Who: Eva Mendes, an actress who landed her breakthrough role in “Training Day” (2001) opposite Denzel Washington, has since starred in such films as “Ghost Rider,” “Hitch” and “The Other Guys.” She’ll next be seen opposite Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington in “Last Night.” She also just directed a short film called “California Romanza” starring Christina Ricci.

What: Art of Elysium is an art therapy-centered organization dedicated to enriching the lives of critically ill children. The charity welcomes volunteer artists and musicians, who offer their time and talent in face-to-face interactions with children battling serious medical conditions.

Why: “My good friend Joaquin Phoenix said I would love working with this charity, so I checked it out,” Mendes says. “And I absolutely loved that fact that there was no barrier. There were no cameras; there was nothing standing between me and the kids.” She adds: “It’s not hard to be a sucker with children — you say ‘kids,’ and I weep. I’m the auntie of seven nephews and nieces,and I’ve been an auntie since I was 12.” Mendes says she enjoys seeing art therapy in action. “When you go in, and a nurse tells you that a child is suffering from a life-threatening illness and hasn’t spoken in so long and probably won’t react to anything, and then an hour into the session that child is smiling and trying to finger paint with you, you see the progress and it’s the most inspiring thing in the world.”

What’s next: Mendes makes an effort to volunteer as often as possible with Art of Elysium. Jennifer Howell, founder of the charity, says, “There are people who I could say volunteer with the charity and devote their heart and soul to this organization and then there is Eva. She is not a volunteer, she is not a supporter, she is the actual spirit of what the Art of Elysium was created to do.” And there’s the upcoming annual Christmas play. “Every year, David, one of the kids I met a hospital four years ago, writes a play, with some help from one of the artists,” Mendes says. “I’m really looking forward to it.”