Students at the University of Maryland got a chance to reduce their “Bacon number” on Wednesday as actor and philanthropist Kevin Bacon met with them to talk charity.
Bacon has become known away from the film set for his social networking website SixDegrees.org, that encourages charitable fundraising. At the university to judge the “Do Good” Challenge Awards, Bacon met beforehand with students at the School of Public Policy’s philanthropy and nonprofit leadership program.
“They’re not here to learn from me, I’m here to learn from them,” he said.
Bacon said he was “perhaps naive” when beginning his philanthropic work thinking he could turn Hollywood connections into support for his charity.
“When you’re famous, people want something from you all the time,” he said. By asking for help with SixDegrees, “I have become that guy.”
But what started as “a little bit of a joke” at Bacon’s expense — a game in which any Hollywood actor or celebrity could be linked to him by six degrees of separation or less; their “Bacon number” — Bacon has turned into a successful, multimillion-dollar charitable fund. Six Degrees was also integral to the “Do Good Challenge” organized by the school , where student teams set up charities and competed for donation funds and other prizes.
Professor Robert T. Grimm, director of the Philanthropy and Nonprofit Management program says he aims to teach students philanthropy is not just the art of giving away money, but forming business connections.
The money is donated by Potomac residents Karen Levenson, a Maryland alum, and her husband Bruce, co-founder of the business information company United Communications Group.
“With all the possibilities of things that you could choose to focus on, why philanthropy?” Bacon asked students before the end of class. One student answered that community help is important now because government services are shrinking. Junior Caitlin Virta, 20, says she is motivated to help through her education major.
“I had a really good education and I want to make sure others do too,” she said.
Jack McCullough, a junior, said the class opened his eyes to how achievable change can be.
“You can make an impact in so many ways” on a local level, he said, giving the extraordinary number of charities the class chose from as proof.
Established in January, 2010, Grimm says he wants the program to become one of the premier academic centers for the study of nonprofit management; the “envy” of other universities, and a model to follow.
“We want hundreds, if not thousands, of students to have this experience,” Grimm said. “We want to make philanthropy a pillar of the university experience.”