Wilmer Valderrama, Rowan Blanchard Honored at Children Mending Hearts Gala
The "Empathy Rocks" charity event was helmed by Lysa Heslov and held at the Walton-Laurie Estate.
The expansive Walton-Laurie Estate in Los Angeles played host Sunday to the 9th annual Children Mending Hearts Empathy Rocks charity event, where Wilmer Valderrama and Rowan Blanchard were honored for their commitment to the organization's mission of positive change through empathy.
“Empathy is the core of activism. Having empathy is the first step,” Blanchard told The Hollywood Reporter. “I think that’s what activism is, is being able to sympathize or relate to people that you might not have the same experience as but still knowing that they need help."
Children Mending Hearts uses art programs to reach out to children and teach them to be accepting of others. The non-profit was founded by Lysa Heslov in 2008 as a response to bullying she experienced as a child after she was diagnosed with a learning disorder.
“I think I had some experiences as a child and I didn’t want any other kid to have them,” she told THR. “The next thing was that I wanted to teach empathy. I felt that it was such an important word and I didn’t know how to do it, and so once we figured out through the arts it just became a great thing and we developed this curriculum and we’ve been very successful and very grass-roots.”
The estate's lush grounds were transformed into an elaborate children’s play land complete with arts and crafts, a cupcake decorating station and face painting. There was even a pop-up spa where tired parents could stop off for a massage or a manicure.
While accepting his award, Valderrama spoke about how his immigrant experience contributed to his appreciation for the need for empathy, particularly in our current political climate.
“Dreaming out loud is scary for young people. Dreaming out loud is scary for this generation today. Our values and our virtues and our cultures are being attacked by telling us that we don’t belong in a place that was built by immigrants,” he told a rapt audience in a speech that wouldn’t have been out of place at a political convention.
Added Valderrama: “Today more than ever, we need to reinforce the spirit of what this country is about. It’s the land of opportunity. I am truly living the American dream, and if we’re all here in this backyard today, then we definitely have a version of our American Dream because every single one of us is living it as we speak.”