Hollywood stars lend a hand for diverse charities

Sun Jul 18, 2010 9:57pm EDT
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By Todd Longwell

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Actress Patricia Richardson is perched atop a stack of drywall in an unfinished townhouse in the Latino community of Lynwood, doing her part for the Los Angeles wing of Habitat for Humanity.

She used to build sets back in college and even worked on a previous Habitat build in 1994 for a special episode of her series "Home Improvement." But as she stares down the latest in a long string of drywall screws, cordless drill in hand, it's clear that her construction skills aren't what they used to be.

"I've been in this room for probably an hour, trying to tighten these screws in the wall and sort of missing," says Richardson, trying to laugh off her frustration. "(Habitat has) a class where you can go and get some building skills and since I'm really rusty, maybe I need to take it."

With three children to raise, Richardson's philanthropic efforts had been largely confined to writing checks. But now that her youngest has graduated from high school, she's eager to take part in Habitat builds as often as she can. Yes, she's driven by a desire to aid the organization's mission to provide affordable sustainable housing for needy families, but she's also drawn to the tactile fulfillment the work provides.

"This is really satisfying, physically," she says. "You're getting to do something and you see the result of the work."

Richardson is not alone in these sentiments. Increasingly, celebrities and other show business figures are going beyond posing on red carpets at benefit galas and getting actively, often physically, involved with their pet charitable causes, whether it be Brad Pitt working to build 150 sustainable, affordable homes in New Orleans' Ninth Ward through his Make It Right Foundation or U2's Bono buttonholing world leaders and asking them to forgive Third World debt or do more to fight AIDS in Africa.

In the celebrity and civilian worlds, activism is often inspired by personal experience with illness, poverty or abuse. For Richardson, it was her late father's struggle with the neurodegenerative brain disease Progressive Supranuclear Palsy that led her to sign on as the national spokeswoman for CurePSP. In the case of actor John C. McGinley, best known as Dr. Perry Cox on "Scrubs," it was the 1997 birth of his son Max, who has Down syndrome, that moved him to take action.

Since 2006, McGinley has been the national spokesman for the National Down Syndrome Society's Buddy Walk, an annual program of 350 events across the country designed to raise money and awareness and help integrate the families of children with special needs into the community at large.   Continued...