From 'The Office' to the classroom
CNN — For nine seasons, Rainn Wilson delighted audiences worldwide as the eccentric but lovable Dwight Schrute on NBC's "The Office." Wilson's performance earned him a place in American pop culture history. But in his work off screen, Wilson is building an entirely different legacy.
"When I started getting well known as an actor on 'The Office,' I got inundated by requests to be a spokesperson for various charities. And I had an opportunity, I thought, for me to explore what was most important to me in my heart, and what I felt could make the greatest impact in the world," Wilson says.
Wilson then found the perfect match. The Mona Foundation, based in Wilson's hometown of Seattle, supports grass-roots educational organizations both internationally and in the United States.
"They support about 20 different schools and educational initiatives in about 15 different countries, and the more I learned about them, the more I loved. They target women and girls, and that's how you transform a community," says Wilson.
A major difference from other organizations, Wilson points out, is that the Mona Foundation finds programs that already exist and are working but underfunded. It is then able to bring in the support to improve the program and build a foundation for long-term success. Wilson says this ensures that the community will get what it really needs and can sustain. It empowers members of the community to take control and move in a positive direction.
Working with the Mona Foundation is a family affair for Wilson. It's a project to which he and his wife, Holiday Reinhorn, are both fully committed. They visit the schools under the Mona Foundation umbrella frequently and sometimes bring along their son. Wilson and Reinhorn have visited the Mona Foundation schools in Haiti a handful of times -- both before and after the devastating earthquake in 2010.
"One of the things my wife and I do together is we teach arts workshops for adolescent girls. They're the most at-risk population in Haiti and through most of the developing world: teenage girls, preteen girls. Targeting them to empower them and educate them is really the most crucial thing. We do arts and leadership workshops with them," Wilson continues.
"We're sponsoring some girls and giving them scholarships to get jobs training and English training. English training is very important, because it leads to jobs. It's not like a Western egotism thing, like oh, you should learn to speak American. It really is -- if you learn to speak fluent English, you can get a job as a translator or in a hotel or a restaurant or for an NGO or for any number of different places. It's actually a very important skill set to have. So, I love weaving the arts in with leadership, helping give these girls a voice."
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By Rebecca Angel Baer