Philanthropy in Entertainment: Good Actions Begin Right Here

CMA Foundation
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Variety spotlights philanthropic organizations backed by star power.

With a membership of 1.2 million, the American Civil Liberties Union is one of the largest nonpartisan, nonprofit organizations devoted to protecting the liberties granted to American citizens by the Constitution and the governing laws through litigation and lobbying. In recent years, the ACLU has defended same-sex marriage, prisoner rights, abortion rights and fought discrimination against LGBT community members, women and minorities. Various members of the entertainment industry have voiced and demonstrated support for the organization, including Elisabeth Moss, who wore the ACLU blue ribbon on the Emmys red carpet last year, and John Legend and Chrissy Teigen, who donated $288,000 this year on President Donald Trump’s birthday.

Almasi Arts/Zimbabwean American Dramatic Arts Collaborative Organization
Co-founded by “The Walking Dead” actress Danai Gurira, Almasi Collaborative Arts hosts free staged readings, original productions and other special events in an effort to cultivate Zimbabwean talent and creativity. Additionally, the Almasi Alliance raises money to fund grants and scholarships to support dramatic artists in Zimbabwe by giving them the financial means to focus on their crafts and develop their individual artistic voices that they can then project on a global platform. Through its Artistic Training Exchange, the organization also outsources American experts in the dramatic arts to Zimbabwe in order to inspire up-and-coming Zimbabwean creators through training and mentorship.

Angel City Sports
Formed in 2013, Angel City Sports seeks to create sporting and athletic opportunities for adults, children and veterans with physical differences and impairments. CEO and founder Clayton Frech says, “Angel City Sports is focused on creating sports and recreational opportunities for the 10% of the U.S. population with a physical disability, including but not limited to spinal cord injuries, amputations, visual impairment, cerebral palsy, stroke and traumatic brain injury. Unfortunately, there are very few programs for this fragmented community to participate in sports. We are focused on introducing athletes to sports, training and development, providing loaner sports equipment like racing and basketball chairs, as well as creating competitive opportunities at the annual Angel City Games.”

Break Bread Not Families
Celebrities and a passel of Kennedys joined this 24-day hunger strike and prayer chain protesting the Trump administration’s child-separation policy for immigrant families entering the country illegally. A joint effort of La Union del Pueblo Entero (LUPE), founded by Cesar Chavez, Texas Civil Rights Project and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, it kicked off June 23 in McAllen, Texas, with participants fasting for 24 hours before passing it forward; those unable to attend were asked to donate the money they would have spent on food during their fast. Designed to honor the more than 2,400 children separated from their parents during immigration, the initiative drew the support of Lena Dunham, Alec Baldwin, Evan Rachel Wood and Mira Sorvino; 90-year-old Ethel Kennedy also pledged her support.

Cancer for College
With Will Ferrell as its celebrity spokesperson, Cancer for College hopes to fundraise $10 million by 2020 to fund scholarships for young cancer survivors without the means to afford higher education. In addition to sponsoring its young scholars’ educations, Cancer for College also assigns professional mentors to each student to ensure they have the resources they need to succeed. “These families give up everything that helps keep them going to get that child well again,” says executive director Greg Flores. “They have a healthy child — or at least mostly healthy child — and they’ve been devastated financially, emotionally, physically by the disease, and they need help.”

The Carlos Hernandez Jr. Memorial Scholarship
Cris Abrego, Endemol Shine Americas chairman, named the Carlos Hernandez Jr. Memorial Scholarship after his best friend, “who unfortunately passed away at 19 years old.” Donating funds to in-need senior athletes at his high school in El Monte, Calif., Abrego recalls how “it was with higher education that I got the exposure and opportunity to pursue a career in this industry. My mom is an immigrant from Mexico and she knew that higher education would create more opportunities for me in whatever career path I chose. We wanted to create an opportunity for other young Latinos to pursue a college education and more so, to pursue their dreams.”

