By the tender age of thirteen, Jonathan Taylor Thomas had become a marketable "name" in Hollywood. Link him with a TV show or special, a movie or an event, and a major hit and payday can be predicted. But hand in hand with that kind of power and pull, JTT has always felt a certain responsibility. He loves the attention and love from his fans, but he also feels that he must give something back. Even before his popularity crowned him the top teen actor, Jonathan was continually and quietly doing charity work. Jonathan probably does more for a myriad of causes than most other celebrities - of any age.
"My mom has brought me up to be aware of how fortunate I am," Jonathan has repeated when asked why he has gotten so involved in charity work. "She worked with the handicapped and mentally disabled people for fifteen years - in New York and all over the place. She brought me up just to care."
With roots like that, it isn't surprising that Jonathan is so generous with his time and concern. As a matter of fact, Jonathan gets so many requests for appearances on behalf of various charities, he could practically be at one or another every single free weekend - sometimes it seems as if that's exactly what he does.
"There are a lot of different charities - I'll do anything I can do," JTT told a journalist during an interview. And if the charity deals with children, it is even more appealing to him. One of the most impressive aspects of Jonathan's charity work is that much of it is done behind the scenes, out of the press spotlight. He's not in it for the publicity it can get him. Indeed, the only ulterior motive Jonathan has when he helps others seems to be summed up in one sentence, "It makes you count your blessings."
One of the first areas Jonathan has always been concerned with is the environment. He has participated in several "Save the Earth" events, and in 1993 he made a video with three dozen other teen actors for Earth Day. Because of his love of nature, Jonathan admits his perception of the danger the earth faces due to pollution is only heightened when he goes on fishing trips and sees formerly pristine lakes and ocean areas clogged with debris. One of the most memorable moments of Jonathan's outdoors enjoyment was the time he was on vacation in Alaska and saw endangered bald eagles in their natural habitat. In a desire to help animals and protect the ones who face extinction, Jonathan has been finding out more about the organization PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).
However, Jonathan's heart, first and foremost, goes out to other children. Besides participating in fund-raisers for organizations such as Michael Jackson's "Heal the World" foundation, Jonathan takes it one step further. For example, when he was asked to make an appearance for the opening for FAO Schwarz toy store in California, he asked the store not to compensate him for his time, but to make a two-thousand-dollar donation to charity. And in the same vein, Jonathan had his fee for The Lion King book donated to a charity for children. In the past several years Jonathan has lent his name and participated in a number of charitable events, such as appearing in California's Tournament of Roses Parade to benefit the Children's Miracle Network, being named the spokesman for "Kids Helping Kids," and working with the 1993 Athletes and Entertainers for Kids golf tournament, which raised money for various children's charities. He introduced the "Circle of Life" parade at Disney World's Magic Kingdom during the 1995 Cerebral Palsy telethon.
Another program near and dear to Jonathan's heart is Nickelodeon's The Big Help-A-Thon. In 1994 that children's TV network sponsored the first weekend-long telethon to encourage everyday kids to volunteer in their own communities and lend a hand to those in need. "Kids really have a big appetite for making a difference," explained Nickelodeon vice president Albie Hecht about the program.
"They just don't know how to channel their energies for helping. We want to help."
To kick off The Big Help-A-Thon, Jonathan joined such superstars as Whoopi Goldberg and San Antonio Spurs basketball great David Robinson as national spokespeople for the campaign. Jonathan did many radio- and pressinterviews on behalf of the telethon, and on Sunday October 2, 1994, Jonathan spent an exhausting ten hours co-hosting it with Nickelodeon's Mark (Double Dare and What Would You Do?) Summers. Along with celebrity guests such as actress Marlee Matlin, comedian Mark Curry, Beverly Hills, 90210's Gabrielle Carteris, and Boy Meets World's Ben Savage, Jonathan answered phones taking pledges for community service from the viewers. Some of the organizations that became involved were Youth Service America, Earth Force, Points of Light Foundation, Youth Power, National 4-H, and Second Harvest. All these volunteer organizations offered suggestions to kids for their charitable activities.
