Chicago Actors and Casting Agencies Offer Hope to the Needy This Holiday Season

Chicago actors, background extras and casting agencies have joined together in support of the first-annual Extra Hands of Hope Holiday Toy, Books & Clothing Drive, which will benefit Chicago’s Lawndale, Englewood and Logan Square communities.

Extra Hands of Hope was the vision of Chicago actor/comic/writer Tommy Connolly and James Petrean, a background artist from Oak Forest, Illinois. I asked James Petrean how they first got started with Extra Hands of Hope.

“I went to Lauren Strec (from the Chicago Actors and Extras website) about a way actors, actresses and extras could give back. Lauren was very happy and excited about it also and gave me her 100% support. Since Chicago Actors & Extras started off in Chicago, I was trying to do research for something locally, then I came in contact with Tommy Connolly, since this is right up his alley. He personally suggested Urban Youth Outreach. I liked the idea that it’s right here in Chicago and that it helps both adults and children in need.”

Urban Youth Outreach, lead by Pastor Keith Vosler, and Lawndale Church Community Leader Wayne (Coach) Gordon, support over 400 families and children in Englewood and Lawndale. “The Center reaches out as a light of hope and a place of refuge to primarily urban, at-risk, unchurched youth and their families, using all resources available, to see these youth come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.”

Bill Dillon, founder of Inner City Impact in Logan Square, has also joined in the outreach, bringing the total number of 800+ families who will be assisted by the upcoming Holiday Toy, Books & Clothing Drive. Inner City Impact has served Chicago since 1972, “Through ICI’s core programs, dedicated full-time missionaries and volunteers work with children in Bible studies, one-on-one discipleship, and in a variety of Christ-centered, wholesome and fun activities.”

EHH’s Holiday Drive is receiving a warm and generous show of support from every major casting agency in Chicago, as well as actors, extras and friends. Jon Kinnas from Atmosphere Casting, Darlene Hunt with Extraordinary Casting, Joan Philo Darling Series, Girls Gone Casting, Claire Simon of Simon Casting, O’Connor Casting, Paskal-Rudnicke Casting, Inc. and the website Chicago Actors & Extras, have joined together to offer their money, time and support.

Victor Trevino, a local graphic artist, worked with Tommy Connolly on the EHH logo, and Chicago actress and songwriter, Charmane Ward, inspired to promote the spirit of giving, wrote and recorded the theme song, “Extra Hands of Hope.” Imagination Designers recorded the song and donated services, along with SAG actor Jeffrey Hurt who donated the boxes for the collection.

When I asked co-founder Tommy Connolly to share his own personal inspiration behind Extra Hands of Hope, he said:

“I am a recovering alcoholic addict who was homeless and suffered from undiagnosed depression for 28 years before becoming an Actor and Comic. I have deep convictions about giving back to the community.”

Tommy Connolly has written a book about his struggles, hope, faith and recovery called Soul Parole: Making Peace with My Mind, God and Myself, with an introduction by Chicago’s Tom Dreesen and comedian David Brenner. The book will be available through by the end of the year and proceeds go to Chicago-area addiction, homeless and mental health programs.

Tommy’s story and Extra Hands of Hope inspire me personally because not only do I work on television and film projects in Chicago, but I have had the honor and joy to serve the needy in the streets of Chicago and Los Angeles, and have battled my own homelessness, poverty and loss. Without God’s amazing grace, and the support of caring souls, I could not have made it through each day.

There is extraordinary power that comes from a simple gesture of extending a helping heart to someone in need. It doesn’t take much, but a donation of a warm coat, new pair of shoes, or Christmas toys for the kids, offer love and inspiration to people who are going through challenging times in their lives.

The Extra Hands of Hope Holiday Drive will be taking place November 17 – December 17, 2011. If you would like to make a donation of new and gently used toys, books, shoes and clothing, there are drop-boxes throughout various small businesses and community centers in Chicago. For a location near you, to offer financial assistance, or for more information on this wonderful cause, please visit the following websites.

Tommy Connolly called his opportunity to reach out and help hundreds of families during this Holiday season “A miracle indeed!” After this upcoming event, the hope continues because Tommy just purchased the web domain Tommy, along with James Petrean, “plan on making our vision of lending “EXTRA HANDS” in the Chicago community a full-time reality.”

Patricia Batson has worked in television and film productions as a background extra in Hollywood, California, and Chicago, Illinois, as well as for local advertising agencies, TV, and radio stations. Her resume includes “The Chicago Code,” “Glee,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Contagion,” “The Dilemma,” and “Get Him to the Greek.”

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