian Consulate
Mimi Silbert and John Maher in front of the first home we purchased, the former Russian Consulate.

We began by taking residents into a small apartment in San Francisco, run by an ex-felon, John Maher, a visionary, fiery orator and charismatic leader. Rather than following the traditional non-profit model of hiring a staff and procuring funding, we chose instead to follow an extended family model. Those of us who could work did traditional jobs and contributed our salaries. (Mimi Silbert, for example, had a doctorate in Criminology and had numerous consulting, teaching and other professional experiences. She worked and contributed her salary.) Everyone did something to contribute to our community. Someone who could cook became our “head chef”. Someone who knew how to hold a hammer became the “head of construction”. Whoever could read tutored those who could not. We pooled our talents and our funds and within 2 years, we purchased our first building and had 80 residents, all learning, teaching and helping each other.

The first home we bought was the former Russian Consulate located in San Francisco’s poshest neighborhood, Pacific Heights. It was also our first “Not In My Backyard” battle. Our two young pro bono attorneys, Mike Berger (who incorporated our organization in 1971, and Danny Weinstein (now a retired Judge and founder of JAMS – The Resolution Experts) formulated innovative legal arguments; Maher developed brilliant political strategies; Silbert brought residents around to neighbors to volunteer services. We knew that neighbors were worried that crime would go up and property values would go down because we were in the neighborhood. So we patrolled the neighborhood and crime went down; our construction department renovated the mansion to ensure that property values would go up. Residents like Abe Irizarry (then a “graduate” of every prison in California and Mexican Mafia gang member, now our Vice president and Maitre’ D’ of our restaurant), and Joanne Mancuso (then an addict and now a college instructor and a trainer for the judiciary in the federal court in computer programs), and Mike Boris (then a heroin addict, now a Certified Public Accountant), sold raffle tickets where the most coveted prize was the promise “not to move next door to you”. Slowly the neighborhood battle was being won by being good neighbors, by solid legal arguments and political negotiation, by humor and by the good will of everyone involved. Dianne Feinstein, our neighbor in Pacific Heights, then a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, was the first key vote in our favor. By 1977, the battle was finally settled. When we moved from Pacific Heights to our newly self-built home on the waterfront (almost 20 years later), our Pacific Heights neighbors reported they were upset to see us leave.

Mimi Silbert and then San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein and then ILWU President Jimmy Herman break ground at the future home of the Delancey Street Foundation.

When we began construction on our new home, then Mayor Feinstein offered support at every level. She turned over the first shovel of dirt at our groundbreaking, and in 1990 we completed construction of an expanded and centralized home on the waterfront. In the process, we pioneered a new neighborhood in San Francisco, South Beach. This 400,000 square foot complex was primarily built and supervised by Delancey residents. President Mimi Silbert was the developer and Delancey Street was its own general contractor for this unique development called “a masterpiece of social design” by Pulitzer Prize winning architectural critic Allen Temko. Covering an entire city block, this four-story complex contains street level retail stores, a highly acclaimed public restaurant, a screening room written up as one of the top three in San Francisco, a highly reviewed café bookstore and art gallery, dwelling units housing about 500 that overlook a Mediterranean-style courtyard which also holds a vast array of educational and recreation facilities for the residents. This was an unprecedented vocational training program, providing over 300 formerly unemployable drug addicts, homeless people and ex-felons in Delancey Street every skill in the building trades (with the support of the Building Trade Unions) as well as training in purchasing, contracting, computer and accounting services. City officials were so proud that, upon completion of our complex, they renamed a section of First Street – Delancey Street.

In 1978 we bought a 17 acre ranch within a reservation on the San Juan Pueblo, in northern New Mexico and opened our first “satellite” campus. We brought 15 residents from San Francisco, ranging in stay from 5 years to 5 months and using the same process we started with in San Francisco, whoever could cook became the head of Food Service, whoever had held a hammer became the Head of Construction.

