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“Oh my God, I’m dreaming!”
That was one of the many excited comments made by a group of fifth graders after Disney star Zendaya surprised the class at P.S. 163 Alfred E. Smith Elementary school in New York earlier this week.
The frenzy soon quieted down into a hum of activity as the actress-singer and 2014 Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF spokeswoman helped the kids decorate UNICEF’s iconic Halloween donation boxes, including a giant box that Zendaya and the kids later posed with, remaining engaged with her until she left. She later surprised the entire school in an assembly, telling them more about how they can participate in Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF. She also had to remind the kids that she was really there.
It’s that sort of awe-inspiring effect that makes Zendaya an ideal spokesperson for the charity, U.S. Fund for UNICEF senor vp strategic partnerships and UNICEF Ventures Rajesh Anandan, told The Hollywood Reporter.
“Trick-or-Treat is about kids, and it’s about empowering kids and getting kids excited about this idea of taking actions that are within their power to change the world,” Anandan said. “Zendaya is someone that the kids who are trick-or-treating look up to. They get excited about her. They’re going to listen to her.”
Zendaya’s serious, committed approach to philanthropy and her mother’s role as an elementary school teacher also helped.
“Her desire to do good is sincere,” Anandan added.
The 18-year-old also has personal experience with Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF and how it affects those who participate.
“I actually did Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF… in elementary school, which was kind of the reason I wanted to [get involved with the campaign now] because I was always aware of it and already knew the good it did and all the good it did for me because it kind of inspired me along the way,” Zendaya told THR at the elementary school on Tuesday.
She also hopes she’s inspiring the kids participating now to keep giving back.
“I think when you teach kids at a young age to get involved, it kind of keeps it in their brains and keeps it a part of them, and it becomes more of a habit to give,” she said.
Anandan agrees that teaching kids at a young age that they can do good is one of the ancillary benefits of the campaign.
“For a kid to understand at age 7, age 8, that they can take actions that can actually improve the world is incredibly valuable for us and the kind of world we aspire to where all kids have the same opportunities and all kids are safe. That’s only going to happen if we have a generation of kids growing up here who believe it’s possible and believe that they can do something about it,” Anandan said.
Zendaya’s mom’s teaching background also helped her connect with the kids she surprised.
“My mom actually taught fifth grade, so … I’m good with fifth graders. That’s like my specialty,” she said, raving about how “cute” and “sweet” the kids were.
In addition to doing classroom visits, Zendaya also stars in PSAs in which she plays a superhero trying to get kids motivated to change the world.
Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF has raised more than $170 million since 1950. Every little bit helps though, with UNICEF pointing out that a dollar can pay for 40 days of drinking water for a child who needs it. Donations also provide medicine, nutrition, emergency relief and education to kids worldwide.
In its 64th year, those interested in supporting the campaign don’t just have to go door-to-door collecting funds. They can also create a personal fundraising page via Crowdrise, allowing friends and family members to donate digitally.
Manhattan’s Alfred E. Smith Elementary school has been supporting Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF for several years, with a dedicated assistant principal, which helped the school be selected for Tuesday’s surprise.
“This is a great school for us to work with, and we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be an amazing treat for the kids to see Zendaya come in?’ ” Anandan said, noting that UNICEF would loved to have had Zendaya visit all the 7,500 elementary schools participating in Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF this year.
Zendaya’s not just kicking butt in the charity world. She’s also taking action in her new series K.C. Undercover in which she plays a young spy recruited by her parents.
“So she’s basically kicking butt and saving the world but at the same time being a regular teenager. You can imagine the drama that can come along with that,” Zendaya said.
She added that all the physical action has made her feel “pretty hardcore.”
“I feel like I’m doing something. I’m really not because it’s all choreographed and nobody’s actually being hurt, but I feel pretty tough,” she said.
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