The Actors Fund will be newly named the Entertainment Community Fund. The news was announced at the organization’s annual gala on May 9.
Joe Benincasa, president of the Entertainment Community Fund, told Broadway News that the change “makes us more transparent.”
“We’ve struggled with how people understand what it is we do,” Benincasa said. “This new name and tagline [‘Supporting a life in the arts’] tells a better story about who we are and who we serve.”
“It’s also a celebration of us all having gotten through this terrible two years together,” Brian Stokes Mitchell, chairman of the Entertainment Community Fund, told Broadway News.
While the name change had been voted on before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the last two years have reinforced the need to help identify the types of people the fund helps, Benincasa said. People who worked within the industry didn’t realize they were eligible for services provided by the fund during the pandemic and turned elsewhere.
This is not a new challenge for the fund. To help get the message across about who the fund benefits, the tagline, “For everyone in entertainment,” was added about a decade ago.
At the start of the pandemic, the emergency financial assistance program was converted to operate remotely and digitally. Typically, Benincasa said, people would visit an office in New York, Los Angeles or Chicago. But the program was converted so the fund could provide emergency financial assistance within 48 hours. As a result, almost $27 million has been provided in emergency financial assistance to around 18,000 individuals.
The fund helped more than 40,000 people during 2020 alone — a 71% increase from 2019, according to its latest report. Around 4,800 people received the help of health insurance services, up 45% compared to 2019. And more than 500 people participated in 53 mental health support groups led by trained staff.
In the early days of the pandemic, Benincasa recalls being unsure whether the fund would survive. But many people stepped up to lend a hand.
“I was overwhelmed by how people responded to us because of our reputation for how we help people,” he said.
Both Benincasa and Mitchell cited the work of Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley’s “Stars in the House” series, which was created to raise money for the fund. The benefit show has brought in more than $1 million in donations.
“Every dollar counts, and every dollar has been appreciated. We are so grateful for what everybody has done to help us serve people,” Mitchell said.
The fund continues to provide a host of resources to entertainment industry workers as the pandemic ebbs and flows. Unemployment and mental health resources remain available, including psychological and alternate career counseling.
In addition, the Actors Fund Home in Englewood, New Jersey continues to provide a variety of services, including assisted living, memory care and short-stay rehabilitation. A particular point of pride from the last two years, according to Benincasa, was that not a single case of COVID-19 originated at the home.
“It feels like the last 140 years have been a dress rehearsal for this time that we are all in right now because of this pandemic,” Mitchell said, adding that the work of Benincasa and his team has crystallized during the last two years.
While the fund continues to help tens of thousands of entertainment workers each year, Benincasa says there are new goals in place. The fund is aiming to triple the number of people it helps over the next five years.
“We are committed to amplifying our impact around the country,” Benincasa said. “We want to reach out to more people in the entertainment community so that they know that we are here to help them.”