If you ask the powers who operate Arnold Schwarzenegger’s favorite charities what is the strongest aspect of the world’s most famous strong man, they’ll say his heart.
The big guy expends great efforts on behalf of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Inner-City Games, Special Olympics Intl. and the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
The sports-oriented Games and Olympics as well as Make-a-Wish work all benefit children across America while the Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles work to better understand the dynamics of racism and prejudice and preserve the history of the Holocaust promulgated by Nazi Germany.
The latest activities of these organizations reflect Schwarzenegger’s humanist concerns, emphasizes Sargent Shriver, the chairman and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Special Olympics who is also the actor’s father-in-law, and Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Wiesenthal Center.
“Everyone at Special Olympics is grateful for his inspiring leadership and our athletes, especially in bodybuilding, are also overjoyed to see him and to learn from him,” Shriver said. “He’s a super coach as well as a super athlete.”
“Anyone who knows Arnold knows that he is very committed to fighting all manifestations of bigotry,” Hier said. “He contacted us because the Simon Wiesenthal Center is something that he wanted to be involved with. For 12 years his interest has been consistent.”
Special Olympics, which is an international program of year-round sports training and athletic competition for more than 1 million children and adults with mental retardation, recently wrapped its 1997 Winter Games in Toronto and is preparing for the 1999 Summer Games to be held in June and July at Duke U., the U. of North Carolina and North Carolina State U. in the Raleigh-Durham area.
Training for the games is ongoing in every state, said Jeannie Main of the Special Olympics’ executive office. More than 6,000 athletes participated in the 1995 Summer Games in New Haven, Conn., and a record turnout is expected in North Carolina.
The Make-a-Wish work is Schwarzenegger’s least public charitable association. The foundation fulfills the wishes of children between the ages of 2-1/2 and 18 suffering from life-threatening or terminal illness. Lani Hanna, celebrity coordinator of Make-a-Wish, said that the actor has participated in the granting of more than a dozen wishes in the last five years.
“He also works to build a profile for Make-a-Wish in the celebrity community,” Hanna said. “He does not do it for publicity. It’s not for ‘Entertainment Tonight’ and he doesn’t want any of the specific details of his work for us discussed. Let’s just say that Arnold is very involved on a national and ongoing basis.”
Since the Phoenix-based Make-a-Wish was founded in 1983, it has grown to 84 chapters in the United States and 14 overseas, granted 255 wishes last year in Los Angeles County alone and more than 5,000 worldwide in 1995 and 1996. The L.A. office receives more than 40 requests a day and coordinates visits with celebrities, trips to Disneyland and other destinations, shopping sprees, supplies parties, pets, computer equipment, VCRs, etc.
Schwarzenegger and Danny Hernandez, director of the Hollenbeck Youth Center in East Los Angeles, formed the Inner-City Games Foundation in 1995 to offer young people an alternative to the epidemic of violence, drugs and gangs that afflict urban streets and neighborhoods.
This year Inner-City Games, which are co-sponsored by Schwarzenegger’s restaurant chain, Planet Hollywood, and Speedo/Authentic Fitness Corp., will be held in 14 cities including Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Miami, New York, Orlando, San Antonio, San Diego and San Jose.
Celebrity appearances by actors such as Danny Glover and athletes such as Shaquille O’Neal have helped make the Inner-City Games, which Hernandez first staged in L.A. in 1991, a success.
The San Diego games, with Junior Seau of the San Diego Chargers acting as executive commissioner, drew 30,000 participants in September. The 1996 L.A. turnout was 100,000 and the New York participants numbered 99,000.
“Arnold will be in San Diego the week of March 19 to help with this year’s games,” said Bonnie Reiss, executive director of the foundation. “We’re expanding to add art and musical programs as well as sports. In 1998, we intend to expand into Philadelphia and Detroit.”
The Wiesenthal Center, which receives 250,000 visits annually, includes 35 hands-on, interactive exhibits that study civil rights, hate groups, the 1992 L.A. riots and the Holocaust. The Holocaust section includes a multimedia learning center, artifacts and documents such as Anne Frank’s letters and a Temporary Exhibit Gallery, where recent exhibits have included “Faces of Sorrow: Agony in the Former Yugoslavia,” “Reunions: The Lost Children of Rwanda” and “Appeal to This Age: Photography of the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1968.”
Among the upcoming events will be “The Islamic Revival: Implications for the Middle East and Beyond,” an evening with Ehud Ya’ai, a senior Israeli TV commentator, on March 25, and the musical performance, “Klezmer Night at the Museum: Yale Storm and ‘Klazzj’ Celebrate Purim” on March 20.
Schwarzenegger will receive the New York chapter of the Wiesenthal Center’s National Leadership Award at its annual National Dinner on April 10 at the Waldorf Astoria. “He comes from Austria and is very aware what happened during the Holocaust and he fights bigotry everywhere,” Rabbi Hier said. “He brought to our attention a videogame that was being marketed in Europe that tells players how to be concentration camp commandant. We went to work and shut down the sales operation. But Arnold was the one who came to us. He admires the center and has helped us raise millions of dollars over the years — no doubt about that.”