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On Prime Time, a Push for Volunteers

Hollywood stars join drive to inspire community service

The doctors on Grey’s Anatomy want you to do it. So do the special agents on NCIS, the neurotic women on Desperate Housewives, even the folks struggling with their weight on The Biggest Loser. They all want you to volunteer in your community. And to make sure you get the message, those shows and many others will launch an unprecedented weeklong television promotion beginning Monday, Oct. 19.

The Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF)—the Hollywood charity that last year raised more than $100 million for cancer research thanks to a star-studded, prime-time broadcast—is sponsoring the campaign, called iParticipate. The major networks will emphasize the need for volunteers in the areas of education, health, environmental conservation and support for military families.

Viewers will see celebrity public-service announcements from stars such as mother-and-daughter actresses Blythe Danner and Gwyneth Paltrow, singer Faith Hill, and actors Morgan Freeman and Matthew McConaughey. The announcements will run in shows such as ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance.

There also will be end-of-episode pleas for volunteerism from casts and community service themes in the plots of many popular shows. On ABC, the doctors organize a blood drive on Grey’s Anatomy, and the women of Wisteria Lane organize a neighborhood watch program on Desperate Housewives. Two characters on CBS’s Numb3rs decide to participate in a Big Brothers Big Sisters-type program.

Viewers can find volunteer opportunities in their communities at EIF’s website and at the website for Create the Good, AARP’s community service program that is cross-promoting with iParticipate. AARP has more than 9 million volunteers, donors and activists, age 50 and older, involved in community service. The joint promotion is a way for the two organizations to pursue a common goal—showing Americans how easy it is to make an effort.

The inspiration for iParticipate came last year during a presidential forum cosponsored by AARP at which then-candidates Barack Obama and John McCain both vowed to expand the country’s volunteer programs. In California, home of the entertainment industry, AARP state leaders are hoping the TV promotion will boost the service activities under way there.

The bottom line, says AARP chief operating officer Thomas Nelson, is that any amount of community service is worthwhile. “We encourage all Americans to dedicate time to service—whether they have five minutes, five hours or five days.”  

Candy Sagon is a Washington, D.C., writer.

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