No Laughing Matter

Amy Poehler and the Worldwide Orphans Foundation

Over the years, actress and comedian Amy Poehler has certainly worn many hats. Beyond her hilarious on-screen performances, Amy has delighted fans as a writer, director, even as a DJ. While much of her professional career has focused on comedy, her commitment to her personal passion, philanthropy, is no laughing matter.

Much like her character, Leslie Knope, in the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation, Amy is determined to make the world a better place. For almost a decade, the former Saturday Night Live star has worked with Worldwide Orphans (WWO) to transform the lives of children in need. The founder of WWO, Dr. Jane Aronson, was inspired to start the non-profit after witnessing firsthand the tragic conditions in orphanages abroad. In WWO’s 2011 overview, Dr. Aronson shares an emotive account of the heartbreaking experiences that led her to her calling. “When I first got involved with kids who were institutionalized in orphanages I was doing adoption medicine. I really didn’t understand the deep feelings of an orphan. I kind of kept myself protected from it. But then, when I started to travel to orphanages, I had these horrible experiences. You’re there and you can’t believe you’re in a place that smells so bad, that’s so dark…that’s so full of meanness. Children sat for hours banging their heads on the cribs and floor…and their faces were just empty.”

Armed with an extensive background in pediatrics and childhood education, Dr. Aronson made it her mission to transform the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable children. Focusing on orphans, children with HIV, and kids living in areas of extreme poverty and disaster, WWO goes beyond providing the basics to ensure these kids get the stimulation they need to become confident, competent, thriving adults.

To achieve this, a signature child development intervention program was created called Element of Play® (EOP). Focused on art, music, dance, theater, reading, sport, play and imagination, this program is designed to help children overcome trauma and develop to their full potential. The hub of the EOP Program is the toy library; a space equipped with special furniture, curated toys, trained staff and volunteers. Another important component to WWO involves the Element of Play® teachers. WWO trains adults from the community to lead the programing, mentor children, and help rebuild a positive relationship between children and adults.

As is the case with many non-profits, WWO relies on donations from the public to fund their efforts. Amy has been instrumental in helping the non-profit reach its fundraising goals, hosting various events and galas over the years. In 2013, Amy became WWO’s Ambassador of Arts and accompanied Dr. Aronson to Haiti to see one of the youth training programs in action. The pair stayed a week in the mountainous community of Kenscoff, spending time with the children and observing the transformative effect the program had on the community. In just a couple of years, WWO successfully taught early childhood development to young people, who are now able to help children and train adult caregivers in the community.

“I am so proud to have been a part of this wonderful organization since 2009. Jane and I met at the Glamour awards. It was love at first sight, and by dinner time I had promised to do anything for her and WWO.

Since then, I’ve traveled with WWO and have seen first-hand its amazing work in Haiti and other countries. Here’s a story from Ethiopia that I never tire of… In the summer of 2008, Dr. Jane visited Des’s Village, an Ethiopian orphanage for children living with HIV. The kids were playing with art supplies; they were tracing their bodies, drawing pictures, making bracelets and dancing to Ethiopia disco music. Mahlet, a 3-year-old little girl, had made herself a hat with the brown paper and she was dancing to music with her little tongue out…so sassy. Jane was outside jumping rope double dutch when Mahlet came out of the orphanage and started pulling on Dr. Jane’s jacket. Dr. Jane stopped jumping and looked down at Mahlet. She was wearing glasses made with blue pipe cleaners that were askew on her face. Dr. Jane kneeled down to be close to Mahlet and held her and cried because she felt like they were in fact, seeing the same vision. WWO sees what kids see…we see their dreams and we work unendingly to help children reach their dreams through play.

Since that time we’ve come to use Jane’s blue glasses, as a symbol for the future. We see what children see and what they need. That’s why it just makes sense that the blue glasses should be the theme of WWO’s new capital campaign. We’re excited to launch the 20/20 Blue Glasses Campaign. Our goal is to raise $20 million dollars by the end of 2020″ said Amy at a recent WWO gala.

The Worldwide Orphans Blue Glasses Campaign is part of a strategic plan to ensure the quality and lasting impact of WWO’s work. Though the Campaign, WWO hopes to expand their support base and awareness of their programs, raise funds for program expansion, and share their knowledge on how to best help our children, families and communities overcome the trauma of poverty and thrive.

Today, WWO has grown to offer programs in Bulgaria, Haiti, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Serbia and the United States, reaching more than 35,000 children and adults at 43 Element of Play sites. But there are still millions of children who desperately need our help. Donate today to help WWO reach their Blue Glasses Campaign goal. Find out more at

Today, there are 153 million orphans in the world in need of basic life services.1

ref (1 UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2011

Design chart /Visuals

Outcomes show that Element of Play helps heal trauma, supports child development, promotes school readiness and adult/child attachment and trains parents and other community adults in transferable employment skills.

Bulgaria, 10,000 children and adults served

Ethiopia, 80,000

Haiti, 3,000

Serbia, 36

Vietnam, 15,000

United States, 500