Interview with Steve Guttenberg
Steve Guttenberg was Master of Ceremonies at the Civic Energy Awards Luncheon at the 2009 National Conference on Volunteering and Service and is a beloved American actor and comedian, starring in films such as Cocoon, 3 Men and a Baby, and Police Academy, among many others in his diverse repertoire of both theater and film. He is also known for his philanthropic work in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, as well as his dedication to helping the homeless and to improving opportunities for young people. We asked him about his role as Master of Ceremonies and his path to peace.
Have you been involved with Shinnyo-en foundation before, to know about their Pathfinders to Peace?
I’ve been involved with Shinnyo-en foundation for a couple years since 2007. I was introduced to the organization – I guess it was in April or May and since then have been so astounded by the work they do and the kindness and generosity and the spirit they have that its been something that’s really, really important to me.
What do you think it means for somebody to be called a Pathfinder to Peace?
I think we all have an ability to be a pathfinder to peace whether it’s in your own backyard with a neighbor who perhaps has their shrubs too high or their music too loud or perhaps its in a community where somebody is a bit of an irritation and you have to deal with them perhaps it’s with a neighboring country to a neighboring continent or its perhaps a disaster – it’s an earthquake, it’s a flood. It’s something, someplace, somewhere, where you’re going to make a difference and create a feeling of tension and make it morph into a feeling of peace. I think that’s what a pathfinder to peace does. We asked him about his
When you give somebody an award in your capacity as an Master of Ceremonies, what do you think you’re really acknowledging in them?
SG: When somebody gets an award, for being a pathfinder to peace, or any award what we’re trying to do is single them out and say, “You’re special. You’re doing something special. Your activity, your donations, your generosity, your kindness is being acknowledged. We’d like to say thank you, and not just in a private moment. We’d like to say publicly, ‘thank you.’” We’re also making them a model — model for activity, service, a way of life. So that other people in the audience, other people reading about this award can be inspired to do something in their own world.
We all know the story about the little boy and the man who walk on the beach and see all the starfish dying on the sand. The little boy starts throwing one starfish in after another and the adult says to the little boy: ”There’s thousands of starfish here. What are you doing? What does it matter?” And the little boy says, “To this starfish, it matters.” And he throws it in and saves its life.
What we’re trying to say to somebody who gets an award is, “You matter.” And we want everybody else to matter.
How have you personally be inspired by participating in these events?
I have been inspired since I was a little boy. My mom and dad were very philanthropic, very volunteer-oriented. I was lucky enough to start a house called Guttenhouse, which fosters a feeling of forgiveness to people who give up foster kids and takes kids who are emancipated after the foster program of the age of 18. They are finished with state funds and these kids go on the street and they become prostitutes, they become homeless, they become drug addicts. Guttenhouse is a halfway house where they learn life skills. They learn how to do their laundry and how to get a job, stay in school, and stay sober. They live one or two years at Guttenhouse, pay rent and at the end of that they get all of their rent back and have a little nest egg. So I’ve learned through Gutenhouse, I’ve learned through volunteerism when I was down during Hurricane Katrina, volunteering in New Orleans, in Astrodome where I spent a month volunteering. I volunteer now at different organizations. I volunteer at hospitals and I volunteer at orphanages. I volunteer at all kinds of centers and I got that inspiration from my parents.
How is working with Shinnyo-en different from working in other situations you might find yourself in — on stage, behind a microphone?
The Shinnyo-en Foundation is different in that they take a path of enlightenment. They take a path of kindness. They’re not forcing it, they’re not shoving it in your face. They’re saying come join us in a peaceful, sweet, easy, kind manner. Most organizations really push it at you and give you a feeling of guilt that you’re not involved. There is no feeling of guilt involved with Shinnyo-en. It’s only, “If you can help, we’d love you to join us.” You see their results constantly and they’re through a pathway of peace that we’re going to get this done through a non-stressful, easy, kind order. That’s one of the greatest ways you can give.
What is your path to peace?
My path to peace is to give and to constantly give and give until you can’t give anymore and then you’ll even have something else to give: generosity of spirit and kindness. And that’s my path to peace.