As the new year begins, the TODAY Show unveils a new outreach project called Shine a Light, a year-long initiative focused on service and giving back to communities in need.
Each anchor has picked a worthy cause to support throughout the year:
Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie will help give kids safe places to play. Matt and Savannah will help convert an abandoned lot into a playground, working to help provide secure locations for kids to exercise both their bodies and their imaginations.
“Recess was my favorite subject in school. I loved to go outside and run around. And I can’t imagine growing up and not being able to sit on a swing set and take flight,” Savannah said. “I would love to do something that brought joy to kids who have too little of it.”
“I want to take what is perhaps an eyesore in that neighborhood — a vacant lot, you know, broken bottles, rocks, graffiti — and I want a community to get motivated … After it’s been transformed from rubble, I want to be there as we swing that gate open for the first time,” Matt said.
Why is this cause important? Sixty-nine percent of low-income parents say there is no playground in their neighborhoods, and children in neighborhoods without a park are 26 percent more likely to be obese. Track Matt and Savannah’s progress on our Shine a Light TODAY Facebook page.
Al Roker’s goal is to join a USO tour, helping to bring a little bit of America to our more than 127,000 troops stationed all around the world.
“A few years ago I went to Afghanistan … You see it on TV, but nothing can prepare you for what these men and women are dealing with,” Al said. “We still have a lot of American troops in harm’s way, and I want them to know that they’re remembered.”
Natalie Morales hopes to run the Boston Marathon, helping to raise awareness and money for victims of last year’s bombing attacks as their challenges continue. “They’ve shown us not only how to be Boston strong, but America strong,” she said.
Willie Geist will renovate a homeless shelter, making it a safe place for kids and families. “There’s just not enough space for kids,” he says. “We can do better than that.”
Carson Daly will fight childhood hunger in America, raising awareness and inspiring others to help feed their neighbors. “I’m a father. And I wake up every day and, you know, breakfast with my kids is a big deal to me,” Carson said. “There are millions of kids who wake up and they’re not eating. And it’s certainly not by choice. It’s because they can’t.”
“People are hungry not just in the slums of America, not just in the poor parts,” he said. “It’s the kids who are sitting next to your kids in well-to-do areas, in middle class areas and poor areas.”
Tamron will focus her efforts on raising awareness about victims of domestic abuse. “I’ve worked with victims, survivors, of domestic violence for many years now. But for me, that work changed after the death of my sister,” she said. “For years, my sister had been the victim of domestic violence, and I look back at our relationship, our friendship as sisters, and I wonder, ‘Could I have done something to save her?'”
Approximately 15.5 million children are exposed to domestic violence every year, and three women are killed by a current or former intimate partner each day. Tamron said she’ll connect with young girls in this situation who feel like they’re alone. “I want them to know that these hands are reaching out to them. And we’re going to pull them out of that dark hole into the light.”
Hoda Kotb is making it her mission to help kids with cancer, working closely with St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. “As a cancer survivor myself, I know what it feels like as a grownup,” Hoda said. “But what I can’t even fathom, even now, is what it feels like to be a kid … struggling with this grown-up disease, something they shouldn’t have to deal with. And all you want to do is reach out and help and hug.”
Hoda will help lift children’s spirits by creating a music video with them. It’ll be “an anthem about being brave and being strong,” she said, and expressed her hope that the message will spread from hospital to hospital across the country.
Kathie Lee Gifford will spend the year raising money for a worthy cause by encouraging families to make memories with their loved ones.
“2014 is going to be the year that my family celebrates 20 years in the same home. So I started chronicling pictures and things and hopefully, by the end of the year we will have a coffee-table book,” Kathie Lee said. It’ll be called ‘Good Giffts, One Year in the Heart of a Home.'”
Proceeds from the sale of Kathie Lee’s book will go to the Salvation Army.
“I want this book to be a blessing to whoever picks it up,” she said. “I want to put a smile on their face. I want to put a prayer of gratitude in their own souls for the blessings that they have in life.”
Track the anchors’ progress and join to help make an impact on the Shine a Light TODAY Facebook page. And tell them on social media how you’re pitching in, using the hashtag #ShineALight.