All too often, we hear millennials are slackers so plugged into their own worlds they’re terminally disengaged from everyone else. Yet there are legions of people under 25 making a difference.
The VH1 Do Something Awards celebrate generally unknown good Samaritans and five celebrities making a difference. At this writing, a host had not been selected for the show that airs live from the Avalon in Hollywood Wednesday, July 31.
“It is not your grandmother’s awards show,” Naomi Hirabayashi, the chief marketing officer for the Manhattan-based nonprofit, tells Zap2it. “We want to first celebrate these amazing young people who are making a change in their community and celebrate for a night, to make them celebrities for a night. And the second thing is to honor those celebrity honorees also using their voice for good.”
Entertainers being honored are Jennifer Hudson, Jesse Tyler Ferguson (“Modern Family”), Patrick Dempsey, Kelly Osbourne and LL Cool J.
Hudson and her sister, Julia, founded Hatch Day in honor of their slain nephew, Julian King. “He always wanted to hatch things,” Hudson says. “He got it from a cartoon. It was something I wanted, a hatch day. He would say, ‘Today is my hatch day.’ This is our way of giving our hatch day and being able to help other kids through his memory.”
The organization collects and distributes school supplies and Christmas presents.
“Where we came from, a lot of kids don’t have school supplies or school clothes,” she says. “Children should not have to worry about those things. When we went [shopping], you got two pairs of shoes and two pairs of clothes, and we were considered blessed. We make sure these kids have school supplies and [presents] for the holidays.”
Hudson, who remains active in the church where she grew up, was raised to help others.
“I wasn’t as aware of volunteering back there,” she says.” I come from a very giving background, part of the nature of who we are.”
Hudson already has her son, who’s about to turn 3, help distribute Christmas presents.
“It is so important and so crucial,” Hudson says of teaching kids to volunteer. “It builds your character and gives you good traits. It is a great thing to do and always makes a difference and seeing others help others.”
Ferguson recalls he “involuntarily” did volunteer work as a kid “at a soup kitchen because my dad wanted me to get a hobby, so he signed me up for the soup kitchen. I find forcible charity work to be not too joyful.”
Still, Ferguson says, “You plant the seed early and then respect what that means. It is sometimes hard as a kid to acknowledge that and learn the lesson.”
He’s being honored for Tie the Knot, which he and his new husband, Justin Mikita, founded. Ferguson has long championed gay rights, and proceeds from Tie the Knot, a line of bow ties, go to LGBT organizations.
Ferguson had watched the awards show, once known as the Brick Awards, before, when it debuted on The CW seven years ago.
“It is supposed to be lighthearted and fashionable in such a lovely way,” he says. “And with Prop 8 overturned, it is very timely for us, and that Do Something wants to recognize our hard work is above and beyond. We never expected that to get attention.”
The Do Something organization has, over six years, collected 3.5 million pairs of jeans to give to homeless youth.
“It is the largest organization for young people for social change,” Hirabayashi says. “It launched 25 campaigns for those 25 and under to take meaningful, simple action on an important cause for young people that does not require money, an adult or a car.”
The campaigns cited by the awards touch people around the world and in different ways.
Sasha Fisher of New York founded Spark MicroGrants, which provides grants to communities in Rwanda and Uganda for schools and wells.
Daniel Maree, also of New York, created the Million Hoodies Movement for Justice in response to the killing of Trayvon Martin.
Jillian Mourning of Charlotte, N.C., began All We Want is LOVE (Liberation of Victims Everywhere) to educate the public about sex trafficking in the U.S. and provide training to those, such as hotel workers, who are likely to come into contact with it.
Lorella Praeli of New Haven, Conn., works with United We Dream, the country’s largest immigrant youth-led organization. It champions fair treatment of immigrant youth and families.
Ben Simon of Takoma Park, Md., began the Food Recovery Network, which relies on college students to collect leftover food from dining halls and donate it to soup kitchens and shelters.
“I am so inspired when I watch and I look at these kids with drive and creativity,” Ferguson says. “How can you not watch that and be inspired? How do I want to leave my stamp on the world? It is inspiring to see people giving something back. And that some of them are so young it inspires me and lights a fire under me and for the older generation to become more active in society.”