Published Dec 13, 2019
This is How the Star Trek Family Gives Back
We talked to a few actors to learn how they're using their fame to embrace Gene Roddenberry's vision.
The holiday season is often seen as a time of giving, when altruism and public service assume a more prominent position in our society. Those ideals also permeate the very fabric of Star Trek, as charity and volunteerism are highly valued by Federation citizens. A Ferengi or two have even been known to put the welfare of others ahead of their own profits… at times.
For many Trek actors, the desire to engage in charitable deeds extends beyond the fictional universe and enters the realm of reality. StarTrek.com caught up with several of these actors to discuss the role that benevolence plays in their lives and the causes that are close to their hearts.
Armin Shimerman - “Quark” from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
One might say that Armin Shimerman lives by the “Rules of Altruism” rather than the more familiar Ferengi guidebook concerning acquisition. “Life has been enormously gracious to me,” says Shimerman. “If I can give back, I feel it’s my duty, and my responsibility, and my honor to do so.” An ardent champion for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, the actor feels deeply fortunate that his wife, and two-time Deep Space Nine guest star, Kitty Swink survived the disease. Swink shares her story at events and offers hope for survival to those still afflicted with the deadly cancer. “While I donate to PanCAN, what Kitty does is much, much more important,” states Shimerman.
The former Ferengi also holds a position on a SAG-AFTRA Foundation charitable committee, where he works to aid actors who are struggling financially or dealing with unpaid medical bills. In addition to lending a hand to the acting community, Shimerman often collects donations at his convention appearances on behalf of Doctors Without Borders, a non-profit that he admires for its resolve to dispatch physicians to countries in need. On the homefront, Shimerman and Swink do their civic duty by involving themselves in the political process and supporting various candidates. “Kitty and I want to see our country prosper and go forward,” Shimerman explains.
Shimerman appreciates the unwavering compassion that his co-stars display for their favorite foundations, but the actor considers his encounters with Star Trek enthusiasts to be particularly energizing. “I find the fans to be an incredibly generous and charitable group of people,” remarks Shimerman. “When actors ask for donations, the fans are gracious and will contribute until it hurts. Those acts of charity are inspirational.”
John Billingsley - “Dr. Phlox” from Star Trek: Enterprise
Well before he was acting on television screens, John Billingsley played the role of a “volunteer grandchild” as part of a program that paired young people with elderly citizens who did not have families of their own. This experience left a lasting impression on Billingsley, who currently serves as the co-executive director of the Hollywood Food Coalition, a non-profit organization that provides meals for Los Angeles’s homeless population on a nightly basis.
Although he has always considered volunteerism to be a joy, Billingsley cites the 2016 Presidential election as the turning point that propelled him to recommit himself to community service. “In my opinion, we elected someone who is cold, cruel, and despicable,” says Billingsley. “I believe that the best way to fight against the pernicious spirit of authoritarian Trumpism is to find ways to make a difference in this world.”
Nevertheless, the actor encourages people of all political leanings to find ways to volunteer. “I consider myself a leftist and a political progressive, but feeding people who are hungry and helping people in need are things that we can cross political lines and come together on,” relates Billingsley, who often sees Star Trek’s idealism reflected in the Hollywood Food Coalition’s kitchen. “For me, Star Trek is about working together, helping each other, figuring out a constructive answer, and thinking before you act.”
Greg Grunberg - “Commander Finnegan” from Star Trek Beyond
From Greg Grunberg’s perspective, giving back is a contagious experience. “It’s the greatest feeling in the world,” describes the actor. “The more we all do it, the more we set a precedent for others to follow. No one does it better than JJ and Katie [Abrams] at Bad Robot.” Grunberg puts his words into action as the national spokesperson for the Epilepsy Foundation of America, where he advocates for epilepsy awareness and seeks to remove the stigma surrounding the condition.
“Our oldest son Jake has epilepsy, as do 3 million other Americans,” explains Grunberg. “And he is one of the lucky ones. His seizures are under control because of the medications, doctors, and therapies that are available.” The dedicated father collaborated with the Epilepsy Foundation to launch the Talk About It! website and podcast, where he emphasizes the need to create an open dialogue about epilepsy. “It’s important to never be afraid to talk about it, no matter what ‘it’ is,” details Grunberg. “I interview and highlight all of the amazing people that support and are a part of the epilepsy community worldwide.”
Grunberg even deploys his celebrity musical groups Band from TV and The Action Figures to raise funds for various charitable causes. “We have a blast and hopefully do a lot of good while rocking out,” says Grunberg, who has brought together two impressive rosters that include Bob Guiney, Sarah Wayne Callies, Adrian Pasdar, Jack Coleman, Scott Grimes, Dan Fogler, Melissa Joan Hart, Cary Elwes, and others. Despite his busy schedule, the actor often draws inspiration from the inclusive spirit of Star Trek. “If we include everyone and treat everyone as equals, then no one gets left behind.”
Chase Masterson - “Leeta” from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
When she founded the Pop Culture Hero Coalition alongside award-winning author Carrie Goldman in 2013, Chase Masterson dedicated herself to volunteering on a full-time basis. “Any one of us could have been born into any circumstance,” she says. “So when we find ourselves in a position to help - in any amount, in any way - the knowledge of that propels us to give.” Masterson credits Star Trek as a crucial influence on her decision to start the Coalition. “By working wisely in the footsteps of Gene Roddenberry - as the Coalition is doing, with young people - we impact future generations and can truly create a better tomorrow,” comments the activist.
Alongside her team, Masterson introduces programs that center upon mental health and bullying prevention skills into schools, pop culture conventions, and children’s hospitals. “The Coalition works to teach empathy and end bullying, racism, misogyny, LGBTQI-bullying, cyberbullying, and other forms of oppression. Today’s children and teens are tomorrow’s leaders - for better or worse - and the entire future of both humanity and individuals depends on us instilling values of empathy and inclusion, like Roddenberry did.”
Masterson’s Be Kind campaign, which has been endorsed by William Shatner, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis, LeVar Burton, John Billingsley, Sonequa Martin-Green, Mary Wiseman, Shazad Latif, and Doug Jones, acts as a means to fundraise for the Coalition, and her relentless commitment surfaces in other ways, as well. “I’m honored to say I produced SuperKids, the first-ever, interactive mental health comic book, for children who are hospitalized with cancer and other serious illness,” reports the activist. “I am also grateful to have partnered with Roddenberry Foundation and special needs advocate Scott Palm to create the H.E.R.O.I.C.: Healing, Empathy, and Resilience for Orthopedically Impaired Children Program for schools.”
Jay Stobie (he/him) is a freelance science fiction writer who contributes articles to the official Star Trek website and Star Trek Magazine. He can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @StobiesGalaxy.