A year ago, Cameron Diaz said yes to a small favor for a friend. It made a big difference not only to her but thousands of war veterans.
Sharon Chatten had asked Diaz to be a part of a “Welcoming Home” for Iraq veterans. “It was a Sunday. It was a casual thing,” Diaz recalls. “Sharon said it would mean a lot if you came and just said hello and took some pictures. I said, ‘Yeah, absolutely. I would love to do that.’ ”
It was a turning-point day for the actress.
“I was seeing all these guys. I was like, wow, this is not just some guy who’s got a missing leg. This guy is affected for life. His family’s affected for life.”
Then Diaz found herself looking at the future. “Oh my god, what are all his struggles going to be? He’s not the same man he was when he left. How will that affect his marriage? His children? His community? And it spreads.”
Diaz then took a tour of the Los Angeles VA hospital. “It was really antiquated — not set up to take care of the vets that are coming home today. As I was walking around talking to these injured guys, I realized that the war is going to come home. Vets don’t even know what their rights are. How do we as a society help these guys?”
Chatten brought Diaz to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), which addresses such problems as traumatic brain injuries, mental health issues and an impaired Veterans Affairs system.
“What I love about the IAVA is that they are so good at being advocates for these soldiers. They get them the best deals possible,” the actress says.
On April 30, Diaz hosted a fund-raiser with producer Norman Lear and CAA agent Nick Styne. “It connected our entertainment industry with IAVA,” Diaz says. “I met Staff Sgt. Todd Bowers. He just got called back for his fourth tour. He’s in Afghanistan. We’re friends. But he’s not my brother. He’s not my son. He’s not my husband. And I think about him every day.”
In addition to her concern for vets, Diaz is known for her passionate commitment to the environment.
Nine years ago, she teamed with the Natural Resources Defense Council, the well-known nonprofit environmental action group of 1.2 million members focusing on global warming, endangered wildlife and clean energy.
“They have the brightest lawyers, the brightest scientists, the most dedicated people working for them,” Diaz says. “By going into court, going to Washington, or whatever country it is, they fight for the environment.”
Diaz adds: “I’m always on call if they need me. I’m part of their fund-raisers. That’s where I contribute.”
Another beneficiary of Diaz’s commitment and energy is Service Nation, a coalition of 200 nonprofits. The org campaigns to inspire voluntary service in schools, the workplace and communities.
“We need to be proactive in creating the nation that we want,” Diaz says. “People don’t feel empowered. They don’t feel that they make a difference, but collectively it’s the power that makes the change. That’s what I love about Service Nation — citizens volunteering their time.”
And Diaz succinctly sums up the challenges many in Hollywood face.
“I want to utilize my celebrity as best as possible. And that’s not something that comes with a manual. Everybody has to follow what makes sense for them. That doesn’t happen overnight. It happens with taking a chance. It pays off or it doesn’t. Then you go to the next experience,” she says.
But there’s a limit, especially for someone of Diaz’s wattage. “How can I be impactful for as long as possible? It’s a hard thing to figure. I don’t want to burn myself out. I don’t want to be the songbird that nobody listens to anymore. So that’s why I don’t stand in front of a lot of things. Because I think that, after a while, the poster child gets torn down and thrown out.”