Individuals from every walk of life and companies of all sizes are becoming more aware of their responsibility to give back to those who need it most. Literally translated, the word philanthropy means, "love of humanity."
I recently connected with two individuals whose goals and actions are motivated by a purely altruistic love of humanity. Actor and musician Kevin Bacon, parlayed a pop culture game sensation into something more meaningful by founding SixDegrees.org -- an organization that connects celebrities with good causes through social networking. He also devotes time and effort toward a cause he is passionate about -- wiping out childhood hunger. Bacon works with the Share Our Strength Organization whose No Kid Hungry campaign provides kids in need with healthy food and educates their families on how to cook nutritious, affordable meals.
Billy Shore, Founder and CEO of Share Our Strength is committed to engaging the public and policymakers to make ending child hunger a national priority. Shore founded Share Our Strength in 1984 with his sister Debbie and a $2,000 cash advance on a credit card. Since then, Share Our Strength has raised and invested more than $528 million in the fight against hunger, and has won the support of national leaders in business, government, health and education, sports and entertainment.
Kevin Bacon and Billy Shore shared what drives them to be change makers, and revealed how it is possible for all of us, through open-handed action, to make an enduring impact in the world for those in need.
1. You are a very successful actor who has made some risky choices along the way. Were these decisions based on drive, curiosity, creativity -- or something else?
I've always been drawn to challenges. Parts that take you out of your comfort zone and force you to walk in the shoes of someone very different than yourself. Of course, you use your experiences. But my motto is USE yourself and LOSE yourself.
2. You have said that if people focused a little bit less on their differences and more on their connections, we might engage less in fighting wars and turn our attention to our responsibility for the planet. How has the idea of "connectedness" driven you in your work as an actor and your philanthropic efforts?
I think we all want to be part of something bigger, to experience greater meaning in life than the work we do to collect a paycheck or the routines that we allow to fill our days. A lot of that comes down to the relationships we build with other people. I'm not perfect, but I try to work hard and to respect the people I'm working for and working with. I also recognize that my career, which I totally love and am thankful for, presents me with opportunities that many other people don't have. So I try to leverage that platform to connect causes to my work when at all practical. Whether it's something like pushing for reusable water bottles on the set of The Following or inviting a talented youngster from an under-resourced school to perform on stage with The Bacon Brothers, I just try to remember that we're all connected and one small thing I do today can have a profound impact on someone miles or even continents away.
3. The SixDegrees.org concept (linking celebrities to social causes), is extraordinary. What motivated you to create this organization? Would you share one or two standout "matches" that created a nice buzz?
Several years ago, I was at a place in my life where the problems facing society seemed really overwhelming. On a global scale, 9/11 and the reality of terrorism still felt very raw. Then a family member got diagnosed with cancer. My kids were coming of age, and I was struggling with what I could do to make the world better for them.
Paul Newman was an idol of mine, not just as an actor, but also because he turned his love of food into a business that generates millions of dollars for charity. I wasn't a cook, but it got me thinking about what I had that could be turned into something good. Well, there was this "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" game created by some college kids over 20 years ago to link any Hollywood actor or actress to me in six degrees or less. For a long time, I saw it as a joke at my expense and hoped it would disappear. But it showed this tremendous staying power, which helped me embrace the phenomenon and find a way to use it -- the fact that we're all connected in six degrees or less -- to encourage everyone to take small actions that, taken together, add up to a lot of impact.
But it's not always easy to identify ways that we can make a difference, especially when we're busy juggling obligations to family, friends, careers, and all the rest. So we figured we'd make it simple -- and fun -- for celebrities to drop in on, or give social media shout outs, for local causes that had a lot of community support but maybe not as much of the limelight. Our hope is then people see the variety of different activities happening all around them with which they can connect to make a difference.
We've tested dozens of drop-ins, ranging from appearances at 5k events to live streamed performances at community theaters, so it's hard to pick the best. One of my recent favorites was when my band surprised staff and customers at Sugar Shack, a local doughnut shop in Alexandria, VA by belting out Footloose during its community give-back day. The looks we got and the smiles and spontaneous clapping and singing along, gave you this community feeling that I just can't describe. Small business owners like this have a tremendous opportunity to impact their communities, which is why we also coordinate Shop For Good, a holiday give-back campaign making it easy for hundreds of independent businesses to benefit local causes as well.
