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The Celebrity Charity Connection

The Celebrity Charity Connection

In the past, contributions from the very rich to the poor were most often made anonymously. Many of the direct recipients of charity did not even know the identity of their benefactors. Today all this has changed.

However, there is no doubt that endorsement of various charities by well-known film stars, musicians and sports personalities, coupled with the celebrities’ own actual high-profile donations, can vastly increase public awareness of some indisputably worthy causes.

Underprivileged children, homeless refugees, victims of natural disasters and sufferers from diseases such as AIDS are among the unfortunate people who have been hugely helped ” not only by generous donations from wealthy personalities, but also thanks to contributions made by ordinary donors who have been deeply moved by the charitable activities of public figures they admire.

Caring Stars

One well-known celebrity philanthropist is actress Angelina Jolie, who uses her fame and fortune to raise awareness of the plight some 20 million refugees in 120 countries around the world. Her work on behalf of refugees began in 2001 when she was filming in Cambodia, where she decided to adopt a refugee child. By adopting orphaned children ” her son Maddox from Cambodia, and a daughter Zahara from Ethiopia in 2005 ” Jolie has also sparked interest among other prospective parents to help or adopt other needy children around the world.

Named a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Commission for Refugees in 2001, Jolie has toured many other refugee locations including Thailand, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Namibia, Tanzania, Kenya, the Balkans and Ecuador. Besides pledging and donating several million dollars to different charitable causes, she also champions the cause of banning land mines.

Film actor and producer George Clooney is another fervent supporter of significant causes. These include the ‘ONE Campaign’ to eliminate AIDS; and ‘Make Poverty History’, part of an 84-nation coalition calling for a breakthrough against poverty throughout the world. He is also involved in the Global Campaign Against Poverty (GCAP), which aims to narrow the gap between rich and poor by addressing man-made factors such as unjust global trade systems, debt burdens that suffocate any chance of a country’s economic recovery and ineffective aid in impoverished areas of the world.

Together with Samuel L Jackson, Clooney co-sponsors ‘Rock for Darfur’, a series of charity concerts organised by MySpace.com and Oxfam. The funds go to support Oxfam’s disaster relief work and to aid refugees in Sudan and neighbouring Chad. Finally, there is ‘United Way’ ” Clooney’s own self-supported programme which collects money and goods from various donors and distributes the proceeds to local charities.

Jackie Chan is Hong Kong’s most famous film star. In 1988, he founded the Jackie Chan Charitable Foundation to offer scholarships and active assistance to young people in Hong Kong. The foundation’s motto is: ‘To help, to heal and to excel.’ As Jackie explains: “Sometimes it takes only one act of kindness and caring to change a person’s life. Long ago, when I was a child in need of assistance, someone was kind to me. My charitable foundation is my way of passing on that kindness. By providing scholarships, grants and funding … I am helping to make the world a better place.”

Chan’s charitable donations cover a wide spectrum that includes home care for youngsters at risk; help for unemployed youngsters; professional self-empowerment counselling; training camps for students; and anti-suicide campaigns. Over the years, the foundation’s activities have grown substantially, broadening their scope to include medical services and help for victims of natural disasters or people suffering from serious illnesses.

Environmental Warrior

Popularly described as a ‘Hollywood heartthrob’, youthful movie star Leonardo DiCaprio is a passionate defender of the environment. To foster greater awareness of environmental issues, he actively cooperates with organisations such as Global Green USA, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and National Geographic Kids.

His own Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation focusses particularly on global warming, which can be combated by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adopting alternative and renewable energy sources. “I urge individuals around the globe to stand up,” he declares, “and ask local leaders, if they haven’t already, to pledge to purchase cleaner cars, build green facilities, and buy green power like wind or solar energy. Our actions may determine if we become a casualty in the war for a habitable planet for generations to come.” His concerns also extend to maintaining clean water supplies throughout the world (DiCaprio estimates that 1.2 billion of the world’s people do not have access to safe drinking water) ” and he is a fervent advocate of preserving the earth’s biodiversity.

Philanthropic Sportsmen

In 1994, at the height of his sporting career, tennis champion Andre Agassi set up the Andre Agassi Charitable Foundation (AACF) to provide recreational facilities and educational opportunities for children in southern Nevada, USA, especially in the Las Vegas area. It has supported more than 20 organisations and raised more than US$60 million since it was launched. Its special mission is to help abused or abandoned children who are considered ‘at risk’ or deprived of basic opportunities in life. In order to foster character and self-esteem in these children and enhance their career possibilities, the Foundation funds a combination of emotional, physical and academic programmes.

The Andre Agassi Boys & Girls Club, opened in 1997, features a basketball court, tennis courts, a computer lab, a library and a teen centre offering a variety of activities. Through the tennis Team Agassi and the basketball programme Agassi Stars, children learn the values of good sportsmanship. They also attend study sessions. By balancing athletics and education, the Agassi Club provides not only a safe place for youngsters to go after school, but a positive learning environment. In 2001, the Foundation donated an additional US$720,000 towards building an Andre Agassi Cottage for Medically Fragile Children.

