‘Tis the Season to (Try) Be Merry and Give Thanks to The Actors Fund
By Ellis Nassour
December 7, 2020: The not-for-profit Actors Fund of America continues to be a vital resource for all members across the spectrum of the entertainment profession. There’s a vast array of programs, supported by people like you. With other fundraising events stymied by the pandemic, a godsend has been the numerous virtual events by so many talented industry members.
“We are forever grateful to all who have used their talent to help us and to all those who have donated,” says Joe Benincasa, Actors Fund president and chief executive officer. He’s been active with the Fund since joining in 1989.
The Fund motto is “We’re here for everyone performing arts and entertainment.” Help has been desperately needed these last nine months due to the pandemic shutdown. Since March, the Actors Fund has distributed $17,630,813 in emergency financial assistance to 14,379 people who work in the industry.
Financial outreach has helped those in need with basic living expenses, such as food, essential medications, utilities and more. Retired and ill industry members have access to medical services, assisted living, long-term care, short-stay rehabilitation, skilled nursing, and memory care services.
At the Lillian Booth Actors Home [founded in 1902], now located on six beautiful acres off Hudson Avenue in Englewood, NJ, and executive offices in Manhattan, Benincasa points out, there’s no shortage of programs to assist members.
“We distribute assistance through nine funds. The Actors Fund website homepage has a link to a curated list of services, including COVID-19 resources.” This list is focused on emergency financial assistance and other select resource sources, but the site offers links to dozens of programs.”
Joining the Shubert Pavilion on the Englewood campus, the Fund opened the Samuel J. and Florence T. Friedman Pavilion. In addition to the Home facilities, there’re four residences for retired members: The Dorothy Ross Friedman Residence on West 57th Street and Tenth Avenue, the spanking new Schermerhorn Residence in downtown Brooklyn, and The Palm residence in West. Hollywood. Medical services are also available by appointment at the Fund Clinic at 729 Seventh Avenue.
Benincasa states, “Our team has been working diligently to transition our in-person activities to comparable virtual activities and developing new workshops to respond to the immediate need of arts professionals looking to understand how best to navigate the COVID-19 world. For instance, we facilitate many of our clinical and support groups online via Zoom.”
The Housing Resource conducts online seminars. One of the Fund’s most vital programs is the Applying for Affordable Housing and Affordable Housing for Seniors, which is presented via Zoom. “We continue to provide one-on-one Zoom consults for eligibility and appeals,” added Benicasa.
The Actors Fund Career Center offers career development and management strategies to members across the country who’ve lost industry and non-industry work as a result of the pandemic. There’re Zoom workshops on individual career and employment counseling. The Fund also has Resume, Career Assessment, Job Search, Entrepreneur and Orientation workshops, along with individual counseling and coaching services.
Benincasa notes there’ve been Financial Wellness Zoom seminars on investing basics and student debt. Psychology of Money, a supportive group to explore your relationship to money, continues to meet weekly online.
Other programs include the Caregivers Support Group, HIV and Relationships Group, Support Group for Injured Dancers, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy Group (MBCT), Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Group (MBSR), and Strategies for Coping with Anxiety and Depression (CBT). The Women’s Group holds monthly “tune-ups”.
The monthly Encore support group for clients over 65 is now a weekly conference call model. The Are You on the Fence with Life in the Industry group continues to convene weekly.
Atthe Friedman Residence, the Activities Program facilitates the Grief Group weekly online, as well as the distribution of food bags with three days of staples on an as-need basis. Social workers are on call daily. The AF and the residence’s property manager, Breaking Ground, provide guidance and instructions for COVID-19 protocols.
At the Samuel J. Friedman Health Center for the Performing Arts, 729 Seventh Avenue (12th floor), between West 48th and 49th Streets, most visits are done by Telehealth. Medical director Dr. Jason Kindt and staff attend the needs and medical concerns of Fund constituents on an appointment only basis.
Activities at Brooklyn’s Schermerhorn Residence include Coffee & Conversation and Crafting with Jackie. Activities are uploaded to a private YouTube channel for more residence access. There’s an ongoing list of homebound tenants who may need food delivery as well as wellness calls. “Tenants have also initiated a buddy system to maintain contact with neighbors,” he reports.
At the Rodney Kirk Center at Manhattan Plaza on West 43rd Street between Ninth and Ninth Avenues, the Actors Fund established a volunteer program in partnership with tenant association and policy committee. It provides support and errand services for over 1,100 older residents.
The Fund partnered with New York Cares and their volunteers to provide safety checks and phone buddy services to 1,200 plus senior clients. Social workers from the seniors program, HIV/AIDS Initiative, and Addiction and Recovery Program regularly provide wellness check-in calls to clients.
Benincasa reported that Actors Fund teams on both coasts work with members unable to pay insurance premiums due to loss of income. “Our amazing staff has helped members enroll in Medicaid and the Essential Plan, and provided detailed information on how to lower monthly premiums through the Exchange.”
Barbara S. Davis is Actors Fund of America Chief Operating Officer, Connie Yoo, CPA, is Chief Financial Officer, Thomas M. Exton is Chief Advancement Officer, Jordan Strohl is the administrator for the Actors Fund Home; and Keith McNutt is executive director for the Western Region.
Author (contributions to Hirschfeld’s Harlem, At This Theatre, and co-writer of the children’s book Lights on Broadway), concert artist, conductor, composer, recording star, stage/TV actor, and Tony winner Brian Stokes Mitchell is in his 16th term as Chairman of the Board of The Actors Fund. Stokes is no stranger to charity work.
Prior to the AF, he worked with the March of Dimes, the USO, and Americans for the Arts. In 2016 he was not only inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame but also awarded his second Tony, the prestigious Isabelle Stevenson Award for his Charitable Work with The Actors Fund. He’s performed twice at the White House (both appearances aired on PBS’s Great Performances) and was invited multiple times to serenade Presidents Clinton and Obama.
Mitchell is also a former AF Trustee, well-acquainted full well with issues of health care and affordable housing for industry ill and retirees. At the Fund, he’s been on the front lines re: assisting members during the pandemic. [Earlier this year, Mitchell contracted the virus and has made a full recovery.]
The Actors Fund Chairman’s Council is composed of a Who’s Who of the entertainment and media world, former Fund Trustees, and Actors Fund Medal of Honor laureates. Co-chairs are Kate Edelman Johnson, Steve Kalafer, and Stewart Lane. There’s not room to list all the members, but among them are Alec Baldwin, Warren Beatty, Tina Brown, Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Sally Field, Harvey Firestein, Morgan Freeman, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cameron Mackintosh, Kevin McCollum, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Rita Moreno, Chita Rivera, and Thomas Schumacher.
To make a tax-deductible donation to the Actors Fund outreach programs or for more information on the activities of the Actors Fund, visit firstname.lastname@example.org.