Giving Green with Green Wish’s Raphael Sbarge

October 13, 2014

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome to another edition of Green is Good. We are so honored to have with us today Raphael Sbarge. He’s an actor and also the founder of Green Wish. Welcome to Green is Good, Raphael. RAPHAEL SBARGE: Hey there. Nice to be here. Thanks so much for having me. JOHN SHEGERIAN: It’s so great to have you. You’ve created this wonderful organization called Green Wish, and we’re going to talk about that in a little while. But before we get talking about how and why you created Green Wish, I want you to talk a little bit about your story. What inspired you, how you even got to this point as an actor, to become an activist as well? Share a little bit about your biography, Raphael. RAPHAEL SBARGE: Thanks, John. I’ve been an actor for a very long time. I started when I was 5 years old on Sesame Street. I lived on the Lower East Side of New York and they were looking for kids to be on this new PBS show. My parents are both in the business; my mother is a costumer designer and my dad tried to write, and I was around it a lot, and I just sort of seemed to find my community, I guess, very young. I was working and studying, and I’ve been very, very blessed with a career, being able to keep working. It is a tough business, as we all know, so being able to find work as an actor regularly, there’s not a day that I’m not grateful about it. That’s kind of that trajectory. I’m working now on a show called Once Upon a Time for ABC, I play Jiminy Cricket, and I’ve got a new show called Murder in the First with Steven Bochco, which is with a wonderful cast: Taye Diggs, Kathleen Robertson, James Cromwell, Richard Schiff, Tom Felton from Harry Potter. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You’re staying busy. RAPHAEL SBARGE: Yeah. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s great. RAPHAEL SBARGE: Things are good. But in terms of my trajectory to start with, I’m a dad, and probably that’s the thing that keeps me busiest and the thing I’m most passionate about. With the birth of my daughter, I found that moment when you first are introduced to your child, it’s sort of a remarkable, magic moment, where you feel sort of connected to everything at one time, and the sheer almost sci-fi nature of suddenly there’s one other person there, and here’s your baby, and they hand it to you, and you look around, and the world is both small and large in that moment. I think, as a young parent, a feeling of looking at the world and realizing how this little person who’s now going been entrusted to you needs to be cared for, and somehow it’s your job to do so. I guess, in looking around and trying to figure out what can be done to try and make this world a little bit better place for Gracie and Django, who’s my son who followed, what I began to try and do is try to figure out a way to at least try and preserve some of what was here, and hopefully leave a greener planet for them when they’re having children and their grandchildren, etc. I mean, Green Wish is essentially a nonprofit that raises money for other nonprofits. If you are like me, and you read the newspaper and hear the news, and we hear about declining bee populations and chemicals in our food and climate change and El Niños, and on and on and on. It’s very easy to sort of get, I believe, to a place where you feel almost apathetic, sort of shut down, because it all just seems so overwhelming. How do you possibly make any kind of dent in this enormous morass of bad news in a way? What Green Wish attempts to do is answer that question in its own way by creating a chapter that is essentially an umbrella of giving that’s community based. So, what we’ve done is we’ve created a way in which we can actually give people in cities, who are passionate about this, share these same concerns, want to give back, don’t know what they can do, the ability to start their own chapter of Green Wish. In so doing, what they get to do is, with very little money, start a chapter, get free banking, access to our EIN number, all the designs and websites and everything, in other words, all the assets to start a nonprofit. Then, what they get to do is go into their community and pick smaller nonprofits that are really doing good work in the community. For example, in Los Angeles, we have six different nonprofits that support earth, air, water and sustainable education. All those nonprofits are doing shovel-ready, really important work right here in Los Angeles. We now have chapters that have opened in Kansas, Missouri, Denver, St. Louis, one’s opening in Massachusetts, and in each case, there’s someone who has felt passionate and really wants to give back. Again, I’m responding to the fact that there’s so much need out there. This is a way to give, not just to one, but to multiple, and, of course, under a green umbrella that is, in this case, community-based green projects. JOHN SHEGERIAN: What’s always interesting, Raphael, is how people come up with their model. So, you started Green Wish in 2008 or so, is that correct? RAPHAEL SBARGE: Yes. JOHN SHEGERIAN: OK. You grew up in New York, you’re in LA on the West Coast now, you have lots of opportunities. You see a lot of things. You have great visibility into a lot of things that are going on, creatively and otherwise, because of