City Year
In an effort to ensure equal access to well-rounded education for all, regardless of socioeconomic status, City Year pairs AmeriCorps mentors with students at high-need schools to develop an encouraging learning environment. City Year’s tutoring staff provides both educational and social-emotional support for each of its participants with a goal of higher education. “Equal access to education levels the playing field,” says Octavia Spencer, who volunteers in City Year schools, working with remodeling teams to make sure the aesthetic is conducive to critical thinking. “It doesn’t matter what your socioeconomic level is when you have a sound education. The world is your oyster.”

Committee Against Complacency
Endeavor Foundation and Everytown for Gun Safety have launched the Committee Against Complacency in the wake of a school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that resulted in the deaths of 17 students and faculty members. Advocating for stricter gun legislation, those who have joined include Javier Bardem, Josh Gad, Brie Larson, Emma Stone and Charlize Theron. “We’re proud to have assembled a committed group to activate in the coming months,” says Endeavor executive director Tascha Rudder. “The goal is to firmly keep the voices and demands of students and survivors top of mind for voters leading up to the midterm elections.”

Country Music Assn. Foundation
The philanthropic arm of the Country Music Assn., the CMA Foundation is committed to improving and sustaining music education programs nationwide. Since 2006, the org has invested more than $21 million into 85-plus programs, with proceeds from its CMA Fest used to drive up social impact. “It’s incredible to be surrounded by fans from across the world knowing that together we’re able to help give kids the opportunity to experience music, too,” says Thomas Rhett of his experiences performing and hosting at the fest. Kelsea Ballerini adds: “Providing opportunities for students to thrive through music is not just something I’m passionate about, but something I find crucial to helping shape our next generation.”

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Emily’s List
“Every day. Every election victory. We are helping to put women into office who have the power to put progressive change to work,” says Ellen R. Malcolm, the founder and chair of Emily’s List. The organization, whose creative council initiative to reach new, diverse groups of voters is spearheaded by Chelsea Handler, endeavors to elect pro-choice Democratic women to office. In February, Handler moderated its Run. Resist. Win. panel alongside former U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, Padma Lakshmi, Constance Wu, Amber Tamblyn and former Teen Vogue editor-in-chief Elaine Welteroth.

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Feeding America
With the goal of ending hunger and poverty in the United States, Feeding America delivered 4 billion meals to families battling food insecurity last year. Its multi-pronged approach includes rescuing food that would otherwise be wasted and collecting a safe and healthy diet’s worth of meals for participating families. “It’s more near than I had ever realized,” says Feeding America volunteer Leighton Meester, whose family used to rely on food stamps. “People who you come into close contact with every single day. You may not realize that they don’t know if they’re going to be able to put dinner on the table.”

Girl Rising
Founded in 2013, Girl Rising has a simple goal: To ensure that girls around the world are educated and empowered. In its five years of existence it has released movies focusing on girls from around the world, mounted outreach programs and harnessed star power in the form of Michelle Obama, Meryl Streep, Freida Pinto and Kerry Washington to get the message out. This year, Girl Rising released a fifth anniversary update of its original film, which shares the name of its organization, with Girl Rising ambassador David Oyelowo providing narration. Singer Andra Day was also named ambassador in March. Its motto: “When every girl is free to reach her full potential, our work will be done.”

Hilarity for Charity University
Seth Rogen and Lauren Miller Rogen founded Hilarity for Charity in 2012 to increase funding for research and support of Alzheimer’s disease. Its annual Los Angeles-based variety show, which has featured performances by the likes of James Franco, Snoop Dogg, Joseph Gordon Levitt and Bruno Mars, has raised more than $5 million. Its latest initiative, Hilarity for Charity University, will focus on helping students launch their own fundraising projects to raise money for Alzheimer’s research and support.

Inclusion Films
Years before Hollywood started talking about diversity, Joey Travolta was already doing it. He started Inclusion Films in 2007, training people with developmental disabilities. At Inclusion, they learn aspects of filmmaking by working alongside pros. He runs year-round vocational workshops for adults, giving them hands-on experience. This summer, Travolta placed five people, four on the autism spectrum and one with Down syndrome, on “The Poison Rose,” indie film lensing in Georgia and starring John Travolta and Morgan Freeman. Inclusion Film also offers Short Film Camps, a two-week program in five U.S. cities that are for people aged 19 and under. Travolta urges Hollywood stars: When you ask for an inclusion rider, please consider including people with disabilities.

