LOS ANGELES — Ten years ago, a deadly earthquake devastated Haiti, leaving hundreds of thousands of people dead, others fighting for their lives trapped under rubble. That’s when Sean Penn stepped up to help.
Best known as an actor, Penn’s heart actually lies in helping people in crisis, as seen when he hit the ground in Haiti.
Penn has responded to crises time and time again over the past decade, all over the world. It has become the mission of the star’s nonprofit, Community Organized Relief Effort – or CORE – to help communities in urgent despair.
CORE is not only Haiti’s premiere humanitarian organization, led by 150 Haitians, but days after Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas in 2019, the organization was present to provide relief, helping rebuild communities. CORE was also in Florida when Hurricane Florence flooded the region in 2018.
For the first time, though, there was a crisis happening in Penn’s own backyard with the COVID-19 pandemic. Now the Malibu native had a chance to help his home, Los Angeles.
“It was a crazy hit when we found ourselves working right on our home turf in a disaster, here in California and across the county,” Penn said.
As the pandemic grew worse in Southern California, with a heightened demand for testing, the city of Los Angeles partnered with CORE, as well as the L.A. Fire Department and lab Curative. Together, they have created one of the largest municipal testing programs in the country.
Penn has had his boots on the ground at one of the sites his nonprofit helps run. The star's hit films and two Oscar wins have given him a profound platform, but to Penn, he’s just another guy doing what he can to help.
“Most people affecting change are not celebrities. I would include me as discounted from that," he said. "Look around, these are the people in uniform, these young people with the CORE shirts on. The silver lining of all of this is to see just how engaged young people are, our staff and volunteers throughout the country."
Now, 38,000 people can get free COVID tests every single day in L.A. Since the initiative started in March, CORE has helped the city test over two million people.
While the the numbers are impressive, Penn believes the model they've created is far more important – supporting local governance with a community-centric approach, like they are still doing to this day in Haiti and elsewhere.
“I’m no different than anybody else in processing this thing, and I think it's going to take a long time to process," he said. "We know there are going to be all kinds of collateral issues even after the virus has been disarmed."
"It’s a solemn duty for all of us to keep paying attention to what that is, who is suffering, and how we can help,” Penn added.
The actor will keep doing what he can to meet that need. Springing into action to help is now second nature to him now, whether it’s across the globe, or in his own backyard.
If you'd like to support CORE, you can donate and find more information at coreresponse.org.