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Big Shoes: A Young Widowed Mother's Memoir is not just a story of death and loss, it is about prevailing and finding true happiness, not in spite of what happens to us but because of what happens to us.

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MATTHEW McCONAUGHEY:

A PHILANTHROPIST AND VISIONARY BRINGING EXPECTATION AND HOPE TO HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS AT THEIR LAST STOP TO ADULTHOOD.

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WATCHThe Show

by Lisa Bradshaw

There are a handful of actors whose movies I go
see no matter what the movie is about because
I trust the actor’s judgement, but I also have
respect and adoration for the work some actors 
do outside of the business of making movies.

The word philanthropist was coined 2,500 years ago in ancient Greece and, by today’s definition, now takes many forms. Matthew McConaughey’s version of philanthropy is defined by filling a need in today’s youth based on his own interpretation ​of what is, for some, a last chance at making a good choice. 

I recently spoke with McConaughey about his love of movies and the creative process, but first we talked about one of his most passionate real life roles which is, by all definitions, that of a timeless philanthropist.

LB: I respect your work as an actor, and I am a supporter of your films, but what stands out most to me about you is the way you have chosen to give back and how you decided on where you would focus your efforts. You have been very deliberate in how and who the foundation affects.

MM:
 The j.k. livin foundation (just keep livin’) is an after school program in Title I schools, which are the lower income schools. We formed a curriculum—it’s two hours, for high school students after school, voluntary, and the kids come to get exercise, learn about nutrition on a budget, they gather around and share a gratitude circle before they leave. We also have monthly quotes that are good analogies that help them with making healthy choices through the things they are experiencing.

LB:
 What made you decide to help high school students?

​MM:
 The reason we ended up in high schools is because I, like many people, was looking for a place to start a foundation and put my efforts. There are millions of great ideas, but what I had to settle down on, and it took quite a few years to decide, is I said, “Kids. Okay, I want to help kids. Now what age?” I thought back about my own life, and I started looking at kids today, and I asked myself, “What’s that age when you are at the crossroads?” Meaning, you are just about to become an adult, but you are still sort of under the advisory of your parents and teachers and principals, and you are not necessarily called an adult yet but you are gaining independence. That’s why I settled on high school students because it just became obvious to me that this is the age when many of these kids might be at risk, or whether they are at risk or not, it’s down to the last couple years when a kid can make a bad decision and still get a second chance.

LB:
 You felt like it was the best age to make a difference before adulthood.

​MM:
 Exactly. After you turn 18, you don’t get as many of those second chances, so we focused on these kids because we thought, “Okay, you’re about to become an adult. The consequences are going to be real as soon as you turn 18 and get out of school, so if you’re not on the right track, you’ve got a little bit of time to get on it. If you’re on the right track, let’s keep it up.”

“I’m still pleasantly surprised to hear during the gratitude circle the very simple things they are sincerely thankful for… A group of people they didn’t know, came here and decided to take their time, put their efforts and their money into giving them a place to go.”


LB: The program has grown from just a few schools to a few dozen in short time.

MM: The curriculum is working. Now we’re now in fourteen schools in California, Texas and Louisiana. If it keeps working, which we hope it will do, our plan is to implement this curriculum in more Title I schools around the nation that need it.

LB: The thing that I love about this program is how it relates to many facets of life. I lost my husband when I was 32 and our son was only five. I was so afraid of how I was going to teach my son all the things his dad would have taught him, so I bought a book about how to tie a slip knot, how to rig a fishing pole, and how to fly a kite because didn’t know how is this wonderful boy was going to get to be who he is supposed to be without his dad on the planet. I learned over time that it wasn’t just myself I had to rely on. It was my community, my peers, my friends, my friends’ husbands, his teachers, his principal, and so I like that idea that while some of these kids are not necessarily getting what they need at home, this is a place for them to get what they need—knowledge about healthy living that would otherwise be lost.
 
MM: It’s so true. The kids are getting information. Simple things like nutrition on a budget. How can you spend less than you would on a bag of burgers at a fast food joint and do something with a bag of rice and some vegetables? And the kids are now taking these ideas home to their own families and practicing it. A lot of the kids’ attendance rate is better at school. Some grades are going up.

LB: They can adapt what they are learning to their own lives, to fit their own needs.

MM: That’s right. And you know, when we talk about exercise, a lot of these kids have different goals. We have them set their own goals. It’s not about being on the cover of a magazine. For some of them it’s about wanting to fit in that prom dress and the prom is a month away. They figure out, “Boy, if I just lost ten pounds I could do it.” A little goal like that maybe. Kids are making sports teams that they couldn’t make the year before. Confidence is higher. They are also coming back saying they have less stress because they are able to break a sweat, and they had never done that before. They are also coming and saying that before they were coming to this after school program they were hanging out with the wrong crowd. They started coming here, and they are coming back. And they’re starting to tell their friends about it.

LB: The website is jklivinfoundation.org, and when I watched a video on the website, I was impressed with one girl who said she just started drinking more water and started jogging to lose weight and be a healthier person.

MM: Yeah. Yeah. It’s exciting stuff!


“We’ve been doing this a few years now, and it feels pretty solid.”
LB: These are things that they are taking home, and they are things that they just didn’t know to do. They’d never been taught to drink water for good health.

