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‘Dancing’ judge touts benefits of volunteerism

Carrie Ann Inaba with UnitedHealthcare employees Brian Elkjer, left, and Jay Sivasailam volunteer for a day of service at the Three Square food bank in North Las Vegas, Nev. on Oct. 21.Isaac Brekken / UnitedHealthcare
/ Source: NBC News

Cause Celeb highlights a celebrity’s work on behalf of a specific cause. This week, we speak with dancer, singer and “Dancing with the Stars” judge Carrie Ann Inaba about her work with the Entertainment Industry Foundation's iParticipate campaign. The initiative aims to encourage service and volunteerism. For the week of Oct. 19, the four major networks – ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC – participated by programming more than 103 shows devoted to the campaign. These shows focused on story lines and public service announcements about volunteerism.

Inaba has gained widespread fame as a judge on ABC's “Dancing with the Stars.” She first appeared as a “Fly Girl” in the television show “In Living Color.” Since then, she has made appearances in “Austin Powers in Goldmember” as well as other films. Inaba choreographed for popular shows such as “American Idol” as well as the Miss America pageant. In addition to her entertainment work, Inaba has also done behind-the-scenes work producing and directing films. In addition, she is actively involved with charitable causes, especially those helping underprivileged dancers.

Q: Can you tell me about the EIF iParticipate Campaign?

Inaba: Basically, EIF, which is the Entertainment Industry Foundation, is launching a new era of service. They’re wanting to inspire people to do good, and to give back, and to volunteer. They have done something which is incredible, which is united ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX along with another, I think, 10 cable channels to create over 102 programs of television programming to inspire people to volunteer and to give back. They created this wonderful Web site,

I know for myself, when I started volunteering, which is about three years ago, I didn’t really know how to volunteer. I knew I wanted to, I have been wanting to volunteer for quite a while, but didn’t quite know where to go and how to find out, and actually looking on the Web back then, there weren’t a lot of resources to point me in the right direction. So is a Web site that the EIF has created to help people find local opportunities to volunteer. You can type in your ZIP code and then you could type in maybe some of your interests, and it’ll point you in the right direction. I think right now it’s important to give back, and I think this is very important to get involved.

Q: How are you participating in this campaign?

Inaba: Well, I’m volunteering. I’m out doing my thing. Today, I’m here at the Three Square Food Bank in Las Vegas, and they provide over 8 million meals to underprivileged families annually. I’m here with 50 other members of the UnitedHealthcare group, and they’re all volunteers. Over 70 percent of the employees at United Healthcare volunteer. They have a slogan, “Do Good, Live Well.” It sort of make sense for me as well to do good, and live well. You can tell, because everybody in that room, they’re just really happy.

We just had a great time. We’re packaging food and supplies for people who are underprivileged. When they’re in boxes, it felt good. Today was a really exciting day for me. I left my brother, I was at "Dancing with the Stars" last night, I left him in my dressing room so that I could get on a plane and get over here to Las Vegas and do this. I was really excited to do this.

Q: Why did you choose to get involved with charitable causes? Was there a moment where you realized you wanted to do this for some reason?

Inaba: There was a moment. When I was very young, I’ve always wanted to give back to animals. More recently, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, and, this is about two years ago now, it changed my life. It really did. Who are you, and what are you doing with your life, because life is fleeting. My mom is OK now. She went through chemotherapy and radiation and had a mastectomy, and I went through the whole process with her and became very familiar with what the process is for somebody who’s going through breast cancer. It was a wakeup call, and I’m really, in a strange way, grateful to the wakeup call and my mom is as well.

The year before she was diagnosed, I had done the Revlon Run/Walk, and she came out and we did it, and it was fun. Then, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and then she came back out the year after that. She was back as a survivor, and it was so profound. It’s just made a huge impact in my life, so I want to do as much as I can to help inspire others. Not only because it’s important to help people, but because it really does make you feel good. People are going through very difficult times. Doing things like volunteering can really get you perspective in your life, and help you feel better, as well as you’re helping the people that you’re volunteering for as well.

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

Inaba: I work with another foundation that I co-founded with Nigel Lythgoe from "So You Think You Can Dance" and Adam Shankman and Katie Holmes. It’s called the Dizzy Feet Foundation. That’s another way I’ve sort of found a path to give back. It’s for dancers and we provide for scholarships this year to underprivileged dancers this year to go to wonderful facilities such as Alvin Ailey, and the Joffrey Ballet, and some other just wonderful institutions of dance.

We’re also reaching out to underprivileged kids, and working on developing a program to get dance to as many people as possible, because dance is being cut from so much of our academic programming that we have to do our part and give back. I know how dance has influenced my life, and I wanted to influence many future generations to come.