What We Believe

  1. First and foremost, we believe people can change. When we make a mistake we need to admit it and then not run from it, but stay and work to fix the mistake. And though no one can undo the past, we can balance the scales by doing good deeds and earning back our own self-respect, decency, and a legitimate place in mainstream society.
  2. We believe that people can learn to live drug free, crime free lives of purpose and integrity. Rather than following a medical model or a therapeutic model, we’ve developed an educational model to solve social problems. We teach people to find and develop their strengths rather than only focusing on their problems.
  3. Rather than solving one issue at a time (e.g., drugs or job skills) we believe that all aspects of a person’s life interact, and all people must interact legitimately and successfully with others to make their lives work. Delancey Street is therefore a total learning center in which residents learn (and teach) academics, vocational skills, and personal, interpersonal, practical and social survival skills. We believe the best way to learn is to teach; and that helping others is an important way to earn self-reliance. Person A helps person B and person A gets better. 
  4. Delancey Street functions as an extended familya community in which every member helps the others with no staff of experts, no “program approach”. Everyone is both a giver and a receiver in an “each-one-teach-one” process.
  5. Economic development and entrepreneurial boldness are central to our model’s financial self-sufficiency and to teaching residents self-reliance and life skills.
  6. Delancey Street is value-based in a strong traditional family value system stressing the work ethic, mutual restitution, personal and social accountability and responsibility, decency, integrity and caring for others in a pro bono publico approach.

VitalSmarts Honors Mimi Silbert of Delancey Street Foundation

VitalSmarts awards Mimi Silbert, Board Chair, President, and CEO of the Delancey Street Foundation, with the 2011 Albert Bandura Influencer Award for her work in helping more than 16,000 convicted felons change behavior and become productive members of society.

2002 Gleitsman Citizen Activist Award

The Citizen Activist Award honors those who have struggled to correct social injustice in the United States. This year’s honorees were Mike Farrell and Mimi Silbert, with remarks by CPL director David Gergen.

 How Dr. Silbert Turns Incarcerated Prisoners into Good Citizens

 Delancey Street Movie
1975 Made for TV film about John Maher (Former Synanon member) and the organization he and Dr. Mimi Silbert founded in 1971. Delancey is a re-educational environment for ex-cons, drug addicts, prostitutes, and various other character disorders. Forty-two years later (2013) the foundation has facilities across America.

Mimi Silbert Awards


Mimi Silbert accepting Honorary Doctorate from Brandeis University President Jehuda Reinharz.

California Institute of Integral Studies, Honorary Doctorate of Philosophy (Honoris Causa)


Brandeis University, Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters (Honoris Causa)

Pine Manor College, Award for Inclusive Leadership and Social Responsibilities

Gleitsman Foundation, Citizen Activist Award, Kennedy School, Harvard University 

University of California at San Francisco, UCSF Medal

California College of Arts & Crafts, Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts, (Honoris Causa)

City College of San Francisco, Amicus Collegii Award

Golden Gate University, GGU Alumni Associations Community Service Award

John F. Kennedy University, Honorary Doctor of Public Service (Honoris Causa)

Golden Gate University, Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters (Honoris Causa) 

Congressman Mel Levine with Mimi Silbert at UC Berkeley Alumni of the Year Dinner.

The National Judicial College, Award of Distinction

University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Honorary Doctorate of Public Service (Honoris Causa),

Dominican University, Honorary Doctor of Laws (Honoris Causa)

Pacific Graduate School of Psychology, Robert E. Kantor Award 

Radcliffe College, Alumnae Lectureship Award

California State University at San Francisco, Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters (Honoris Causa)

Hebrew Union College, Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters (Honoria Causa)

University of San Francisco, School of Education, President’s Medallion 

University of Massachusetts, Distinguished Alumnae in Residence Award

Saybrook Institute, Honorary Doctorate in Humanistic Psychology (Honoris Causa),

University of Massachusetts Alumni Association, Distinguished Professional Service Award

University of California at Berkeley, Alumni of the Year Award

2008 Women Defenders Spring Event Honoree

The Hate Breakers Award, An Innovation of New Conscience, Inc.

Soroptimist of San Francisco, Business of Making a Difference for Women Award

Women’s Intercultural Network, Leading Change Heroine


National Association of Women Business Owners, Leaders and Legends, Social Entrepreneur Award

Women Defenders, Spring Event Honoree

Bay Area Council, Inducted into Bay Area Business Hall of Fame

San Francisco Business Times 2004, 2005, 2006,

2007 & 2008 Most Influential Women in Business

2008 National Association of Women Business Owners Award to Mimi Silbert with Delancey Street residents.

CREW, Commercial Real Estate Women, Honorary Achievement Award 

Bayview Hunters Point Change Maker’s Award

Pacific Union GMAC Real Estate, Humanitarian Award

National Council on Crime and Delinquency, Katie Nichols Award

California Psychological Association, Distinguished Humanitarian Contribution Award

San Francisco Foundation, Community Leadership Award

YMCA of San Francisco, Humanitarian of the Year

San Francisco Child Abuse Prevention Center, Child Abuse Prevention Partner Award 

American Psychological Foundation, The Henry V. McNeil Award
For innovation in community mental health. 