Also committed to children’s welfare is seven-time Grand Slam tennis champion Roger Federer. In 2003 he launched the Roger Federer Foundation in Basel, Switzerland to fund projects for disadvantaged children, especially in South Africa. Following the devastating 2004 tsunami, he instigated several other fund-raising initiatives, including the ATP All-Star Rally for Relief. This led to a global partnership with UNICEF, and in April 2006, Federer was appointed a UNICEF ‘Goodwill Ambassador.’ UNICEF Executive Director Ann M Veneman voiced her confidence in his ability to make a difference when she said: “Roger Federer will bring extraordinary energy and talent to working with UNICEF to improve the lives of children throughout the world.”

Federer believes sport can help overcome injustice and build bridges between cultures. “As tennis players, we have a unique opportunity,” he says. “We are given a chance to visit so many different countries and cultures and interact with people from all walks of life. It is our responsibility to…use our fortune to make a difference in the lives of those who most need it. If I can make a contribution to this, I am more than happy to do so.”

Fulfilling Dreams

As a child, Tiger Woods dreamed about becoming the world’s best golfer. “I worked hard,” he says, “and applied my family’s values to everything I did. Integrity, honesty, discipline, responsibility and fun ” I learned these values at home and in school, each one pushing me further toward my dream.” Knowing that thousands of other children dream about their futures too, Tiger and his father set up the Tiger Woods Foundation in 1996. “Through personal enrichment programmes, scholarships, direct grants, junior golf teams, and the new Tiger Woods Learning Center completed in 2005,” explains Tiger, “the foundation is helping millions of children reach their dreams.”

The Tiger Woods Foundation makes direct community investments through its grant and scholarship programmes. In 2005 it awarded nearly US$2 million in grants to youth-related programmes, and gave the Baton Rouge Area Foundation $200,000 to set up a Hurricane Katrina educational fund. The Foundation also donated $100,000 to Give2Asia to aid children displaced by the 2004 tsunami. The Professional Golfers Association of America (PGA) Tour contributed a matching amount of $100,000. Another well-known PGA champion golfer, Phil Mickelson, was the catalyst behind a charity designed to benefit America’s military men and women. Called ‘Birdies for the Brave’, it is sponsored by the Phil and Amy Mickelson Charitable Gift Fund. Amounts of US$100 for each ‘birdie’ and $500 for every ‘eagle’ that Phil makes are donated to help military families by financing education for the children of deceased military personnel, or support handicap-accessible homes for severely-injured or disabled American veterans. In partnership with Exxon Mobil, the Mickelsons also co-sponsor a five-day ‘academy’ for mid-primary level teachers to improve their skills in motivating children and teaching mathematics and science.

Scoring for Families

Basketball superstar Michael Jordan’s record-breaking achievements on the basketball court may have ended with his retirement in 1999, but his charitable work continues to benefit organisations he helped establish. In 1996, at the height of his athletic career, his US$2 million contribution helped finance the opening in Chicago of the James R. Jordan Boys & Girls Club and Family Life Centre (named after Michael’s father). The club offers children’s recreational and learning facilities, infant day care and a family healthcare centre.

In the same year, he committed $1million to the University of North Carolina to set up its Jordan Institute for Families. At its dedication ceremony, he explained, “I feel very blessed and fortunate to have had a family structure which nurtured and provided a positive influence for myself and my siblings. Many young people today are overwhelmed by the pressures of life, struggling and trying to survive. I am supporting the Jordan Institute for Families because I believe that everything that can be done should be done to preserve the family and to improve the quality of life for all individuals, especially children and the elderly.” Jordan remains involved with the Boys & Girls Club of America, UNCF/College Fund, Special Olympics and a variety of other organisations supporting children and families. British football icon David Beckham and his popstar wife Victoria established their own charitable trust in 2002, and more recently joined forces with UNICEF to raise funds for children worldwide. In January 2005, Beckham was appointed a UNICEF ‘Goodwill Ambassador’ with a particular focus on the UNICEF’s ‘Sports for Development’ programme. Sport is seen as a positive force to improve the lives of children throughout the world, particularly those who have been affected by disease, poverty or conflict.

Beckham’s first activity as a UNICEF ambassador was to launch a global appeal on behalf of the 1.5 million children who were victims of the 2004 tsunami, supporting the organisation’s humanitarian work in the region. He’s appeared in a series of films to raise awareness of those children who are being forgotten in the fight against AIDS. Through UNICEF’s ‘Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS’ campaign, contributions go towards helping millions of children. Proceeds of a World Cup Party hosted by the Beckhams in May this year generated funds that will enable UNICEF to reach many more children around the world. David and Victoria have also contributed to Children Today, a London-based charity for disabled children.