Intl. Rescue Committee
Under the leadership of its CEO and president David Miliband, IRC saves the lives of the millions of refugees in the United States and around the world whose lives are shattered by political conflict and natural disasters. “There are centers for the Intl. Rescue Committee in different cities across the United States,” says Mandy Patinkin, who’s volunteered with IRC since 2015. “Say you would like to welcome a refugee into your home for a meal or to your school or to your church or your mosque, or your synagogue. Welcome these people to your community and make them feel a sense of new belonging and new beginning.”

The Pad Project
The Pad Project, an organization started at the Oakwood School in Los Angeles, provides access to sanitary pads and sense of independence to women across the world. Rayka Zehtabchi, the director of “Period. End of Sentence,” a documentary cataloguing the effects of installing a pad machine in Harpur village, India, says, “So many women didn’t know what their period was. And what I witnessed once we installed this machine and were actually able to discuss menstruation with them was that their world opened up.”

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Planned Parenthood
“For more than 100 years, Planned Parenthood has been listening to women. They have been supporting us as we make our own healthcare decisions. And they do so without judgment — even when we have literally nowhere else to go,” says actress Zoey Deutch of the org whose reproductive healthcare centers provide cancer screenings, birth control, STD testing and treatment, well-woman exams, as well as safe, legal abortion to 2.4 million people each year. “I am just one person. But I am committed to using my voice to stand up for the millions of women who trust Planned Parenthood for their care.”

Safe Horizon
Celebrating its 40th year of service, Safe Horizon continues to be the nation’s leader in providing assistance for victims of domestic violence, abuse, sex trafficking, rape, sexual assault, stalking, and youth homelessness. Safe Horizon partners with government and community agencies to help bring their vision of violence-free communities, as well as recognize individuals who continue to do great things in spite of the abuse they once suffered. Actor Terry Crews was honored at Safe Horizon’s Champion Awards in May, when he brought the crowd to tears as he recounted growing up with an abusive father.

The Trevor Project
Launched in 1998 after its namesake, “Trevor,” an Academy Award-winning short film about the struggles of a young gay boy after his sexuality is discovered, The Trevor Project is a 24/7 crisis and suicide intervention organization focused on helping LGBTQ youth. In 2014, YouTube star Tyler Oakley raised more than half a million dollars for the Trevor Project. The organization also recognizes outstanding individuals who have supported the LGBTQ community and acted as an inspiration to LGBTQ youth, including Lady Gaga, Neil Patrick Harris, Sigourney Weaver, Ellen DeGeneres and Kathy Griffin.

Voto Latino
For 14 years, Voto Latino has been dedicated to ensuring that young people are included in the civic process, primarily aiming to encourage young Hispanic and Latino voters to become more politically involved. The nonpartisan, non-profit org, which was founded by Rosario Dawson initially as a PSA project, is launching a revamped VoterPal, a peer-to-peer app that easily allows users to register to vote. Voto Latino is also hosting its 10th Power Summit leadership training in Austin, Texas, in September. Wilmer Valderrama serves on the board and America Ferrera, Jessica Alba and Pitbull have also voiced their support.

XQ Institute
The institute started as a competition to improve American high school education. “At XQ, we believe that we are best as a nation when we come together to solve big problems,” founder Russlynn Ali says. “We must rethink our high schools to prepare all our young people for our hyper-changing world. And we must innovate with intention so we close the dramatic opportunity gap that separates students of color from their white counterpart.” Laurene Powell Jobs co-founded XQ with Ali and serves as chair on a board of directors that includes musician Yo-Yo Ma and designer Marc Ecko. Ava DuVernay also volunteers with the organization.

Compiled by Tara Bitran, Christi Carras, Ellis Clopton, Diane Garrett and Malina Saval