Charity / Musings

Silencing the Snark – Why Everybody Is Somebody For Charity

I am a nobody.

I am a simple, everyday, run of the mill, teacher. I like to tinker, to figure out how things work and make them better. I like to design and make new things as equally as I enjoy indulging in the adrenaline of the hunt for antiques.  I like to sing, dance (badly), and make a complete idiot out of myself with my niece and students, all in the valiant search for a laugh. I love numbers and science which contrast greatly with my love for acting and the arts. I am a member of the Screen Actors’ Guild but you’ve never seen me onscreen… unless you happened to live in the greater Philadelphia area in the early 90s when I became a local salt water taffy sculpting champion down the shore.

Like I said, a nobody.

My facebook timeline is a steady stream of other nobodies. (Before you get offended, keep reading.) Classmates from decades past, coworkers from jobs long left behind, fellow cast mates from stage shows long closed.  An ever refreshing page of gummy baby grins, flashy engagement rings, and “How I spent my summer vacation” tales.

A few weeks ago, pictures began shifting to videos, most with one common theme: The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. I became curious at the stills of so many friends from years gone by, their children, and big groups all with buckets sitting idly in front of them or being held precariously over their heads; I couldn’t help but click and watch.

“I challenge…,” “Do this or donate $100,” “You have 24 hours.”

Wait. Was I hearing things correctly? Were people voluntarily dumping buckets of ice water onto their heads to AVOID donating to charity?

“Great,” I thought to myself, “Another reason for the world to hate America.” Seriously, though. People dumping potable water, in times of drought, upon their heads just to get out of donating funds sent my Spidey sense of cynicism into overdrive. Suddenly I found myself caving to the hashtag activism snark, sharing an article chock full of criticism. After all, California is in a drought people! Kids in Africa don’t have water! WHY AREN’T YOU DONATING?!

Wow.

Fairly contradictory to the auntie who opened a little bracelet shop with my then seven year old niece Alexa to raise money for Bridget’s adoption fund just a few short years ago. (Bridget was an orphan we funded through Reece’s Rainbow, a small charity who promotes international adoption of children with Down Syndrome.)

My cynicism turned and smacked me right back in the face. Who was I to question people making cute videos to raise awareness? ALS is a disease that, until recently, has not been prioritized in coverage but is equally as devastating as those we all know better because we are bombarded with merchandise and athletic events. Later I would come to find that most who made the videos also donated a smaller amount than the publicized $100 for avoidance in addition, but what gave me the right to criticize no donation?

I have worked on charity projects with Alexa for the past four years of her life. My goal has been to teach her that even if you don’t have any money and cannot aid in that fashion, there is always a way to use what you do have, your talent, ingenuity, skills, and mind, to help in other ways.

So, after a lot of tears and one very apologetic Skype call to the littlest crusader, I agreed to take on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge if she was so bold to nominate me.

Like there was ever a question about that…

But where did all that cynicism come from? Why was I so bothered by people trying to do the right thing? Where had the philanthropy driven side of me gone?

As I started to reflect, one stumbling block kept rearing its ugly head. I’ve worked for and taken part in many high profile charity events in my lifetime, many associated with celebrities. In most instances, if the actor/sports star/politician hadn’t been attached to the event, or greater cause at large, the event would not have even made a blip on most people’s conscious radar. I will be the first to admit, myself included. This is why it is so important for those in the spotlight to share that attention with a cause they firmly believe in, support, and stand behind themselves.

One amazing example of this high level of celebrity philanthropy is actress Gillian Anderson and her involvement in many charities including the support of Neurofibromatosis (NF) as a result of her own brother’s affliction and South African Youth Education for Sustainability (SA-YES), a charity which provides groundbreaking job training to youth aging out of children’s homes. In 2008, a group of The X-Files fans, some who grew to become Hollywood players in their own right, created a non-profit organization and called it IBG, Inc. (Inspired by Gillian) IBG, Inc. worked to raise funds for Gillian’s supported charities through screenings and ultimately meet and greet conversation series with the show’s stars. In addition to the honor of calling everyone at IBG, Inc. friend, I was also invited to be a guest photographer at their Conversation with David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson event. Sure the 19 year old nerdy fangirl in me flailed, but the knowledge that I was contributing to something greater was the real take away.

