Image: Donald Trump Jr., Vanessa Trump and Bob Wright
Chae Kihn  /  Hechler Photographers
Donald Trump Jr., left, and Vanessa Trump alongside Autism Speaks co-founder Bob Wright at the annual Autism Speaks Celebrity Chef gala.
NBC News
updated 4/5/2011 5:22:42 PM ET 2011-04-05T21:22:42

Cause Celeb highlights a celebrity’s work on behalf of a specific cause. This week we speak with Vanessa Trump, socialite and daughter-in-law to Donald Trump, and composer, singer-songwriter and producer J. Ralph, about efforts to spread awareness about autism. With April being Autism Awareness Month, Trump joined forces with husband Donald Trump Jr. to sponsor the benefit event A Blue Affair, and Ralph was recruited by director Gerardine Wurzburg to compose the music to accompany her documentary on autism, “Wretches and Jabberers.”

A Blue Affair takes place on April 6 at the Trump SoHo Hotel in New York. The event will premiere Vanessa Trump's new handbag line, La Poshett. A percentage of the proceeds from the sale of the bags go to Autism Speaks, the nation's largest autism science and advocacy organization.

“Wretches and Jabberers” documents the lives of two men with autism and their efforts to bring communication to others with the condition. A portion of the ticket sales go to the Autism Society.

Vanessa Trump interview conducted by: Brittany Fuerstenberg

J. Ralph Interview conducted By: Ezra Dreiblatt

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the organization Autism Speaks and if there have been any major developments in autism research over the past year?

Vanessa Trump: Autism Speaks started in 2005. It has made incredible strides developing new resources for families, (and) increasing awareness (for) autism spectrum disorders, while advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. They have committed more than $160 million to research causes, preventions, treatments, and cures for autism.

One of the things I’ve learned in the past year is that both genetics and environmental are factors in play. Genetic risk factors were found this year in children with autism that were not present in their parents. That means that the mutation may either be spontaneous or may be the result of environmental risks.

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Q: How did you first get involved with Autism Speaks?

Trump: I got involved through a friend of Autism Speaks. Her family has been involved for a long time and she asked me. She gave me some information. I had already heard about Autism Speaks through my family. My father-in-law and mother-in-law have also been involved so I’ve always known about it.

Also, I have a cousin who has a son with one of the spectrums of autism. She’s had a really tough time. Her son is 6 years old, and it’s been very tough seeing what she’s been going through. I want to try and raise as much money as I possibly can to definitely try to find the cause or the prevention or whatever we can for autism, so that it doesn’t happen to so many families or any families at all.

Q: What is the goal of the event A Blue Affair that you are sponsoring?

Trump: With the growing prevalence of autism now effecting 1 in 110 American children, which is 1 in 70 boys, my husband and I really wanted to do something to help. So together we realized that this would be the perfect way to kick off and celebrate Autism Awareness Month. So we are hosting A Blue Affair at Trump SoHo. It’ll be like a New York City cocktail reception and it’s designed to help raise awareness and funds on behalf of individuals living with autism.

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Q: You recently released five handbags whose proceeds will benefit Autism Speaks. What was your inspiration behind these new designs?

Trump: I’ve been working on a handbag company for two years, which I really started this past year. When you start a company it takes a long time to get the right products. So I designed these python bags. There are about six strong pieces in the collection. Instead of just people making money and putting it in to buy a new car or a new apartment, I thought: “You know what, I actually want to design bags and give a percentage of my profit to a charity.”

Image: J. Ralph
Courtesy of J. Ralph
J. Ralph composed the music for the documentary on autism, “Wretches and Jabberers.”

So, I thought of Autism Speaks, I looked at their color, which is skyscraper blue, and I designed them [the bags] in that color. So, a percentage of the profit of the sales of any of these bags that are order in that color will go to Autism Speaks.

Q: With April being Autism Awareness month, what are some things that people can do to learn more about autism?

Trump: Definitely go to the Autism Speaks website. It’s an excellent resource for people to visit to learn more information about autism and the organization. It’s a tool to help improve the lives of individuals affected by autism and their families. It also illustrates ways for people in the community to get involved and help make a difference.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Trump: The event is going to be a lot of fun, so we hope a lot of people come out! It’s going to be a great evening, and it’s only going to be two hours!

Q: How did you get involved with the film “Wretches and Jabberers,” and what was it like creating a film soundtrack?

J. Ralph: Between my previous work on “Man on Wire,” “The Cove,” and some other things, she [Gerardine Wurzburg, “Wretches and Jabberers director] was just very excited to work with me.

Q: Was there something specific with “Wretches and Jabberers” that made you want to get involved?

Ralph: I was very much intrigued by the fact that these two gentlemen had never been able to speak before. I thought their bravery and their persistence, and their creativity, was so intriguing. When she sent me the film, I was very moved by that. I just felt like I wanted to take the journey with them, and see how the story unfolded. (I) wanted to try to give it a musical voice.

Q: How did you go about getting the different artists to sing your songs for the album?

Ralph: As I was working on the film and doing the score, it became evident that the most significant punctuation of their journey would be words coming to life in the form of song. So I started working on it and I called my friend Ben Harper to see if he wanted to work on it with me, and he said, “Yeah.”

Then, Scarlett Johansson is another friend that has come by the studio often. We’re always playing at the studio. I was blown away by her voice, and we were just sort of messing around, and I asked if she wanted to do something as well, and she wanted to be part of it also. So, this kind of train started leaving the station, I guess, and I everyone wanted to be part of helping celebrate these guys, and help give life to these words.

Q: Why was it important to you to work on a film about autism?

Ralph: It’s just a human rights issue for me. They’ve been marginalized. They’ve been forgotten. They’ve been not given a chance to bring something to that table, and that’s not really fair for any group, or any person to be subjected to that kind of treatment. So, as I said before, their bravery, creativity and perseverance is what drew me in. But, what helped seal the deal was the fact that everybody needs to be given a chance to shine.

Q: What do you hope this film and your soundtrack will teach people about autism?

Ralph: When people watch the film, or listen to some of the music, I hope that they can take away that they’ll never again look at a person that’s different from you, as somebody that’s different from them. Look at them for what they have in common with them and how (to) connect with them instead of segregating them and saying that they’re different from me.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Ralph: Well, I’m not a doctor, I can’t speak to autism. But you know as I said the guys have not been able to express themselves for 30 years and they’re coming online with these wonderful thoughts, and it was just a great journey to take with them.

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