"The idea is that you don't have to be a celebrity, everyone can give and everyone can help," is how Jonathan explained The Big Help-A-Thon. The message definitely got across because at the end of the telethon thirty-one million volunteer hours were pledged by 4.6 million young viewers. The kids came up with 365 different ways to volunteer their time and help, but Jonathan was most proud that the idea caught on. As one little nine-year-old girl volunteer summed it up, "If nobody did anything, nothing in the world would be different. Not everyone realizes that kids can make a difference, too. Some adults think we can't, but we can." JTT couldn't have said it better.
Another charity important to Jonathan is the Ronald McDonald House. He first became interested in their work when he was in Portland, Oregon, for a promotional appearance at a local TV station for Home Improvement. Whenever Jonathan travels, he tries to find opportunities to visit sick kids; he knows what a special treat it is for them when a celebrity shows he cares. This time he found out about the Ronald McDonald House in Portland.
When Jonathan stopped by the house, all the kids were surprised at how different he looked in person than on TV. They also were impressed at how warm and generous he was. But Jonathan didn't think he was doing anything really special - he just wanted to spend some time with the kids and pick up the spirits of those who were facing serious health problems. The Ronald McDonald House is a temporary home for premature babies and children nineteen and under, who are undergoing treatment for a lot of different illnesses, including cancer, kidney transplants, and heart transplants. Many of these kids are critically ill, and all of them are very, very sick, but at Ronald McDonald House they can live in a homelike atmosphere with their parents and family and receive the best medical care available all for free or minimal contributions.
Lorie Wirth, the Housing Program Administrator of Portland's Ronald McDonald House, recalled Jonathan's visit as memorable because he "touched the hearts of the children - and he was touched." Jonathan spent more than an hour talking and visiting with the kids, signing autographs and encouraging the kids in their battle against disease. The adults there all remarked how aware and astute JTT was and how he really left a lasting impression. But Jonathan's concern didn't end with the visit. Afterward he followed up by sending the kids photos that were taken at the time and a beautiful letter telling them how much he enjoyed meeting them. The kids framed the letter and hung it in a place of honor in the teen room.
Jonathan has a strong desire to help kids who aren't as fortunate as he is-especially if they are sick. And, for two years in a row - 1994 and 1995 - he and his Home Improvement brothers, Zach and Taran, have participated in a fashion show and luncheon to benefit Phoenix Children's Hospital's Emily Anderson Family Learning Center. Named for Emily Anderson, a seven-year-old girl who lost her battle with leukemia in 1986, the center is an information and training source for families of ill or injured children. Services include teaching parents how to help their seriously ill children at home, an information resource on children's illness, parenting, and many other related issues. The May 1995 fund-raiser was the fifth annual benefit for the center and during their stay in Phoenix, Jonathan, Taran, and Zach visited kids in the hospital and joined local volunteer kids called the Kids Who Care Gang in a fashion show of Phoenix Suns sportswear. Jonathan wholeheartedly agreed with Taran, who told a Phoenix newspaper reporter, "It's important to give back. Everyone has to deal with illness at some time in their life. We just want to tell the children we understand what they are going through and hope we can make their day a little happier."
With the $80,000 raised at the fashion show, a lot can be accomplished to fulfill the Home Improvement brothers' hopes.
Yet another charity Jonathan loves hooking up with is the annual Sail with the Stars Cruise. Every year some of the top celebrity kid stars and their families sail the high seas - not only for their own enjoyment but to help a very important charity. The first year JTT went, it was on behalf of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. Paying guests have the opportunity to spend a full week mingling, participating in activities, and getting to know some of their favorite stars like JTT. A major portion of the fees for the cruise goes to the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.
Jonathan went on his first cruise in 1993. Even his brother, Joel, got in on the action and served as an on-the-scene reporter/photographer for the cruise for 16 magazine. As he snapped photos of Jonathan with fellow stars Full House's Jodie Sweetin and Andrea Barber, Fresh Prince's Tatyana M. Ali, as well as the fans on the cruise, Joel was really impressed with how much time the celebrity kids spent "working." Of course, it wasn't all work - there was a lot of time to play, and after the cruise Joel wrote in his article for 16: "My brother Jonathan got into all kinds of `trouble.' In the week at sea, he landed himself in a `White Cloud' - that's a game where everyone brings a role of toilet paper from their cabin for a celebrity mummywrap contest! He also 'wigged out' at a costume party in full hippie attire, greased it up with Andrea Barber at a '50s party and manned the ship with the captain!"