the industry that you’re in. What was your spirit and your vision when you created Green Wish? Why this, and why then? Give a little bit of that. I know your children were an inspiration; a lot of our guests say that. I am one of those people that constantly say that in terms of leaving a better planet behind for our kids than we inherited. But explain the model of Green Wish and how you came up with it. It’s fascinating and wonderful, but how did you actually dream that up? RAPHAEL SBARGE: Yeah. Thank you. If you look around, and you say, “Hey, I want to give back, I want to do something,” again, I just think that there’s so many places that we can get diverted to. What happened was this. Ed Begley, Jr. is a friend of mine and Rachelle Carson Begley, and I approached them and said, “What do you think?” Ed loved this idea. He loved the idea because, of course, again, you’re helping multiple groups as opposed to just one, and he loved the idea that being community-based giving, so that when you give money, that it doesn’t go to some shiny building in downtown London. You know that it’s going right back into your community. Ed loved that. Ed then said that he was excited enough about the idea to come on and be the face of Green Wish, he and Rachelle, as well as also be on the board. So, what we’re trying to do, I guess the proverbial give someone a fishing rod as opposed to a fish. I have found that when you are in sort of an action of trying to make a difference, it gives you untold personal dividends in terms of the feeling and the spirit of, “OK, I may have had a tough day, but today I made a little bit of a difference. I gave back. Maybe in a small way, I helped someone along the way or helped a group along the way,” and it’s amazing how much it gives back to you. As far as actually how I got there, obviously, as you said, my children are a huge driving force, but in addition to that, I don’t know that I ever considered myself an activist, but I certainly was always the fellow that I gardened, I composted, I recycled, I’ve always had a thing for trees. I feel like those have spoken to my sensitivities, and this seemed like the right way to go. Ed has said, when he’s been asked about Green Wish, we’re not saying to not write the check if you can to those organizations that you feel strongly about. We want you to, and we encourage you to. All we’re trying to do is making it as easy as possible, so that if you don’t have $50 over time, you get an envelope with a polar bear on it. You can contribute to Green Wish and know that that money is going right back into the community. We keep our overhead for Green Wish very low, so that the money goes really very directly and simply to these groups. You know, again, interestingly, when we first started Green Wish, when we went and called some of the groups that the Board helped identify, when I spoke to the Executive Directors at these organizations, in some cases they literally burst into tears, and they said, “Oh my God, you have no idea how much we need this money and how grateful we are that you can do this.” Any nonprofit will tell you that they spend 50-60-70% of their energy raising money. That’s what they do. So, that means that their purpose, their intended goal, is at times greatly diminished by their drive to be able to somehow raise money. So, by us being able to provide a passive form of income to them, we’re able to essentially support their goals and actually help them make a difference. It’s still somewhat unique to have a nonprofit that actually supports other nonprofits. Again, Ed loved this idea, and I’m so grateful that he’s a part of what we’re trying to do. JOHN SHEGERIAN: For our listeners out there that are just joining us, we’re honored to have with us today actor Raphael Sbarge. He is the founder of Green Wish. You can check out all of his great work and Ed Begley’s great work at www.greenwish.com. I’m on your site right now, and there’s lot of interesting things here, Raphael. Can you talk a little bit about the media that you’re producing with Green Wish? What does that mean, and since you already are in “the industry” and you are an actor, how are you leveraging your knowledge, your industry, to help get the word of Green Wish out there? RAPHAEL SBARGE: Yeah. Thank you. That’s a great question. Obviously, because I’ve been an actor for over four decades, I’ve seen a lot, and I have a lot of friends. I also, in this case, have been interested, particularly with the emergence and the explosion of social media, etc. as to how we actually get the word out. I do believe that there’s a hunger and a desire to try and find ways to make a difference. We received a grant from California Contemporary Art, a wonderful organization in Los Angeles, and with the benefit of our board member is a scientist and a climatologist named Jess Adkins, we produced a short film called Is There Hope for Planet Earth? which was particularly designed for, essentially, school-aged children, really smart sixth graders, I should say, and adults. It is designed very specifically with the help of Caltech in Los Angeles and Pasadena, a world-renowned organization, obviously university. They worked with us with Jess Adkins to really talk about climate change and what it was from a scientific point-of-view, such that we understand that it’s a polarized red state-blue