2003 Community Leadership Award Recipients: Sister Trinitas Hernandez, Mimi Silbert, Barbara Brown and Helen Waukazoo.

Children As Peacemakers Foundation, National Peacemakers Award 

National Common Cause, Public Service Achievement Award

Older Women’s League, Wonderful Older Woman Award – WOW

Western Society of Criminology, The June Morrison – Tom Gilchoff Founders Achievement Award

The Giraffe Project, Honorary Giraffe: Stick Out Your Neck Award

Caring Institute, National Caring Award, One of the Most Caring People in America

The Institute of Noetic Sciences, The Temple Award for Creative Altruism

The Sovereign Fund, Award for the Pursuit of Individual Freedom

San Francisco Planning and Urban Research, Silver SPUR Award

Chi Omega Fraternity, Woman of Achievement Award

Women’s International Center, Living Legacy Award

Los Angeles Show Coalition American Spirit Award

League of Women Voters, San Francisco, Women Who Could Be President

The Synergetics Society, Synergy Award

The Commonwealth Club of California, Certificate of Appreciation

The International Furnishings & Design Association, Design Award 

Chamber of Commerce, Leadership San Francisco, Civic Leadership Award

The Positive Thinking Foundation, America’s Award for Resolve
Norman Vincent Peale, 1991

San Francisco Forum, San Franciscan of the Year Award

International Association of Business Communicators, Communications Leader Award 

Outstanding Contribution to Human Rights in San Francisco Award, Friends of Human Rights Commission

National Council on Alcoholism and Other Drug Addictions-Bay Area, Distinguished Service Award, 1990

Women’s Work Publications, WomenPower Award

ABC World News Tonight with Peter Jennings, Person of the Week

Dewar’s Profile, California Do-ERS Award

Board of Trustees, San Francisco Suicide Prevention, Inc., Life Preservation Award

Community Boards Certificate of Appreciation
For serving as Chair of the founding Board of Directors for 10 years.

The National Federation of Republican Women, Award of Honor

National Women’s Political Caucus, Award of Merit

Emmy Nominated Feature on This is Your Life (Ralph Edwards, Producer)

The Western Society of Criminology, President’s Award

Corrections Standards Authority, Chairperson, State Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention


Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition, 2008 NAWBO Social Entrepreneur of the Year 
Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, May 2, 2008

State of California, Senate Certificate of Recognition, 2008 NAWBO Social Entrepreneur Award 
Assistant President pro Tempore Leland Y. Yee, May 2, 2008

State of California, Senate Certificate of Recognition, 2008 NAWBO Social Entrepreneur Award 
Senator Carole Migden, May 2, 2008

Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition for outstanding and invaluable service to the community 
Congresswoman Jackie Speier, May 15, 2008

Governor’s Appointment, Corrections Standards Authority
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, 2006

Governor’s Appointment, Chair, State Advisory Group for Juvenile Justice
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, 2005

Mimi Silbert Accepting the Minerva Award

Lifetime Achievement Minerva Award
California First Lady Maria Shriver, 2004

Governor’s Appointment, State Board of Corrections
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, 2004

State of California, Senate Certificate of Recognition, 2004

State of California, Secretary of State, Commendation as Innovator for Human Rights
Secretary of State Kevin Shelley, 2004

Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition, House of Representatives
Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader, 2004

California State Senate, Certificate of Recognition, “In the Trenches Award”

California State Assembly, Change Makers Award

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, State of California, Certificate of Recognition

City and County of San Francisco, Certificate of Honor, Board of Supervisor,

United States Congress, Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition
Congresswoman Barbara Lee, 2003

California Legislature Assembly, Certificate of Recognition and Leadership Award

Congressional Record, House of Representatives
Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, 2002

Mayoral Proclamation Mimi Silbert Day, City and County of San Francisco,
Mayor Willie Lewis Brown, Jr., March 29, 2002

City and County of San Francisco, Certificate of Honor, Board of Supervisors

California State Assembly, Certificate of Recognition

Governor’s Appointment, State Board of Corrections
Governor Gray Davis, 2001

California Legislature Assembly Resolution of Commendation

Senate of the State of California Resolution of Commendation
President Pro Tempore of the Senate John L. Burton, 2001

Governor’s Appointment, State Board of Corrections
Governor Gray Davis, 1999

The City and County of San Francisco, Certificate of Honor

City and County of San Francisco, Certificate of Honor, Board of Supervisors

California Department of Corrections, Director’s Award

United States Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Certificate of Appreciation
In grateful appreciation for outstanding leadership contributions, and dedicated service to the Nation’s Criminal Justice Community.
Bureau of Justice Assistance, 1994

