Why Ben Affleck, Maria Bello Support the Children Mending Hearts Charity

 

Ben Affleck attended the Children Mending Hearts fundraiser as a board member. He played it low-key and stayed in the background.

"I try to participate as much as I can," the actor said. "It turns out that it doesn't take that much to do a little bit."

Lysa Heslov, the wife of producer Grant Heslov, founded the charity in 2008 to educate and empower children by connecting them with other children around the world through creative expression. Children Mending Hearts works with local organizations, holds workshops and does promotions tied to having children do arts projects, which are then exchanged with kids in other countries at risk because of poverty, war and famine.

"Every child deserves to have a voice, and I think children have the power to change the world," Lysa Heslov said. "Children helping children is our future, and that's what I believe in. I fight for them and I'm their advocate. They inspire me. They keep me moving."

Actress and activist Maria Bello, who has made frequent trips to Haiti since the devastating earthquake that stuck the island in October, was among those honored at Saturday's event. Bello has been working in Haiti with the group We Advance.

"It's to empower women throughout Haiti," she said. "We have a women's clinic that sees 200 women a day. We do education classes, outreach classes on hygiene, health care, human rights and gender-based violence for hundreds of women a week."

Bello, who recently starred in NBC pilot Prime Suspect, an update of the U.K. series, left for another trip to Haiti on Sunday. She made a plea for contributions -- not just funds but also for new underwear and a video camera, which was promptly donated by a member of the audiovisual crew at the event. Bello even gave her home address in Venice so people could drop off donations.

Another honoree Saturday was retired lawyer William Henry Gates Sr., the father of the Microsoft founder and co-chair of his son's foundation.

"The idea of having kids from a strange place like Los Angeles and a strange place like Haiti have this relationship that grows out of these gifts and exchanges is really an incredible idea and has huge potential," Gates said. "The world has a great need for a lot of great ideas, and this one is intriguing, innovative and I'm convinced, effective."

One of those who flew in for the evening was eighth grader Devin Reese, 14, who lives just outside Las Vegas. In foster care because both his parents are in prison, he was discovered after attending a Children Mending Hearts workshop.

Heslov brought him to the stage, and Reese was informed he would receive tutoring, a laptop computer, an Xbox, a skateboard and fulfillment of his dream -- to attend a football camp this summer put on by Syracuse University. The group also gave him a $1,000 college scholarship, with Chris Talbot of Microsoft announcing the company would add another $1,000.

Carson Meyer, the teenage daughter of Universal Studios head Ron Meyer and wife Kelly, came to present an award to Helena Heslov, Lysa's niece, who was recognized for donating her bat mitzvah gifts to the cause -- more than $6,000.

"The smart thing about all this to me -- and I'm not a sociologist -- is that socializing at a young age really defines who we turn out to be," said Affleck, got involved with Children Mending Hearts after meeting Lysa Heslov several years ago when they were both working with another organization in the Congo. (Smokehouse Prods., run by Grant Heslov and George Clooney, is producing the film Argo, in which Affleck will star and direct for Warner Bros. this year.)

Added Affleck: "If we have people that turn out to be violent or damaged, then we're going to have a much worse world. So while this doesn't instantly fix the problems we see today, whether in Libya, Syria or wherever, it does make a genuine case that we can fix problems like this and perhaps avoid things that could happen down the road."

During the event, which was hosted by actress Aisha Tyler at the Brentwood home of Robert and Nicole Maloney, Heslov announced that more than 97% of the money Children Mending Hearts raises reaches the kids.

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