state conversation most of the time in our media in the United States and elsewhere, but very much so here. My hope in trying to do this is trying to explain climate change from a scientist’s point of view, really clear since. Jess is a very engaging man who is also a father, and was able to talk about the clear science. It’s a ten-minute film. We released it for Earth Day. I’m very proud of it. Caltech came out and supported it hugely, and it’s now basically sent out over all its networks worldwide. Caltech has I think 32 Nobel Laureates at last count. They were very excited about what we were able to do as well. We’re in discussions to do more media like that with Caltech. In addition to that, I worked with Ed Begley and Rachelle, who are building, as you may know, a platinum LEED-certified home, and we produced essentially a series that got sold to an online network called Evox Television, which was really all about the building of this home. It’s called On Begley Street, which you can online either at Evox Television at evoxtelevision.com or also just On Begley Street, which we also have a website, you can find it there. It’s nine or ten episodes that really fun and have kind of the hallmark humor that Ed and Rachelle are known for, as well as it being a really interesting journey. That was also produced in association with Green Wish. That was a for-profit venture, but proceeds from the venture went to Green Wish, which was fantastic. I’m also working with another woman whose name is Jenna DeAngeles, who’s essentially a maker or crafter, which is a huge, huge, huge world unto itself, particularly people who are interested in upcycling and recycling and taking things and making other things that are beautiful. She’s an astonishing talent, and she has also partnered with us and proceeds from her shows are also going to Green Wish. I direct and produce those. You can find those currently both at Evox and also on YouTube. She’s got over 3 million views, and quite an audience worldwide. Again, Green Wish has been both encouraged and supported. Green Wish is essentially, ultimately, an idea, which is let’s try and find a way to make a difference. Let’s find a way to give back. Let’s try and find a way to make the world a little bit better and to not do this piecemeal, but really community-based, and really with a vision of green. We know that we’re facing urgent and dire circumstances. We know that there’s a tremendous need out there, and I fear sometimes that people get to apathy. They get to, “It’s just terrible. Why even try? We’re all going to hell in a hand basket.” Hopefully, by proclaiming your green wish, and actually having a vision of that, you can connect to something that is both hopeful and also really powerful, I believe, as we really help designing people to change minds and change the way they think. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Raphael, I love it. We’re down to the last three minutes, unfortunately, and I want you to share now that you’ve been doing this for years, since 2008, Green Wish — and for our listeners out there, again it’s www.greenwish.com. It’s a great website. What is the best way for our listeners to get involved, to help you open up chapters in cities, and really make a difference? RAPHAEL SBARGE: Thank you for that question. You know, I was excited to come on to speak to you, John, and to your listeners, specifically to say that if people are interested and would like to find out more about starting a chapter, there’s not a chapter in New York at this point. It’s my hometown. I look forward to that chapter, for sure. But there are chapters opening up around the country, and there are more that I haven’t even spoken about that are in early discussions. We are very interested in hearing from you if you’re so inclined and want to find out more, you can e-mail us at greenwish@greenwish.com and let us know what you might be up for. Essentially, with about three or five of your friends, and I think about $300-$500 at most, you can actually start a Green Wish chapter. There’s an enormous amount of support to make that happen for you. I encourage people to reach out if they feel so inclined. If they wish to just make a donation, you can make a donation online, of course, and that goes to all our various programs, our educational program, and the program that really helps support these new chapters. But again, I’m very grateful to be able to reach out to your listeners and let them know that these kinds of things are available to them. JOHN SHEGERIAN: It’s not expensive and it’s not hard to set up a Green Wish chapter. RAPHAEL SBARGE: Yeah, it’s not. If you wanted to set up a nonprofit on your own, I can tell you it’s a complicated maze, and that in and of itself is sometimes a deterrent to people trying to do something. We’ve tried to make it as easy as possible. We’ve tried to give you the keys and let you run with it. That’s been very exciting. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Perfect. Well, thank you, Raphael, for coming on today, and for our listeners out there, to set up your own Green Wish chapter or to donate to this great organization, just go to www.greenwish.com. You could set up your own Green Wish and make a difference. Thank you, Raphael, for being a sustainability superstar. You are truly living proof that green is good.