The following year Jonathan couldn't make the cruise because he was filming Man of the House, but nothing kept him away from participating in 1995, this time to benefit the Tubular Sclerosis Foundation. At the height of his popularity, Jonathan found time once more for this love cruise. In between Tom and Huck and Pinocchio, JTT flew down to San Juan, Puerto Rico, with his mom, brother, several cousins, and his grandfather to board the cruise ship. But this time Jonathan was the absolute superstar among the honored guests, which included Jodie Sweetin, Andrew Keegan of Thunder Alley, and Will Horneff of the movie Born to be Wild. Once again Jonathan participated in the fun and games, but this time he had to have more security. He even had a guard stationed outside his cabin to fend off overanxious intruders.
Still another special cause for Jonathan is Famous Fone Friends. Founded by a group of teachers who tutor celebrity kids on TV and movie sets, Famous Fone Friends began in 1986. The celebrity volunteers call children who are hospitalized or homebound because of a serious illness. They chat about hobbies, school, friends - whatever any friends would talk about on the phone. They also offer emotional support and encouragement to the children who are ill. In the beginning, only three Los Angeles hospitals participated in this program, but today more than two hundred hospitals across the country are connected to this "party line."
Some of the stars who have participated in Famous Fone Friends are John Stamos, Fred and Ben Savage, Jaleel White, Jenna von Oy, Jodie Sweetin, Scott Weinger, Kellie Martin, Jonathan Brandis, Will Smith, and, of course, Jonathan Taylor Thomas.
"Sometimes little kids want to get phone calls from Simba, so I'll do that," explained Jonathan of his work with Famous Fone Friends. Other times he just calls and talks and talks and talks about anything his phone pal wants to. Besides the calls, Jonathan also sends his chat mates things like Home Improvement scripts, Simba lion dolls, and all sorts of souvenirs. One little ten-year-old boy who received a phone call from Jonathan enthused, "He was like a regular, nice guy!"
That's just what JTT is - a nice guy. That's how he got involved with doing some charity work for the Boy Scouts of America. While on an appearance for a local ABC affiliate in Cincinnati, Ohio, Jonathan was visiting the station. At the same time the local Boy Scouts were having a Family Jamboree, which was also sponsored by the TV station, so Jonathan took the time out to add something to their festivities. He recorded a public service announcement on bike safety in conjunction with the Boy Scouts of America.
"I feel really grateful that I'm in the position where I'm around people enough and in the public eye enough to have people looking up to me," Jonathan answered when asked why he gets involved with so many charities. "I just think it's real important to be a good and positive role model for all the kids. I just try to be on my best behavior and try to do all the right things."
And when he has had the opportunity to relate one-on-one with his fans, Jonathan never misses a chance to promote these positive messages. "I encourage kids to stay off drugs, stay in school, to make this whole country a better place to live, and hopefully our grandkids and great-grandkids can live in a safer and better environment than we do today."
The funny thing is that Jonathan hasn't only influenced kids to pitch in and help others - he's also set a standard for his Home Improvement costars. His attitude is deeply felt on the set, where the entire cast and crew of the show give to charitable causes as a single unit. For example, the show awarded former President Jimmy Carter (who has been a guest star on the series) a check for $100.000 for Habitat for Humanity. That's a charity started by Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosily, that builds houses for the needy. The Home Improvement check will go toward the construction of two houses.
When Jonathan was discussing his desire to help others with a reporter at a press event, he summed it up wisely, "I value all the charity work, but the best part is inspiring others to do good and feel better about themselves."
Sentiments like this prove that, maybe more than anything else, JTT is a kid who cares!
Part of The Jonathan Taylor Thomas Archive - JTTArchive.Net
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