IBG, Inc. ultimately inspired me to start my small charity work with Alexa. We had our little bracelet shop for Bridget, and then we discovered a little show called Downton Abbey. Before I knew it, I was off to live in London on dance study whilst completing my Masters. Though quite the whirlwind that deserves discussion in its own right, the trip proved to be one where I got to further explore charitable work, mostly through theatrical events on the West End.

Once home, Alexa and I learned that Phyllis Logan, who plays the indomitable housekeeper Mrs. Hughes on Downton Abbey and the incomparable Lady Jane Felsham on the great antique centered mystery/comedy series Lovejoy, was to be the celebrity spokesperson for Dementia UK. (Interesting side note: When I told Alexa, who I had not lived apart from since she was a toddler, I was going to be away in the UK for some time, she was markedly upset. After a few minutes of tears, she said, “Well, I guess it will be alright if you get me Mrs. Hughes’s autograph.” CHEEKY!) After watching Phyllis on Alan Titchmarsh, Alexa asked if we could do anything to help. From there, we developed Tea Time with Aunt Jen and Alexa, which originally started as a small online jewelry shop (2013) and has since progressed to include our international ‘Teadre and Saucie’ fundraiser (ongoing).

But with all good things in life, the bad must come. We had many early supporters of our efforts, but the more momentum the fundraising gained, the more criticism started to flow in.

“You are only using your niece for attention.”

“What do you hope to gain from all of this?”

“No one likes a show off.”

I was floored. Here I was, trying to teach my niece how to use what little we have to help others, and suddenly I was forced to switch my focus to address bullying. Sign of the times, I suppose. Soon, interest in our efforts waned as the slander continued to flow. There came a point where I did not know what else to do but simply give up.

Ever the creature of habit, I decided to offer any assistance I could to another charitable endeavor that was on my radar. When you follow people on social media, it is the simple knowledge that they are trying to do something good that draws your attention, or should be in a better world. I started asking my better known contacts for donations to be put into auction when communication with the organizer unexpectedly came to a screeching halt.

That’s when I saw the not so cryptic, passive aggressive messages from an overwhelmingly fervent online bully making the rounds.

Que sera sera, I tried to tell myself. You did nothing wrong. You were only trying to help.

It was still quite a blow. There is nothing quite as damaging to the soul, both personally and professionally, as trying to figure out where something has gone pear shaped when the silence is deafening. My mind flew into irrepressible overdrive. What had she said about me now? What must this professional person now think of me? This wasn’t the first time a complete stranger was handed a prettily gift wrapped wrong side of the stick from this particular celebrity-stalking internet catfish. Disappointment does not begin to cover my feelings.

If more people were honest and upfront with each other, this problem would not exist. “But this is the internet,” people continue to cry as if it is a valid excuse. “Everyone lies. You should know better.” Perhaps I should, but no matter how fruitless it proves, I do still hope for a day where people won’t have this great fear of being themselves, of feeling not good enough to the point where they have to create some outlandish back story that is impossible to live up to.

Do good. Be kind. Your actions will shout out louder than any imaginary tale of grandeur.

Regardless, I refused to let the hiccough deter my support of the charity at large. I eagerly anticipated the auction and gladly bid alongside Alexa. Yes, the niece beat me out for one of my items, but she was so proud, I couldn’t help but LET her win… 😉 In any case, we will now have 3 more charitable art pieces to add to the collection!

Not to get all academic, but in conclusion, I’ve begun to realize that the unkindness of others has ultimately kept me from fully realizing and holding back my own kindness. It dimmed the light I had in my heart for others, not only those in need, but those trying to help those in need. There is nothing greater to aspire to in this life than to advocate for those who cannot.

You see, EVERYBODY is a SOMEBODY. Everybody has the ability to give something, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem, to help others.

NO BODY is a NOBODY.

‘Teadre and Saucie’ are making a comeback, and so am I.

Do what you can today and every day,

Jen

P.S. I WILL be doing the ALS Ice Bucket Challege (in support of ALS and Dementia UK) just as soon as it won’t prove to be the Ice Bucket Pneumonia Challenge. (Currently on day 3/5 of a Z-Pak. Oops!)

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