Ilfenesh Hadera‘s parents offered nothing but support for her acting dreams. In fact, they preferred she pursued work in Hollywood instead of going into the family business of running their charity, the African Services Committee.
“More and more my parents are so happy that I’m not involved in the nonprofit world because it’s such difficult work,” the actress, 31, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “Sometimes we joke about it. For them to be happy that I’m an actor because they think it’s easy is very telling.”
Hadera’s mom — an acupuncturist from Vermont — and dad — an Ethiopian refugee — founded ASC together with the goal of helping African immigrants establish themselves and find a community in New York City. More than 30 years later, the organization provides newcomers with everything from complimentary legal services and HIV testing to counseling and nutrition programs and has since opened five clinics in Ethiopia.
The Billions star, whose first job was doing office work at the Harlem-based charity, has visited the Ethiopia sites and attends and promotes ASC fundraisers. And with her career taking off since landing roles in Baywatch and Master of None, Hadera hopes to do even more for her parents and their nonprofit.
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“I finally feel like I’m settled enough in my own work that I can focus on them a little bit more,” she says. “I’ll post the link to fundraising events and AIDS walk pages and hope that a few people will donate, participate or share. It’s hard to know if that really is working. I think about my Instagram followers: If all of them donated $1 to ASC, they’d be funding five clinics in Ethiopia for a year, and that’s huge.”
Hadera reiterates that there’s so much more that can be done, especially given the United States’ “anti-immigrant sentiment,” she says, adding, “It’s harder now than ever to raise money for their plight.”
The New Yorker has asked famous friends, like Baywatch costar Dwayne Johnson, to bring light to her family’s cause but admits she’s still hesitant to ask for favors as a fresh face.
“I don’t want to get work and personal confused, or make anyone uncomfortable,” Hadera explains. “I did a few months ago — we were doing something with my parents and I asked Dwayne if he would put together a little video to get the kids involved excited, and he did that so graciously. The dream is that the more work I get, the more visible I become, the more comfortable I am calling favors.”
Now, with her parents considering closing the Ethiopia clinics due to lack of funding, she urges supporters to do more than post passionately on social media. “It’s all good if people want to do that, but they better really take action,” Hadera says. “I think the two are getting confused. Action is not a tweet, it’s not a post. People need to show up.”
Head to africanservices.org to learn more about ASC and how to support the organization’s ongoing efforts.