Fighting Poverty and Malaria

Irish pop star Bono (real name, Paul Hewson) has been deeply involved with social and political causes since the 1980s. The U2 star’s involvement with the Bob Geldof’s Band Aid and Live Aid charity projects secured his place as a worldwide legend. From 1999, he has increasingly dedicated himself to relieving third-world debt and raising awareness of the plight of Africa.

Since the end of his ‘Elevation’ tour in 2001, Bono has been actively campaigning for debt-relief in Africa and has visited many African countries. In 2002, he set up an organisation called ‘DATA’, to raise awareness of Debt, Aids and Trade problems in Africa. At present, he is particularly concerned about the problem of eradicating of malaria, which is the biggest killer on the African continent. Bono has been quoted as saying that the idea of defeating malaria in Africa would be as exciting as having witnessed Neil Armstrong’s first walk on the moon. In 2003, 2005 and 2006, Bono was a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize.

In 1984, Bob Geldof organised Band Aid to benefit children dying of starvation in Africa. He assembled Britain’s top group of singers and musicians to record the single, ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’, which became the fastest-selling single record in UK music history, raising over 8 million pound worldwide for aid in Ethiopia. In 1985, Geldof went on to organise two Live Aid concerts, one in London and the other in Philadelphia, featuring more than 60 of rock music’s biggest stars performing ‘live’. Over 100 million pound was raised for African famine relief.

In January 2004, Geldof visited friends in Ethiopia, where he discovered that more people were at risk of starvation then than during the famines of the 1980’s which inspired Live Aid. Geldof communicated his concern vociferously to British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The result was the establishment of a Commission for Africa, comprised of 16 African political leaders and others. Relief measures proposed included the doubling of aid, cancelling debt and reforming trade rules. Following the Commission’s 2005 report, Gelfdof decided to stage eight simultaneous concerts around the world to exert pressure on the so-called rich nations’ club: the G8. The event was entitled Live 8.

Combating AIDS

British singer, composer and pianist, Sir Elton John, is well-known for his support for AIDS charities. As long ago as 1986, he was contributing profits from his recordings to the American Foundation for AIDS Research and encouraging his fans to do the same. Since then, he has worked diligently to foster greater awareness of the disease among the general public.

In 1992 he set up the Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF) as a charity to fund specific programmes for HIV/AIDS prevention and to support AIDS victims. This non-profit foundation is dedicated to the elimination of discrimination and prejudice against people affected by HIV/AIDS; it also provides specialised services to AIDS victims, and preventive education programmes to people at risk of contracting the disease. Since its founding, EJAF has raised over US$100 million to support AIDS-related programmes in 55 countries around the world.

The foundation’s work is supported not only by John’s own contributions, but through numerous fund-raising events, sports programmes, art and photographic exhibitions, Oscar parties and gala dinners organised or co-sponsored by John, sometimes with auctions of his own and other stars’ personal items. Last year, EJAF introduced new initiatives aimed at HIV prevention among residents of the southern United States and the Caribbean, young people and drug users and people recently released from prison.

In Tune With Children

In the 1980s, pop idol Madonna became a supporter of the charity called amFAR, the American Foundation for AIDS Research. Since then, she has also turned her attention to Children in Need ” a charity that provides practical and lasting support to thousands of youngsters 18 years old or younger who may have experienced neglect, abuse, homelessness or poverty, and may be suffering from serious illnesses, disabilities, psychological disorders or addictions. The Make-a-Wish Foundation, which grants the wishes of children suffering from life-threatening medical conditions, is another of Madonna’s favoured causes.

Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world, is suffering from famine, drought, poverty and diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and hepatitis. Most recently, Madonna has contributed generously to Raising Malawi, a charity whose Orphan Care Initiative provides food, medical care, clothing, clean drinking water and schooling to 32,000 orphaned children in the impoverished African nation. Madonna recently demonstrated the extent of her dedication to this charitable cause by adopting a Malawian child.

In 1999, the American singer Mariah Carey received a Congressional Award for her contributions to youth charities and non-profit organisations. She was recognised for her work with the Administration for Children’s Services in New York City, and she participates in Children’s Services’ programmes to ensure that children are raised in a stable family environment. One Carey contribution of over US$1,000,000 went to the children’s Fresh Air Fund, which enables city children to enjoy summer camping in the countryside.

Camp Mariah is a Career Awareness Camp for New York adolescents operated under the auspices of the Fresh Air Fund that aims to expand their awareness of educational and career options. It offers a unique opportunity for nearly 300 boys and girls aged 12 to 14 to engage in an educational curriculum while enjoying camp adventures. Intensive three-and-a-half-week summer sessions and weekend camping trips are complemented by year-round activities in New York City. Camp Mariah was named after Mariah Carey for her generous support and dedication to Fresh Air children.