MM: Well, sometimes, it’s such a simple thing like that! Maybe they were just grabbing a soda pop that’s high in sugar because they were thirsty. They didn’t know any better. And now we say, “You know what, grab a water instead. Your body needs more water. It’s two-thirds water anyway.” And they never thought of that.

LB: My dad always said he wasn’t worried about my brother and me in school and the choices we were making, he was more worried about the kid sitting in front of or behind us in class or out on the playground who wasn’t getting the guidance that’s needed at home. Tell us about the mental and emotional strength the kids are gaining from the program. How much has that had an impact on their lives?

MM: I’m still pleasantly surprised to hear during the gratitude circle the very simple things they are sincerely thankful for. I hear it repeatedly each year. They tell us they’re just really glad that somebody they didn’t know personally, a group of people they didn’t know, came here and decided to take their time, put their efforts and their money into giving them a place to go. They say, “Why did y’all do this? You didn’t have to do that. Somebody is helping me out? And it’s not to their benefit, it’s to my benefit?” At first,they have a hard time believing it because it’s the first time that’s happened to a lot of them.

LB: You only have them for a short time after school each week, what words of encouragement do you try to send them away with each time they leave?

MM: We have thoughts for the month, and its as simple as sayings like remain curious. Don’t be afraid to fail. You’ve got to shoot to score. Watch how much you gossip. Little things like that. I try to share advice I’ve learned through my practical living, along with the life choices of a lot of people who I respect, and we all agree that these are the kinds of things that helped us remain happy, remain healthy, and get through harder times. And when the kids share their own thoughts in the gratitude circle, Lisa, it’s amazing. My favorite thing is the gratitude circle.

LB: What is the gratitude circle?

MM: The first time we had them all sit down in a circle and said, “All right, now we’re all going to say what we’re thankful for.” All the kids mumbled and whispered and had little to say and were so shy. Then it became evident that to say you’re thankful for something in high school is not cool.

LB: Sad, but true.

MM: It’s just not cool. It’s like opening up your diary or something. So we went a couple months, and I wondered how to break through the silence. So then one time when we gathered in our circle I said, “Man, I’ve got a party coming up this weekend. We’ve got some friends coming over, and we’re going to cook and have a good time. I’m thankful for a party
this weekend with my friends.”

LB: Brilliant.

MM: So I threw a very fun thing out there that wasn’t precious or heavy and all the sudden, it helped the kids say, “Man, I’m thankful halloween is coming because I’m gonna get candy.” Or “I’m thankful I got a kiss from my girlfriend last week,” and all the kids started laughing and understood that you can be thankful for something that’s not serious. You can be thankful for laughing at something today. Then they all started to really open up and share different things, and what they shared let the others students know that, “Hey, I’m in the same boat as you. I’m concerned about the same thing in my life, too. I thought it was only me, but now I know it’s not just me.” They started to become a team.

LB: You’re passionate about these kids and their own possibilities in life.

MM: We’re off to a good start. We’ve been doing this for a few years now, and it feels pretty solid. The infrastructure is there, and we’re starting to see results.

MM: We have thoughts for the month, and its as simple as sayings like remain curious. Don’t be afraid to fail. You’ve got to shoot to score. Watch how much you gossip. Little things like that. I try to share advice I’ve learned through my practical living, along with the life choices of a lot of people who I respect, and we all agree that these are the kinds of things that helped us remain happy, remain healthy, and get through harder times. And when the kids share their own thoughts in the gratitude circle, Lisa, it’s amazing. My favorite thing is the gratitude circle.

LB: What is the gratitude circle?

MM: The first time we had them all sit down in a circle and said, “All right, now we’re all going to say what we’re thankful for.” All the kids mumbled and whispered and had little to say and were so shy. Then it became evident that to say you’re thankful for something in high school is not cool.

LB: Sad, but true.

MM: It’s just not cool. It’s like opening up your diary or something. So we went a couple months, and I wondered how to break through the silence. So then one time when we gathered in our circle I said, “Man, I’ve got a party coming up this weekend. We’ve got some friends coming over, and we’re going to cook and have a good time. I’m thankful for a party this weekend with my friends.”

LB: Brilliant.

MM: So I threw a very fun thing out there that wasn’t precious or heavy and all the sudden, it helped the kids say, “Man, I’m thankful halloween is coming because I’m gonna get candy.” Or “I’m thankful I got a kiss from my girlfriend last week,” and all the kids started laughing and understood that you can be thankful for something that’s not serious. You can be thankful for laughing at something today. Then they all started to really open up and share different things, and what they shared let the others students know that, “Hey, I’m in the same boat as you. I’m concerned about the same thing in my life, too. I thought it was only me, but now I know it’s not just me.” They started to become a team.

LB: You’re passionate about these kids and their own possibilities in life.

MM: We’re off to a good start. We’ve been doing this for a few years now, and it feels pretty solid. The infrastructure is there, and we’re starting to see results.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Soon after my interview with Matthew McConaughey, I had the opportunity to visit the j.k. livin after school program in Los Angeles, CA. and was overwhelmed by the positive nature of the students and their gratitude for the opportunities brought to them through their participation in the program.  For more information, visit www.jklivinfoundation.org LB