St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

By Ramin Setoodeh

When Jennifer Aniston’s character Rachel Green on “Friends” needed someone to play her mom, the actress suggested Marlo Thomas. “Her father, John Aniston, and I had done a play together before Jennifer was born,” Thomas recalls. “We played brother and sister. When I got the call to play Jennifer’s mother, I said, ‘That’s funny — I already played her aunt!’ We had a great time. She was very excited to have me there, because she’d remembered gifts I’d sent her and her brother when she was small.”

Their rekindled friendship led Thomas to ask Aniston to start appearing in public service announcements for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the pediatric facility in Memphis, Tenn., that provides free medical care to children with cancer and other life-threatening diseases. The doctors and nurses at St. Jude treat 8,000 patients a year from all 50 states, with housing available to them and their families at no charge. Since 2006, Aniston has filmed an annual PSA for St. Jude, sitting next to the young patients as she talks with them and asks the public to donate money to the nonprofit.

"It’s the hardest day of the year and the greatest day of the year, because they allow you to put it all into perspective."

“I started doing everything I could, meeting the children, and they’re these little heroes,” Aniston says. “I remember one year the little girl kept calling it her ‘owies,’ her little tumors, because they wouldn’t say the word ‘cancer’ in front of her. It’s the hardest day of the year and the greatest day of the year, because they allow you to put it all into perspective. You see these little miracles, these heroes, walking through something that no child should ever have to be walking through.”

Thomas — whose father, the actor, singer and philanthropist Danny Thomas, founded St. Jude in 1962 — chose Aniston to be part of
the campaign because she knew she’d have a strong bond with the children and the view-ers at home. “I was in the medicine room of St. Jude one day, and a mother said, ‘Will you give this note to Jennifer Aniston? She saved my daughter’s life.’ How is that?” The mother went on to explain: “I didn’t know what was the matter with my daughter who had headaches. I saw the commercial, and Jennifer was talking about this little girl, and I realized those were the symptoms. I went to the doctor and said, ‘Jennifer Aniston told me these symptoms. I want an MRI.’ And in fact, my daughter did have a brain tumor.”

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Building Beats

By Caroline Framke

Years before creating the persona of Awkwafina that would launch her to stardom, a fifth-grade Nora Lum had to decide which instrument to learn in school. “I wanted to play the drums but then like 15 other people wanted to, so I was like, ‘OK, what’s the next loudest instrument?’” she says, laughing. “The trumpet is one of those instruments where people can almost tell what your voice is like. ... My band teacher was able to tell who was playing the trumpet down the hall. I thought that aspect of it was really cool, because it involved a part of you.”

Twenty years later, there’s no mistaking Awkwafina’s voice, which has become one of the entertainment industry’s loudest and most distinctive. In just the last two years, she’s stolen scenes in the blockbusters “Ocean’s 8” and “Crazy Rich Asians” and starred in A24’s gorgeous bilingual drama “The Farewell”; she’s now slated to front her own Comedy Central series and two upcoming projects for Marvel.

"I didn’t anticipate that music would be like, a career...I just knew that I loved doing it."

It’s a remarkable rise — especially because it all started in her bedroom in Queens, New York, where she first started mixing the rap tracks that would go viral and catch Hollywood’s attention in the first place. “I didn’t anticipate that music would be like, a career,” she insists. “I just knew that I loved doing it.” Yet there was a steep learning curve. “When I was growing up, I was really into music, but the biggest question was access to the technology. … [So] when I first started producing beats, I was looking up how to do things like ‘How does a compressor work?’ These were questions that, in the context of GarageBand, could never be answered.”

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The Fresh Air Fund’s
Camp Mariah

By Ramin Setoodeh

Mariah Carey is writing her memoirs, which she promises will be packed with revelations. “Born to a black father and white mother,” she says, recounting the story of her life. “Lived in basically very humble beginnings. Came out of it. Ups and downs, and this and that. And public humiliation and going through the wringer. But then you have an ‘Emancipation of Mimi’ moment,” she says about the album that she released in 2005 after her divorce from record mogul Tommy Mottola. “You have to relish that moment, be around real people that care about you and just shake off the other nonsense.”

Carey has cemented her place in music history as one of the most successful female vocalists and songwriters of all time, with a staggering 18 hit songs reaching the No. 1 spot on the charts. But she’s equally proud of her philanthropic work. “Camp Mariah is one of the things that makes me feel best about what I have done in my life and in my career because it has a direct impact on kids who don’t have other options,” Carey says about the program that bears her name, which The Fresh Air Fund launched in 1994. “And yes, it’s for all the kids out there: male, female, whatever. It’s something that I feel has made a direct impact on people’s lives.”

