Star Service for PeaceJuly 1, 2005
Actor and student America Ferrera on volunteering
By Pamela J. Johnson
America Ferrera had been volunteering inside the Norwood Street Elementary School classroom for months before a third-grader timidly approached her, "You're that girl, aren't you?"
All along, many of the third-graders had recognized the raven-haired actress with a megawatt smile, who in 2002 starred in the hit independent film, "Real Women Have Curves."
"The kids were very intuitive," says Ferrera, a USC College junior majoring in international relations. "They never said anything until the very last day. They knew that wasn't what I was there to do."
Ferrera, 21, regularly visited the classroom as a Peace Games student volunteer. Under the auspices of USC College's Joint Educational Project, the program allows USC students to teach children conflict-resolution skills in the classroom. The goal is to empower children and raise a society of nonviolent adults.
Juggling her studies with acting, Ferrera stars in a big summer release: "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" and plays the part of Thunder Monkey in "Lords of Dogtown." But she says her connection with the children gives her more than anything Hollywood could offer.
"It starts on the grand scale," she says. "There are the huge political powers. The 'man' and government, but it boils down to this. What makes up our society comes down to the individual and how we treat each other as individuals."
She understands that as an actress on the big screen children look up to her. She considers it an opportunity.
"Once you realize people are looking at you whether you like it or not, you're expected to set an example," says Ferrera, the youngest of six children raised by her mother, an immigrant from Honduras. "There's a responsibility that comes along with what I do. I have no less social responsibility than anybody else."
Although, it's not all about being a role model.
"I do it for selfish reasons, really," she says. "It makes me really happy."