Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds have donated $1 million to a Chicago non-profit dedicated to helping children separated from their families by U.S. immigration authorities, the organization announced Wednesday.
Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights announced the donation a little more than a year after another famous married couple — George and Amal Clooney — donated $100,000 to the group at a time when public fury over family separation policies under the administration of President Donald Trump spiked.
The Young Center, 2245 S. Michigan Ave., is the only organization in the country the U.S. government taps to act as advocates for children being separated at the border from their parents.
The donation by Lively and Reynolds will create the Waymaker Fund for Immigrant Children. It will provide essential financial support to the Young Center’s Child Advocate program and ensure that attorneys, social workers and volunteers defend the rights and best interests of immigrant children who migrate to the United States by themselves or who have been forcibly taken from their parents.
Maria Woltjen, who runs the Young Center, said she met with Lively and Reynolds at their Manhattan home Aug. 9 to discuss the donation.
“It was really special,” she said. “They were very kind and humble and down to earth and it meant so much to us. We spent about an hour with them and they really wanted to know what was happening right now with kids at the border,” Woltjen said.
“And, of course, the government is still separating kids,” she said.
The separations are not the blanket variety as they were last year under Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy — but are carried out for reasons that often don’t hold up under scrutiny.
“For instance, the separations are often due to allegations of criminal charges,” she said. “But then we do some digging and find out what the parents are allegedly charged with and in almost all cases the allegations have nothing to do with child welfare. ... In one of our cases it was for a lot of parking tickets.”
The money — which represents about an eighth of the non-profit’s budget next year — will also be used to help fight the Trump administration’s attacks on immigrant children’s rights and advocate for an immigration system that recognizes children’s unique needs, Woltjen said.
The donation was accompanied by a separate $1 million dollar gift by Lively and Reynolds to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.
“We’re blown away by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the Young Center’s commitment to not only justice and democracy, but humanity,” Lively and Reynolds said in a news release issued by the Young Center.
“Over the last few years, our perspective has grown and we’ve realized we have to do everything possible to foster more compassion and empathy in this world. History’s being written right now. We’re grateful to give back to organizations who give voice to so many.”