THE MAGIC OF MPTF
It was 2005, and sitting in his wheelchair outside the entrance of the Motion Picture and Television Fund was a wonderful gentleman who took great delight in being the unofficial greeter. Julius, a character actor who lived in Long Term Care, immediately won us over with his winning smile and kindness. I soon found out that he shared his stories - sometimes inspirational, other times funny - with anyone walking up to the double glass doors of MPTF who looked like they needed some love, which was just about everyone.
This was most welcome, since my husband and I were getting ready to move Dorris, his almost 90-year-old mother there from her home and wondering if we were doing the right thing.
Over the next seven months, which turned out to be her last (as well as Julius’s), we learned how extraordinary MPTF was to all the people it served.
I don’t know of any other organization that takes care of its own like MPTF. It was founded nearly 100 years ago by Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W. Griffith as the Motion Picture Relief Fund to help industry members in need.
For instance, how often have you worked long hours on set and not had the time to see a doctor at one of the MPTF health care centers located around Los Angeles? Well, Health Wheels brings it all to you with scheduled stops at the studios. It’s a fully equipped mobile health center that has two examination rooms and staffed with a medical doctor and licensed nurse, providing health screenings, exams, immunizations, and comprehensive primary care.
Or if you’re not working and it’s taking an emotional and financial toll on your family, MPTF provides help during hardship. For older industry members, Home Safe Home offers free safety evaluations for seniors who want to live in their homes longer.
Another example of how MPTF takes care of its own is at the Saban Center for Health and Wellness. Personal trainers are there to help coach members using state-of-the-art exercise equipment for balance, weight bearing, and cardio exercise on land and in the water. Wellness programs include weight management, smoking cessation, and CPR. Palliative Care helps people live comfortably through advanced illness. Age Well and Life Long Learning are programs that help seniors live long and live well.
What makes the residential community on the Wasserman Campus so special is the shared bond of the industry. People who haven’t seen each other in decades rekindle friendships, or someone looks familiar and you discover that you both worked on the same film or TV show or were at the same studio or agency or union. The magic comes from the creative spirit and camaraderie among the residents that can be seen in their writing, painting, music, and filmmaking.MPTF has exemplary volunteer programs that result in countless acts of kindness every day. Volunteers give back as visitors, grocery shoppers, and phone buddies for seniors in the community; they help at fundraising events, create and sponsor special events, and paint and repair homes for industry members in need. On the Wasserman Campus, they work as fitness and pool buddies, deliver mail, buy and wrap birthday and holiday presents and are companions to residents, whether it be joining a game of poker or feeding residents who can no longer do so themselves.
I believe deeply in giving back to the entertainment industry and there’s no better place to do it than at MPTF. Seven years ago, I joined the MPTF Volunteer Guild, the oldest volunteer group on the Wasserman Campus. I had never really joined anything before, but I knew this was right - my “aha and carpe diem moments” rolled into one. Since then, I have sat on its Board of Directors and served as Guild President for two terms. Guild Volunteers, whom I consider to be the soul of the campus, have been assisting residents, patients, and staff since 1966. I’m also a member of the newly formed Volunteer Leadership Council, and a Circle of Friends donor.
Some people volunteer for purely altruistic reasons, some more personal, perhaps to fill a void from a job change, retirement, loss of a family member, or divorce, and others volunteer to learn a new skill or expand social and professional networks. I think I hit all of them - wanting to give back to a community that had treated my family well, becoming an empty-nester, losing my mother-in-law, making wonderful friends, and ultimately finding new purpose in my life by advocating for MPTF, aging well, and volunteerism. I really do get back more than I give.
It’s wonderful to see the intergenerational relationships that develop at Channel 22, the on-campus television station at the Media Center, where residents work with volunteers to create new content. It’s a toss-up who receives the most benefits. Older residents and older volunteers learn as much from the younger volunteers about technology as the younger volunteers learn about the craft of filmmaking from their older mentors.
There are volunteers in their 90s who live in their own homes and come to “work” on campus. I suspect it’s one of the things that keeps them vital, social, and focused on things other than their own aches and pains. There are young professionals who volunteer and not only connect with the people they serve but also make new connections with their peers. Then there is the youngest generation of volunteers, the high-school students who are fulfilling community service requirements but who stay long after their required hours and continue teaching residents how to use an iPad, or watch movies or play video games with residents - those being the sweetest friendships.
All of this defines MPTF’s mission: To create a sense of community among entertainment industry workers and cultivate their philanthropic spirit in support of sustaining a safety net of services for the benefit of fellow industry members in times of need.
And to me, that sense of community is magic.
Fredda Johnson is the second of three generations of Johnsons to serve MPTF. Since 2007, she has been a devoted advocate of volunteerism.
*Please note that not all experiences, beliefs and ideas are shared by each member of the “The New Hollywood.” We are a group of shepherds, not sheep.