May 12, 2009 by Brandy Reynolds
Best known for her portrayals of Eden Lord on Nip/Tuck and Naomi Clark on 90210, AnnaLynne McCord is one of the strongest young female philanthropists standing up in Hollywood and fighting for the charities she believes in.
Those charities include The Blind Project, which works towards partnering with indigenous organizations in South East Asia to protect those vulnerable to human trafficking and to provide restoration through education, life skills training and counseling, and the St. Bernard Project – which rebuilds homes for senior citizens, people with disabilities and families with children who cannot afford to have their homes rebuilt by contractors.
In this interview you’ll get a glimpse of her efforts to reach out to those in dire need for someone to stand up and fight in areas of their lives in which they can’t fight for themselves.
Why do you support The Blind Project and St. Bernard’s Project?
I’m a strong believer in working with organizations and giving back, and working with particular groups that strongly affect a person. As long as it strongly affects you, that’s when you will make a difference.
So I got involved with the Blind Project because I always knew I’d work with children and abuse, I just didn’t know in what capacity. Obviously this is the darkest form of abuse that one can imagine working in, fighting the sex trade.
St Bernard’s Project: I was in New Orleans last year visiting someone and I really wanted to go and see and experience what happened. I really was ignorant at the time as to how much damage was still present, and how very few families have been able to move back home… No one wants to see it, hear about it, it hurts your feelings, it feels bad, it gets your stomach in knots.
I remember being there and feeling the desolation and despair – even now the feeling is still strongly there. It really had a strong effect on me. I really wanted to do something to help. I was at a couple events for the Golden Globes and I met Liz MCartney and Zach Rosenburg from the St Bernard Project and it was so wonderful hearing their story, how they’d just received the CNN Hero’s award, which I think is so incredible and so deserved.
[Annalynne joined volunteers from the St Bernard Project in New Orleans soon afterwards, and worked with them as they rebuilt houses.]
I got to actually meet the family that was going to move into the house I was working on, and I got to go around that Sunday and meet families who had made it through everything. Hearing their stories was heart wrenching, but seeing their resilience was so incredible to me because, even in the midst of something so horrific, they had a smile on their face and they were so thankful for the help… it made them a stronger group of people.
New Orleans families are such close families, the grandmother lives next door and the sister is across the street. And what I heard a lot of is: “It’s really hard for us to move back, though we want to, because half of our families are still in theses FEMA trailers.” These trailers are like the trailers I sit in when I’m on set. When I saw that, it ripped my heart out. I got really emotional and upset about it. Zack and Liz told me that it’s ok, the families are thankful to have something.
The reason I’m speaking out about it now is because time is of the essence – less than 50 % of the families have moved back to St Bernard Parish. In August of this year, FEMA is taking away the housing, leaving many families homeless. I feel that a lot of people rushed to help when the hurricanes first hit – now it’s four years later, no one really remembers it. I would really love for the American people to come together and get these families into homes that are safe and secure and aren’t filled with formaldehyde, like half of the trailers from FEMA are. That makes people sick, and then you have medical bills on top of everything else.
A lot of people may not know that the families who had to move up north or to Alabama or the surrounding stats are still paying property taxes to the government for damaged property. I’m speaking out about this now saying please don’t forget about the Katrina victims.
I believe in being in the position I’m in I have to be a voice to those who don’t have a voice. Right now the victims of the sex trade and Katrina don’t have a voice and I want to be a voice for them.
Since you’ve been working with these two organizations, how have you seen great improvement?
St Bernard: Coming off the St Bernard Project, I see they’re working so hard and they’ve built 204 houses which is incredible for three years. For one single organization to have that many families back into their homes [is amazing].
Blind Project: As far as the Blind Project, it’s been incredible the amount of people that have come on board. On BlindProject.com there’s a United Wall. You click on the United Wall and it goes to a wall of pictures. I remember when I first got involved with the Blind Project a year and a half ago the wall had maybe 10 of us. I think I’m like the 10th or 12th person on the wall. Now we have 100’s of people around the world showing their support, and I have fans from MySpace and such who have contacted me saying we are doing a fundraiser here in Missouri… It’s just been so incredible to see all the support. Time, money etc whatever, it’s that much more than we had yesterday and that’s what has been incredible since I’ve been a part of Blind Project.
It’s been inspiring to me how many people really want to help, but don’t know how to or know that it’s ok. I’m trying to teach [my fans] that you’re more fortunate than some people out there, and there is something you can do. And that’s my spin on it in order to let it be something cool.
For young people out there who don’t have a lot of money, what would you suggest they do to get involved?
What’s incredible to me when I was down in New Orleans is, I was working with a group of girls who would love to be at a sorority party, but instead they’re taking their time and giving back. They’re not in the position to write a check, but they’re able to give there time. Like me when I was growing up: on Saturday nights we’d make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and my dad would bring them to the homeless in Atlanta.
I think a lot of times in Hollywood, people have celebrities come and they go all out and get cars for the celebrities and I’m like I’m sorry, it’s for a fundraiser you can drive yourself. I can tend to be a hard ass, but I really believe if you truly want to be there for charity, get yourself there or I don’t want your time.
Do you think that young female celebrities are shining enough light on world issues or could they be doing more?
No, I don’t think they are at all, and I’ve consistently spoken out about it. I would love to say in this interview what I’d like to say to young Hollywood:clean up your act! Don’t be on the cover of magazines for partying too much and driving down the wrong side of the freeway. Be on the cover of a magazine for something that matters for something that’s important. I know in your twenties you want to be young and beautiful and experience all of that, and I’m all for all of that, but at the same time with privilege comes certain obligations. We as celebrities are in a position in which not a lot of people are …where we make a wonderful amount of money and we’re in the public eye and we have people who follow us and want to do what we do and say what we say. If you are in that position and you take advantage of that – and don’t use it to its fullest – then I think there’s something wrong with you and your position should be taken away. If everyone thinks I’m crazy for it then they can think I’m crazy.
Look To The Stars would like to thank AnnaLynne McCord for taking the time to talk to us.