Another example is when actor Andrew Rannells offered to volunteer while in town promoting his new film, The Intern. We connected him with a great New York City charity, Citymeals-on-Wheels, that depends on 15,000 volunteers to deliver 18,000 meals and conversation to homebound seniors daily. We take for granted the value of daily human interaction. Sometimes, the people that deliver these meals are the only individuals homebound seniors connect with each day. These programs exist in cities across the country and offer meaningful opportunities for anyone to make a difference.
4. You are living proof of the fact that through our choices and actions we can make the world a better place. Yet, many feel helpless and give up hope when faced with the extent of problems in our society. What advice would you give to people who have the ideas, energy, and creativity to make a difference, but become overwhelmed by the inherent complexities of doing so?
Issues that are challenging our country and the world are complex but making change is not. Start by acknowledging that you do have the power to help and that even the smallest actions can make a big difference. More importantly, you can turn almost any personal hobby or professional talent into a charitable endeavor. Fishing, cooking, dancing, eating, shopping, performing, literally anything can be done to benefit a cause. Determine which skills and passions you enjoy and are willing to share with others to make an impact. Ask someone you see making a difference how you can get more involved -- or find opportunities on the Internet. Among other sites, you can visit SixDegrees.org to see hundreds of interesting community causes looking for help.
SixDegrees.org certainly doesn't have the knowledge or expertise to solve all of the world's problems, but we're ready to lend our strengths -- in our case, our ability to shine a spotlight on a cause-related activity -- to make a difference. Whether you spend five minutes a day or five days a week, you can focus more of your energy to make the world better as well.
5. Tell us about your work with No Kid Hungry.
Hunger -- especially hunger right here in the U.S. -- has concerned me for a long time. I work with a lot of different hunger-relief organizations, including food pantries, shelters serving hot meals, and groups like No Kid Hungry. Each has their own focus and area of expertise, but all are working collaboratively to ensure that fewer Americans struggle with hunger.
I began working with No Kid Hungry last year. What drew me to No Kid Hungry was the campaign's solutions-based approach to ending childhood hunger in the U.S. Using tested and practical models, No Kid Hungry and its partners are making real change for the 16 million hungry children and their families around the U.S.
I've learned a lot in my work with the organization. While I was on tour earlier this summer, I had the opportunity to visit a recreation center in Virginia providing healthy meals to kids during the summer time. Many of the children receiving these meals participate in school lunch programs during the school year but when summer break begins they lose access to these regular meals. By supporting reliable programs, like those feeding children in the summer months, we can ensure that kids are getting the energy they need to stay active and engaged during the summer and that they are prepared to head back to school in the fall. The kids I met were happy, full, and having fun -- exactly how all kids should experience summer.
1. One of the edicts at Share Our Strength is to "pick the battles that are big enough to matter and that you're smart enough to win." Can you elaborate on this idea further?
The idea behind "big enough to matter, but small enough to win" is that there are so many issues, causes and battles we care about in this world, but it would, of course, dilute our energy and resources if we tackled them all. It is important to find the balancing point between those that count and those we can win. Our victories enable us to sustain our work, fight harder for our causes and, once achieved, prepare us to climb the next higher mountain.
2. Tell us about your latest programs and goals for No Kid Hungry.
Kids in America are not hungry for the same reason that kids in other countries are hungry. In America, war, famine, and drought are not the culprits. It is poverty. The food, the money, and the resources are there to feed our nation's children. Through No Kid Hungry, our goal is to connect more kids to the food they need by strengthening federal nutrition programs like school breakfast and summer meals. The strategy has been to prove the concept, as we are doing in Arkansas and Maryland, and to prove that we can scale it as we have done in New York City and Los Angeles. We also have an awareness problem in this country, so No Kid Hungry has been working to elevate the issue of childhood hunger to the national stage and garner the political will to implement the right solutions.
3. In addition to your work with Share Our Strength and the No Kid Hungry campaign, you've held several hi-profile leadership positions, authored several books about social change and have also been named one of America's Best Leaders (October 2005) by US News & World Report. What's your secret to a successful and fulfilling life?
Even a successful life is rarely an unbroken string of successes, and certainly in my case there have been plenty of failures -- from the three unsuccessful presidential campaigns I helped run, to a failed first marriage. But of course, it is what you take away from the failures that make life better and ultimately fulfilling -- especially if you apply those lessons in service of others.
It is interesting to note that giving back is known to be "contagious." Studies prove that a benevolent spirit generates a ripple effect: When we observe generosity in action, it creates a domino effect, inspiring kindness and charitable deeds in others. This holiday season, consider your giving spirit. By donating as little as $49 -- the average cost of a holiday dinner -- up to 490 meals can be provided to children in need this season, and throughout the year. Donate at NoKidHungry.org.