"Camp Mariah is one of the things that makes me feel best about what I have done in my life and in my career."

Since its inception, Camp Mariah has been a life preserver for children from low-income communities in New York’s five boroughs. Each summer, about 250 seventh to ninth graders spend three weeks in the Lower Hudson Valley, participating in classes (film, photography and debate) and outdoor activities. After they return home, the kids stay enrolled in a curriculum that includes tutoring services and the opportunity to shadow various job paths, such as publishing, electrical engineering and investment banking.

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Little Kids Rock

By Cynthia Littleton

Children have been the focus of Chaka Khan’s charitable endeavors for years; music has been her life’s calling. So it’s no surprise that the legendary singer found a way to combine the two with her support for Little Kids Rock.

Founded in 2002, the New Jersey-based nonprofit provides instruments and materials for music-based curricula for public schools across the country. The decline in the number of K-12 schools that are able to offer music- and arts-related programs is alarming to Khan.

“I’ve seen music do some amazing things for people who weren’t expected to do anything,” Khan says. She loves that Little Kids Rock was started by a frustrated elementary school teacher who managed to garner support from such notables as Carlos Santana and Bonnie Raitt.

"I’ve seen music do some amazing things for people who weren’t expected to do anything."

Khan first made her mark in the 1970s as a member of the funk outfit Rufus, which had hits with “Tell Me Something Good,” “Everlasting Love” and “Ain’t Nobody.” In 1978, she went solo and began scoring with such enduring songs as “I’m Every Woman,” “I Feel for You” and “Through the Fire.”

She saw music’s power to heal firsthand when her brother and longtime collaborator, bassist Mark Stevens, suffered a massive stroke in 2016. While Stevens was in a coma, Khan and other family members instinctively knew what he needed to speed his recovery. “My sister and I kept the headphones on him, and we just kept all of our [1980s] music pumping,” Khan says. “The doctor told us that usually people who have it as bad as he did don’t come out of it. Now he’s back. He’s taking college classes and teaching bass. So I’ve seen the magic.”

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Equal Justice

By kate aurthur

In Bryan Stevenson’s 2014 memoir, “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption,” the activist lawyer and viral TED Talker recounts his move to Alabama, his co-founding of the advocacy organization Equal Justice Initiative and his representation of Walter McMillian — a wrongfully convicted death-row inmate Stevenson worked to exonerate.

This December, the story will be brought to the screen by director Destin Daniel Cretton, with Michael B. Jordan as Stevenson, Jamie Foxx as McMillian, and Brie Larson as Eva Ansley, EJI’s other founder. As a film, “Just Mercy” is a courtroom drama, a character study and an indictment of the United States’ racist legal system.

"it’s heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time."

Larson first learned of Stevenson and EJI from her friend and frequent collaborator Cretton. Over dinner in Montreal as they prepared to shoot “The Glass Castle” — their second film together after 2013’s “Short Term 12” — Larson and Cretton were “doing our usual,” she says. Their usual, according to Larson, is “talking about humanity, and what’s important to us.”

Larson says Cretton told her, “Dude, you’ve gotta read this book ‘Just Mercy’ — it’s heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time, and I think that you’ll just really relate to what Bryan’s saying.”

She read it right away. “And it just gave me this fire inside,” she says.

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Jonsson Cancer
Center Foundation;
UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive
Cancer Center

By Cynthia Littleton

Dana Walden came to appreciate the work of the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center the hard way — after her mother, Sheril Freedman, was diagnosed with a rare form of follicular lymphoma in 2008. Walden, one of the most powerful executives in television in her role as chairman of Disney Television Studios and ABC Entertainment, was directed to Jonsson by her close friend Jay Sures, co-president of UTA, whose father also battled cancer.

Another highly regarded cancer center that examined Freedman recommended a radical course of chemotherapy. At the time, Freedman was 71, in good health and had no symptoms. “The notion that we were going to make her really sick to get her well — it was just not making sense to me,” Walden recalls.

"The notion that we were going to make her really sick to get her well — it was just not making sense to me,"

The Jonsson team took a different app-roach. Oncologist Lauren Pinter-Brown suggested they try what was then a relatively new drug called Rituxan, which offers some of the benefits of chemotherapy without the debilitating side effects. The risk was that some patients didn’t respond to the drug. Fortunately, Friedman did. Her stage 3 lymphoma has been in remission for more than 10 years.

Not surprisingly, after Freedman’s experience, Jonsson became a focal point of charitable giving for Walden and her husband, Matt Walden. Dana Walden also serves on the board of the center’s fundraising arm, the Jonsson Cancer Center Foundation.

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