Credit: Eugene Lee/World Vision

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In EW’s column Act With Me, stars share their personal stories about giving back. This week, The Middle star Patricia Heatonspeaks about World Vision, which partners with communities around the world to tackle local causes of poverty and injustice

World Vision is a non-proselytizing Christian charity that helps more than 4 million children in nearly 100 countries, but it was something more prosaic that led Heaton to become the nonprofit’s first celebrity ambassador. “I love that 85 percent of donations go directly to helping people,” she says. “We want to know that our dollars are really making a difference and not just going to run an office. These funds are actually going to help build schools and clean-water pumps.” Heaton quickly became a celebrity ambassador for the organization, as well as taking numerous trips to communities receiving aid, including a Syrian refugee camp, and sponsoring several children. Another factor that appealed to her, she says, was the widespread, international nature of World Vision and the fact that they remain in a place for a lengthy amount of time. “Because they go into these areas for 12-15 years, when a crisis happens they are most likely already there on the ground able to immediately start impacting and affecting any crisis that comes along,” explains Heaton.

World Vision is the largest NGO in the world, and it offers a wide range of services to communities around the world, including providing clean water, addressing crises, offering aid to refugees, and assisting women with childcare, female hygiene, and more. “Everything is inter-connected and they’re very good at addressing a variety of needs in these communities,” says Heaton. The organization also offers a program where supporters can sponsor a child for $39 per month, which helps provide clean water, school supplies, access to education, and more.

World Vision is the largest nongovernmental provider of clean water in the developing world, “but they also focus on a community’s long-term problems,” says Heaton. “They’re implementing programs at a grassroots level that are staffed and run by the people who live in that country; it’s not just outsiders coming in, doing something, and leaving.” The organization also researches an area before committing to a place, she notes, so they can plan programs that will best take hold there and serve the needs of the community. “They come in and they incorporate the people of those different countries to empower them with the skills and the resources and the organizational tools needed to sustain and grow and expand the programs that they introduce,” she explains. “[For instance], not only do they build the wells to pump the water for these communities but they train people in the community to be engineers to be able to maintain the pumps.” Heaton also stresses the importance of the group’s role as a non-proselytizing Christian organization as a means of truly living out the teachings of Christianity. “The message of the gospel is the message of the parable of the good Samaritan who helps this beggar on the road,” she says. “Regardless of who you are, where you’re from, or what you believe, if you see your fellow man in need or in pain or suffering, you help them. You don’t ask what their religion is or what they believe, you just help them. And that’s what happens.”

Sponsor a child for $39 a month or contribute to specific needs through the NGO’s catalog. “You can buy someone livestock, a bicycle, medical or educational supplies, or clean water,” Heaton says. “It makes a huge difference.”