December 20, 2011 10:00am PT by Lesley Goldberg
How 'Glee' and Its Cast Are Supporting the Arts and Beyond
When Fox announced this month that 100 percent of the net proceeds from Glee’s cover of 1984’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas” would go to The Band Aid Trust and support the same organization the track benefited more than 20 years ago, it was just the latest positive note in the show’s history.
In its three years, Glee – and its growing cast – has supported a plethora of charities, most recently providing $1 million in donations to support music education through its Glee Give A Note campaign, which saw schools in Ohio, New York and Alabama each receive $50,000 in grand prize cash.
Created by the network, Glee co-creator Ryan Murphy and the National Association of Music Education, the Give A Note campaign uses funds raised through the show’s DVD and Blu-ray sales to support struggling arts education programs across the country and, through its Web site, encourages fans of the series to do the same.
“Many of the actors on the show are the direct result of arts education programs, and speaking for myself, I would not be where I am today without these programs,” says Matthew Morrison, who plays New Directions coach Will Schuester.
In addition to the show’s efforts, several of its cast members have devoted time and energy to charities outside of the show – including Morrison, who’s involved with the Grammy Foundation, which works to promote the importance and impact of music and arts education and music preservation.
“The Grammy Foundation’s programs in schools across the country are so important because with budget cuts these days, arts programs are often the first ones to be axed,” he says. “These programs are critical for children’s education and development, and that’s one of the reasons I’m so passionate about this charity.”
Glee’s massive online popularity -- the show has more than 17 million Facebook fans and nearly 1.1 million Twitter followers, not to mention the hundreds of thousands the cast have – also has a ripple affect on the various charities the cast backs.
Jenna Ushkowitz (Tina Cohen-Chang) and Harry Shum Jr. (Mike Chang), back causes that strike a particular chord for them.
Ushkowitz, who grew up wanting to be a marine biologist, is a big supporter of Oceana, an international group working to protect the world’s oceans and says the show’s massive fan base helps to spread the word about the various organizations.
“I can thank social media – Twitter – and all our fans and followers for spreading the word and making people aware,” she says. “Our dedicated fans are our future so it’s incredibly important that they are the ones informing one another and doing anything to make a difference.”
Best known for his dancing, Shum is involved with three charities: Drea’s Dream, Invisible Children and Do Something, which help children with cancer and special needs through the power of dance; ending the use of child soldiers in Northern Uganda; and an online group looking to mobilize teens.
“We have some of the best fans, they’re so supportive of not only the show but charities we are involved with,” he says. “It means a lot to me because through social media I am able to raise awareness and introduce to people in a way they can be involved.”
For Mike O’Malley, who plays Burt Hummel -- aka the world’s most perfect father -- supporting his hometown plays a big role in his charitable considerations. He's donated large sums of his own money to a score of charities in his hometown of Nashua, N.H., including Marguerite’s Place and the Nashua Children’s Home, in addition to setting up two scholarships for his former theater professors at the University of New Hampshire, and a pair of foundations through Major League Baseball’s Boston Red Sox.
“I give to my hometown charities because I feel strongly that my town and the people there had a lot to do with who I am,” says the actor, who has donated more than $100,000 to the Adult Learning Center where his mother worked. “I want to give back to the place where I was raised even though I don’t get back there as much as I can.”
Mark Salling (Noah Puckerman) backs a pair of organizations: the Wildlife Care of Ventura County, a nonprofit volunteer group that rehabilitates native wildlife; and Child Hunger Ends Here, which turns UPC codes from ConAgra Foods products into meals for the more than 17 million kids who don’t get a proper meal every day.
“It’s the holiday season and a time for giving and it’s a really easy way for people to help out with a domestic issue like child hunger,” Salling says.
Cory Monteith (Finn Hudson) serves as an ambassador for Virgin Unite, a nonprofit that helps connect people with the right ideas for social change with others with greater resources in order to foster change.
A PETA spokeswoman, Lea Michele (Rachel Berry) is one of the many cast members active with gay-rights groups, as is Kevin McHale (Artie Abrams), who works with the Trevor Project’s Talk to Me campaign, which aims to prevent suicide among LGBT youth.
Max Adler, who plays Kurt’s reformed bully Dave Karofsky, is active with City Hearts’ Anti-Bullying initiative, most recently helping sixth graders in Los Angeles stage an anti-bullying play.
Jane Lynch has been a longtime supporter of the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center, recently earning the facility’s Rand Schrader Distinguished Achievement Award for her contributions.
And there are others. The cast -- which includes Chris Colfer (Kurt), Amber Riley (Mercedes), Naya Rivera (Santana), Heather Morris (Brittany), Dianna Agron (Quinn), Jayma Mays (Emma Pillsbury) and Darren Criss (Blaine) – are regulars at fundraisers, lending their time for projects including Education Through Music, the Alzheimer’s Association’s The Elephant Project and The Trevor Project, among countless others.
And while the show’s fandom has helped support the individual charities the cast holds dear, it’s the show’s arts education message that ultimately benefits the most.
“Glee has brought a renewed focus on music education in the schools and overall arts education,” Morrison says. “Glee clubs have literally sprouted up across the country, and as parents and communities have seen the joy it brings to students, this has encouraged support for these programs and helped prevent funding cuts.”