Admittedly, from all sides, it was possibly going to be a hard sell.
The stereotypes were rampant: Crunchy-granola, laid-back, Hollywood stars were going out to the Midwest to meet the no-nonsense down-to-earth folksy Kansans and sell them on how they can help save the environment.
“Sure, we tend to be earthy and skeptical out here,” said Victoria Bogner of Lawrence, Kansas. “And yeah, we thought the Californians were going to be egotistical people who sit by the beach and don't really work too hard.”
But, after interactions with Studio City’s super-environmentalist Ed Begley Jr., and meetings with actor/writer , more than 100 people united to form Green Wish/Kansas and Bogner became the president of the foundation.
“We have already identified worthy environmental projects in Lawrence and we will help support them through,” Bogner said.
As an umbrella group, Green Wish is a grassroots, non-profit charity that funds local environmental projects through small donations at local businesses. Those $1, $3 or $5 donations go to hyper-local projects that are identified by a local board in that community that collects and distributes all the money collected within the community.
"It's completely a community-to-community program," explained Sbarge.
Bogner, for example, is a chief investment analyst for McDaniel Knutson Financial Partners—a successful philanthropic financial planning company. As part of their mission statement, the company gives five percent of their gross revenue to the hungry, homeless, the art, education and other causes. And, they don't brag about it. That spirit of giving back is what attracted the company to Green Wish.
“We see Green Wish as a good way of doing that, too,” Bogner said.
And now that a Lawrence. Kansas branch is launched, Green Wish is making inroads to similar groups that are showing interest in Missouri, Texas, Mississippi and cities such as Knoxville, Chicago, New Orleans and Kansas City. Bogner said she is working on a primer to explain to interested groups how Green Wish can work in their community—and she can offset some of the concerns that people may have.
“People think that these Californians are going to swoop in and take over and funnel all the money back to the West Coast, and that’s just not the way it is,” Bogner said. “Your own community controls the money you collect and it’s given back to your community. It was great to see that these guys from Hollywood were just good, caring people.”
Sbarge began his acting career at the age of 4 appearing on “Sesame Street” and worked on Broadway, as well as films (“Risky Business,” “Independence Day,” “Pearl Harbor”) and TV movies (“Billionaire Boys Club,” “Introducing Dorthy Dandridge,” “A Street Car Named Desire”) and many TV shows (including the double role of Archie Hopper and Jiminy Cricket in “Once Upon a Time.”) (Ironically, Jiminy Cricket was Walt Disney's environmental ambassador.) Sbarge's voiceover work also includes games such as Mass Effect, Stars Wars and Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Sbarge became inspired 10 years ago, at the birth of his daughter Gracie, to do something about the environment.
“I was concerned about the world, about what was going to be left for our children,” said Sbarge. Now, Gracie is 10 and his son Django is 8. They attend local schools in the San Fernando Valley and are becoming environmentally conscious—recycling, conserving and always looking for organic products.
Sbarge met Begley and his wife Rachelle Carson who are noted for converting their house in Studio City into a place that collects and recycles rainwater, uses solar and alternative power, and is as green as possible. When the Begley's began planning another house that they wanted to build near the Los Angeles River in another part of Studio City, they wanted it to be a low-impact environmentally-sound house under LEED Platinum Certified standards.
Sbarge and award-winning producer Billy Frank, of in Sherman Oaks, are filming the laborious and sometimes ridiculous process of building their house in a series called “." The plan is to show how to be environmentally conscious in a fun way, and how to build such a unique house from the ground up.
“I think that if people have this predisposition that Hollywood stars are arrogant or aloof, all of that is gone when they meet Ed Begley,” Sbarge said. “All of those stereotypes just disappear. He is humble and warm-hearted and compassionate. There is no ego involved.”
Bogner added that Sbarge also came across the same way, so when Sbarge met with 100 Kansans who were curious about the project, he won them over.
“He got some push back but he was able to answer all the questions to their satisfaction, and people couldn’t wait to join in and figure out how they can help,” said Bogner.
For his part, Begley said, “As you can imagine I get asked to endorse anything that says ‘environmental’ and we have to be careful what we put our name to, but there’s no question that we endorse Green Wish and Rachelle and I are both on the board of directors. Their mission is clear and what they do—like the Halloween program—is so simple.”
(see the video above in the gallery) is an alternative—or supplement—to trick-or-treating. It is a milkbox-shaped collection box that is fun to assemble and the children can personalize their own Green Wish on the outside with what they want to do for the enviornment. The kids collect coins, 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.
“So many times kids collect for things that they believe in, but never know where the money goes, or how it gets used, but this will help connect the dots so that the children can understand what the concerns are around them and what is happening right there in the community,” Sbarge said.
Some of the projects in Kansas, for example, involve projects along the river, the Black Jack Nature Park and Civil War battle area, mercantile education and even a faith-based group working on the environment. Their local concerns involve farmers, electric cars and native American wetlands.
“We do not get into political issues or partisan issues, we’re very careful about that,” Sbarge said. “There are some animal issues, for example, that get political, we will avoid those.
In fact, though, even climate change can be a Red State or Blue State issue. “We stay fact-based, and consult with a lot of leading experts and scientists.”
The Los Angeles Green Wish board also includes actress and environmentalist Sharon Lawrence, MIT oceanographic scientist Jess Adkins, communications director Patie Maloney, designer Sonja Rasula and many others. Local groups benefitting from Green Wish include Friends of Los Angeles River (http://folar.org), Santa Monica Baykeeper (www.smbaykeeper.org), Coalition for Clean Air (www.coalitionforcleanair.org) and others. The Los Angeles chapter is seeking a corporate sponsor to help with the charity.
For Sbarge, personally, he is not yet living as environmentally sound as his friend Begley, but, “He and his family are an inspiration, and there is so much apathy out there now. With the temperatures getting hotter, and so many environmental needs out there, we are happy to help out in the little ways we can.”
Sbarge added, “With all the bad news we read about the environment, there is a huge potential for apathy because the problems seem so insurmountable. But, every little bit helps. And now in cities around the country, we are looking to make a difference, one dollar at a time with communities who share a passion for the environment.”
You don't have to have a local chapter to join in. Schools, teachers, civic groups could order their Eek-o-Halloween kit from anywhere in the country. Meanwhile, they are all working on filming one season of "On Begley Street."
“Ed is a quirky, funny and real guy, and his interaction with his family is priceless,” Sbarge said. “Rachelle and his 12-year-old daughter Hayden are very involved in the project and we hope this is a form of infotainment that is very enjoyable. Ed presents this material in a way so that you don’t feel like you’re forced to eat broccoli.
For more information, see the videos in the gallery above, and go to Green Wish at: www.greenwish.com