Through our partnership with ViaCord, we continue to feature limelighted moms who inspire us through the work they do to better the lives of women and children. This month, we caught up with Bronx-born actor Judy Reyes, who plays nurse Carla Espinosa on Scrubs (we also love her on Devious Maids). When she’s not filming or with her 4-year-old daughter, Leila, Reyes gives her time to the Orphaned Starfish Foundation. We caught up with her en route from the Latin Grammy Awards in Las Vegas to a family vacation in the Dominican Republic.
StrollerTraffic: Tell us about the Orphaned Starfish Foundation and how you became involved.
Judy Reyes: The Orphaned Starfish Foundation funds vocational training facilities for children living in orphanages and homes for the impoverished in Latin and South America, and in the Caribbean as well. I first heard about the organization when I was working on an indie film and a dear friend connected me with Andrew Stein, the founder and executive chairman. I’d just had a baby.
ST: Have you traveled to see the foundation’s work?
JR: Yes, we visited an orphanage in the Dominican Republic. It’s a very unfortunate situation with children there, who are abandoned. I’d been looking for a way to support and donate to a cause. I knew this was it.
ST: That must have been an emotional trip for you, right after your daughter’s birth?
JR: I was really moved by the situation. And I realized I could help.
ST: We understand building computer centers is an ongoing initiative for Orphaned Starfish. What kind of a difference can having access to a computer make?
JR: Huge. It is fascinating and amazing how these kids thrive when they get even one computer. Computer centers give children a chance to have a life once they are old enough to leave. It is sad but most orphans end up spending their lives there until they are legally ejected back on to the streets at 18. They need to self educate. Computers can give them a chance to acquire basic life skills. They can learn how to open a checking account, how to find a job.
ST: You hosted a huge fundraiser in New York earlier this winter.
JR: Yes! I hosted my second fundraiser for the foundation and it was very successful. We raised more than a million dollars. I dragged some co-stars, who have become close friends.
ST: We heard that some orphaned children attended the event?
JR: Yes, it was just so touching. One young woman, who was not even 18, came for the event. She was a year from being a nurse. She turned up, all proud in her nurse’s uniform and told her story.
ST: Tell us about your own childhood. You were born and raised in the Bronx?
JR: Yes! I’m a New Yorker. I always look forward to coming back to New York. I’d love to have my daughter have the benefit of growing up on the East Coast.
ST: What’s it like raising a family in LA?
JR: I judged it when I first came to LA, but it has been really good to me. I had the benefit of growing up in an eclectic cultural place, but I’m in New York often enough—usually once a month seeing my dad, my sisters—that it’s a great mix of two cities. My daughter has frequent flier miles now!
ST: Love the idea of a bi-coastal kid. What do you enjoy doing in LA?
JR: I take Leila to karate classes; we love just playing, and reading. Being around her is the best thing! She could care less about television, so she hasn’t seen mom on TV. But she knows my co-stars so well. We are all friends. The most important thing to me is family, and I think that can be a benefit of being an older parent.
ST: Do you have fond memories of growing up in New York?
JR: I have wonderful urban memories. My father was a superintendent. I think people think that it’s a bit creepy and weird living in a basement apartment. My mother had to work really hard to make it a beautiful space. But my friends loved coming over. We had a long yard that no one really had. We were working class poor and it was the eighties crack era. Everyone could come over and play in my backyard and not worry about being on the street. We had Dominican style parties at my house that were really really really loud. I had such a great time.
ST: Did you ever experience poverty?
JR: We had tons of food. We were poor, but until I was older I never knew that other people had stuff. I was surrounded by people who didn’t have. When I saw what was out there I realized I didn’t have any of it.
ST: But you were happy?
JR: Yes, so happy. And now I see these orphans. It puts a knot in your throat and it inspires you to make a difference. Children are so inspiring. They come with everything inside them. You just have to give them a chance.
ST: So true (as our eyes well up). How can other moms make a difference?
JR: Check out the website. Explore other charities, too. You can never help too much. If these kids have resources, they have a chance and you can make that happen.
ST: Thank you, Judy!