By Clea Newman
My father, Paul Newman, was an actor, a race car driver, a jokester, a philanthropist, and to a newer generation, he is the face on our Newman’s Own food products. But to me, he will always be my mentor, my hero, and just my Dad.
This year, Dad would have been 90, and although I miss him so much, it’s an opportunity to reflect on the remarkable impact his philanthropic efforts had and continue to have on children and families around the world. In fact, for the last 4 years, this impact has been felt strongly in Israel at the Jordan River Village, a year-round, free camp for children with serious illnesses.
Dad’s work has inspired me to reflect on the philanthropic lessons he taught me and so many others:
- Be inspired. Jordan River Village started with Murray and Marilyn Grant’s dream to establish a camp for children living with serious illnesses in Israel. Dad was moved by their belief that the Village would have a huge effect on children, families, and the whole country of Israel. He wanted this special place where children living with serious illnesses could transcend all the friction in the region.
- Make a friend and meet a new partner. Everyone involved with Jordan River Village, including my father and Chaim Topol, the renowned Fiddler on the Roof actor, spread the word about the Village. You never know who might be a philanthropist or have an amazing network of friends. By sharing their support and personal commitment, they found donors, built a board of directors, and made friends all over the world.
- Sometimes anonymity holds the greatest rewards. My dad first became involved with seriously ill children when he founded The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Connecticut 27 years ago. He loved it there. As the years went on, fewer and fewer kids knew him as a movie star. They didn’t know he was an Academy Award winning actor. To them he was just the guy on the salad dressing bottle or lemonade carton who loved to fish and be silly. He was only at camp to help children have fun and, as he would say, “raise a little hell.”
- A cliché can be powerful tool. We’ve all used them and so did my father. He believed laughter really was the best medicine!
- Think big: All parents want the same things for their children: to have a happy and healthy childhood and a chance at a normal life. Inspired by the amazing children and families we served and never wanting a child to go without, Dad knew he should and could do even more. What started as one camp in 1988 has now grown into a thriving community of 30 camps and programs around the world called SeriousFun Children’s Network. These camps have served more than 600,000 children and families from over 50 countries free of charge since inception. Jordan River Village is the only camp of its kind in the Middle East region.
- Pass it on to your children. My father inspired me, not just through his words, but through his actions. Like my dad, any time I was feeling down, I would visit or volunteer at camp, and my problems would seemingly melt away. He taught me about kindness, giving back, and supporting friends and their causes. It was such a gift!
- It takes many to change the world. It isn’t only actors or a major philanthropist who can make a difference. Oftentimes, it’s simply the people with the biggest hearts and loudest voices.
- Don’t focus on the challenges, but consider the impact. Jordan River Village was officially opened in 2011. I’m sorry my father wasn’t alive to see the Village in action, but it gives me such pleasure to think he is somewhere smiling at the nearly 4,500 children of all religions, ethnicities, disabilities, and regions who have come to the Village and had the time of their lives.
- Make our legacy mean something. Dad is remembered for so many things, but I believe he’d want people to remember his work with children most of all. He knew that giving one child a happy experience had exponential effects. I am grateful his legacy lives on across the globe with campers, counselors, families, and communities.
Please join me in celebrating my father, Paul Newman’s legacy this year by learning about our work, volunteering at a camp, coming to an event, and helping us make the world a better place!
I know Israel can seem like a world away, but the Jordan River Village in the Galilee is a world worth seeing. If you’d like to visit, or just learn more, visit www.jordanrivervillage.org or call 888-999-3054.
Clea Newman is the daughter of Paul Newman and is the Senior Director of Special Initiatives at SeriousFun Children’s Network, a global community of 30 camps and programs serving more than 600,000 children and families from more than 50 countries.