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For Menounos, it's lights, camera, Take Action

Cause Celeb talks with actress and entertainment reporter Maria Menounos about her work with the charity she co-founded, .
Image: Maria
Maria Menounos autographs a photo for a U.S. soldier during a visit to Camp As Saliyah in Doha, Qatar, on March 11. Brian Lee

Question: What charities are you involved with?

Answer:  I formed my own charity … six years ago, after a trip to South Africa and witnessing the devastation of the AIDS epidemic there. So I came back and wanted to do something more than what I had done, which was sending back goods and clothing, and I formed Take Action Hollywood. Our mission is to raise awareness about social issues through the medium of film and through Hollywood. So we’re involved in a number of programs we’ve self-initiated. It’s really me and the co-founder and my assistant that do everything. … We have a program called Take Action One Cup that we did with Cosmogirl magazine originally and then … Channel One. Take Action One Cup is calling out students across the country to identify problems in their community and come up with a creative and impactful solution. So you could build an art studio for underprivileged kids or you could start a late night basketball league in a gang infested area. We had one group of kids who realized there was a paraplegic student in their school who dreamed of playing baseball and they raised enough money to build a field that would accommodate his handicap, which was mind-boggling to me. Then we also do a film competition with Cosmogirl, where we have people make a 6 minute film about a social issue that’s important to them. This year’s winner was Kiri Davis and she was on “Oprah,” “The Today Show,” and on every other morning show talking about her film about what being a young black woman is like in our country. …  We also have teamed up with Nike for the Let Me Play campaign. Basically what we have been doing is working toward resurfacing playgrounds in underprivileged communities to get kids active and get them working out and exercising to lower obesity and type 2 diabetes. I actually had to run a 10k race for that one and it was interesting, because I’m not a runner and they were really nervous. We started running and they’re like, ‘There’s a car that will take you to the end,’ and I’m like, ‘I don’t cheat. You have to take me out on a stretcher, that’s the only way I’m not going to finish.'”

Q: You do a lot with children and helping underprivileged children. What drew you to become active with kids?

A: Well we are pretty diverse. We do stuff with pets and we shot a (public service announcement) for Pet Orphans, which is a local animal shelter in Los Angeles. But I really love engaging teenagers because — I know it sounds corny — but they are our future. Having worked at Channel One and seeing some of the stuff that they can come up with, … I know that if you give them a vehicle they’ll use it and they’ll do amazing things with it. Kiri is an example. She took that project and ran with it and she got this great scholarship (and) laptops for her filmmaking. It’s just its great and I love that. But we do so many different things from the diabetes awareness for EIF, the Entertainment Industry Foundation. I went to Capitol Hill recently on behalf of my charity and spoke about diabetes and the different ways we can spend our diabetes budget in a better way. So, I like keeping it diverse.

Q: What would you say is the most gratifying or impressive event that your charity has done?

A: I think that would be our children’s hospital event every year. … We started annual day of beauty where we go into the teen lounge to the children’s hospital in Los Angeles. It’s mostly for terminal kids, and we have the top of the line hair and makeup artists in Hollywood. -- Britney Spears’ makeup artist and Mariah Carey’s and all these people. They come in and they make them up and we make up the moms and the sisters and whoever is there and we have these great gift bags that we give them. … It’s up to the doctor whether they can actually come to the teen lounge, because a lot of them are really, really sick so I end up kind of leaving everybody in the teen lounge and going mobile. We go around to all the rooms and visit everyone and we bring them gift bags and try to brighten up their day. And that I think is such a reality check because you just don’t appreciate your health until you’ve been in a place like that and you see babies that are in there alone and kind of abandoned because their family has six other kids they have to take care of and this one’s dying. …  A few months later you look back and ask about the kids and a lot of them have passed, so I think to me that is definitely the most rewarding because you know you can really touch them.

Q: I know that you have family in Greece and that you were involved in helping those affected by fires that have devastated those towns.

A: Well basically I went and covered the fires … and my part was really bringing attention to the cause and what was going on. Then I wrote a blog and got MSNBC to run the Greek fire relief fund Web site so people could talk about it and donate. Some people actually saw the coverage and donated millions of dollars which was great.

Q: You do so much. You’re on “Access Hollywood," you’re at “The Today Show," you’re running children’s beauty days at a hospitals, increasing awareness about diabetes, raising money for victims of the fires, what do you want people to know about the importance of being involved with a charity? Why do you feel it’s so important to make it a part of your everyday life?

A: I’ve been involved in charity work since I was 13 and I always wanted to get to where I am now because I wanted to be able to do so many things in the charity world. So I think it’s more than important that you get involved and it’s so rewarding and you feel really empowered. I always suggest it to people who are lost or who haven’t found their way yet … because it can really give you perspective. Your situation definitely is not as bad as theirs. … And for everyone else, we just should (get involved). … Even if it’s just an hour a week, it’s so important because there are so many people out there that need you.

Interviewed by NBC's Kelly McKelvey