Proclamation City and County of San Francisco, Mimi Silbert Day
Mayor Frank M. Jordan, October 4, 1993

Governor’s Commendation, State of California
Governor Pete Wilson, 1993

City of Los Angeles, Certificate of Honor

City and County of San Francisco, Certificate of Recognition
For outstanding contributions to enhancing the quality of life and economic vitality of San Francisco. 
Mayor Frank M. Jordan, 1992

Proclamation, Mimi H. Silbert Day, City and County of San Francisco
Mayor Frank M. Jordan, May 5, 1992

California Legislature Assembly Resolution of Commendation
For exemplary record of service to the people of the State of California. 

Key to City of San Francisco presented to Dr. Mimi H. Silbert
Mayor Frank M. Jordan, 1992

State of California, Board of Corrections Resolution of Commendation
For distinguished service to the citizens of the State of California.

Congressional Record, House of Representatives, 102 Congress, Second Session
In recognition of Mimi Silbert’s phenomenal efforts to recondition hardcore criminals into productive, responsible citizens. 
Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, 1992

President and Mrs. Bush, America’s Awards
Honoring those who personify the American character and spirit.

State of California, Senator Commendation 
Senator Milton Marks, 1991

State of California Legislature Woman of the Year Award
Speaker of the Assembly Willie Brown, Jr., 1990

Governor’s Appointment, State Board of Corrections
Governor George Deukmejian, 1989

Blue Ribbon Commission on Inmate Population Management in recognition of distinguished service.

Senate Appointment, Blue Ribbon Commission on Inmate Population Management

San Francisco Mayoral Proclamation, Mimi Silbert Day
One of the unique and special individuals whose life and work have dramatically changed our City and the world around us for the better. 
Mayor Art Agnos, October 5, 1988

California State Senate, Resolution of Commendation
Senator Milton Marks, 1988

Congressional Record, Vol. 133, No. 186, United States of America
Congressman Mel Levine, 1987

The State of California State Assembly, Certificate of Commendation

City and County of San Francisco, Board of Supervisors Certificate of Honor and Merit
President Nancy Walker, 1987

Governor’s Appointment, California State Commission on Peace Officers Standard and Training Advisory Board (POST)
July 1981- September 1987

Congressional Record, Vol. 132, No. 66, United States of America
Commending the Washington Post for their review and consideration that Mimi Silbert and Delancey Street should serve both as an inspiration and a model for others. 
Congressman Mel Levine, 1986

Governor’s Appointment, State Board of Corrections 
George Deukmejian, 1986

Office of the Mayor, San Francisco Proclamation of Mimi Silbert Day 
Mayor Dianne Feinstein, January 5, 1984

Presidential Appointment, National Institute of Justice Advisory Board.
President Jimmy Carter, 1980

San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Certificate of Honor, Distinction, and Merit
In appreciation of outstanding efforts to improve police training practices and mental health in the San Francisco Police Department., 1980

Jewish National Fund, Woman of the Year 

The Consulate General of India and The Gandhi Foundation, Mahatma Gandhi Humanitarian Award
Honoring Mimi Silbert, a visionary and an internationally renowned leader in the practice of Nonviolence as the cornerstone to lasting rehabilitation and productivity. 

The Koret Israel Prize Award

The Anti-Defamation League, Woman of Achievement Award

Mimi Silbert accepting Pope John XXIII Award from Cardinal Roger Mahoney

The San Francisco Muslim Community Center, Human Excellence Award
In recognition and appreciation of your exemplary performance in the area of Criminal Justice.
Abu Qadir Al-Amin, Imam, S.F.M.C.C and Kenya Abdur-Rahman, M.D. Co-Chair, HEA Committee

Italian Catholic Federation, Pope John XXIII Award
For outstanding achievement towards humanity.

Hadassah, Myrtle Wreath Award 

Jewish National Fund, Tree of Life Award

Can You Please  Help?
Approximately 99% of every dollar donated goes directly to resident services because we don’t spend any money on fund raising. And because no salaries are paid, not even to our President, our administrative costs are therefore minimal.

If you do choose to donate there are no worries that you will be contacted or put on a maintained list that will be given or sold to another organization. Anything you can donate to help our work is greatly appreciated. There are always more people trying to enter Delancey Street than we can accommodate and every dollar helps us “make more room at the inn.”


Thank You Dr. Mimi Silbert!

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