By Richard Kujawski—Living Green Magazine
You have most likely seen or heard Raphael Sbarge somewhere. He began his acting career at the tender age of five on Sesame Street. He’s been in too many movies, television shows, and stage plays to mention, except to mention that he plays a double role in Once Upon a Time. Or maybe you heard his voice on a number of video games.
We wanted to talk with Raphael about his nonprofit organization, Green Wish, which he founded with Ed Begley, Jr. It’s a grassroots nonprofit out of Los Angeles that aids local green organizations. We heard it was inspired by his children, and continues to involve children as part of its education program.
Raphael, it’s a pleasure to talk with you. Let’s start at the beginning. How did you get to Sesame Street?
It’s kind of random, honestly. It was the first year of Sesame Street. We were living in NYC; I was going to public school on the Lower East Side, (close to where they were shooting) and they were looking for kids. I was four and a half, and just happened to be there. I still have vivid memories of my time on the set, meeting Oscar, Big Bird, Mr. Hooper. Ultimately, I became a huge fan of the show, as well—I learned my alphabet on Sesame Street!
When did you first get involved in environmental causes and issues?
I guess I always had tendencies…I was always the guy who picked up trash. Considered trees. Recycled. Gave money to organizations that were doing good work for the environment. I can’t say I considered myself an environmentalist, but I cared and made choices that reflected that caring (bought organic, had a vegetable garden, looked for ways to conserve water, etc.). But then my daughter Gracie was born. And things changed significantly. I can honestly say SHE was the inspiration for Green Wish. Holding my daughter in my arms, and looking around at the world she will inherit, instilled in me a strong motivation to do something, anything, to try to leave the world slightly better than how we found it.
Tell us about Green Wish, and why you founded it with Ed Begley, Jr.
Green Wish is essentially a nonprofit that raises money for other green nonprofits, with a hyper-local focus. Pure and simple, it is community helping community.
We identify smaller, established groups that are well vetted, within the community, and making a real difference. Ed Begley, Jr., arguably the face of the environmental movement (other than Al Gore), agreed to be the face of Green Wish, along with his wife, Rachelle Carson. Ed brings real credibility to all our efforts, is on the board, and has helped hand pick the current groups along with all the other board members.
I was friendly with Ed and Rachelle, and approached them with the idea of an umbrella organization that supported multiple groups which worked to provide a steady stream of additional funding for not just one but many groups. In our early discussions, we were able to focus the idea to make them LOCAL and smaller in size. We also decided to pick nine groups across the green spectrum, focusing on the earth, air, water, and sustainability education. Ed loved the idea of helping multiple organizations, and responded to the ease of use of the program (that is, bar-coded, and added to one’s purchase at the checkout counter). On the plus side, the retailer gets to say, “We care about the greening of our community” in their press and social media. In addition, they get a tax letter for the money they collect—so everyone wins!
How did your children inspire you to start Green Wish?
My children are now seven and nine. With so much need out there, I believe that it’s easy to get to environmental apathy pretty quickly. I mean, how can we possibly respond to all the issues we are facing, too numerous to mention here, and not shut down! It’s overwhelming, for sure. Our thought was that if you don’t have $25 or $50 every time you get an envelope with a polar bear on it, then perhaps this is a way to stay connected to your community, contribute $1, $3 or $5 dollars, stay involved, and not break the bank. We wanted to make it easy. We wanted to provide a conduit for giving and that directed the money into your community. Buy local, give local.
How does Green Wish involve and educate both children and adults to make a difference?
We created a program called EEK-O-Halloween that works as both a collection box and as a way to inspire educational opportunities for school-age children. The concept is again simple—a small, easy-to-assemble box (shaped like a milk carton) with a place for the kids to draw or personalize their green wish on the outside. The kids collect coins as a part of their trick or treating, it gets counted, and then a check is mailed from the school to a local chapter of Green Wish. A tax-deductible letter is given to the school (for their purposes), and then the local groups are asked to visit the schools who participated, to tell them about the work they do in the community. This helps connect the dots so that the children can understand what is immediately around them and what is happening right in their community.
Read the rest of the interview at LivingGreenMagazine.
What steps—such as recycling or taking shorter showers—have you taken to green your life?