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Mendes giving sick children a creative outlet

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To give is to receive
  • Actress Eva Mendes is among those helping to bring the arts to seriously ill children
  • Mendes wants the children to know that they might be bedridden, but they have a voice
  • Mendes felt inspired by "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute": "It wasn't full of s---"

Editor's Note: Voting is under way for the 2010 CNN Hero of the Year. The winner will be announced at "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute," which airs Thanksgiving night, November 25, at 8 p.m. ET. See the top 10 CNN Heroes of 2010 and cast your vote.

(CNN) -- Actress Eva Mendes volunteers regularly with The Art of Elysium, an organization that enables actors, artists and musicians to share their talents with children who are battling serious medical conditions. She was also a presenter at "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute" in 2009.

Mendes recently sat down to talk to CNN producer Quinn Brown about CNN Heroes and her philanthropy. Below are excerpts from that interview.

Quinn Brown: What inspired you to get involved with The Art of Elysium?

Eva Mendes: I'm a sucker for kids, and I also know the importance of art and what it can do to someone's life. Coming from a low-income family, I didn't know that art was this release ... so it's really important for me to make sure that kids know: "You have a voice. You can put this to paper. ... You can put this to canvas."

What we do is we bring the arts, in any way we can, into hospitals. Some of these children have been bedridden for years, so they obviously can't go out and play. So we sing. We read to the children. We finger-paint -- that's a really fun one -- and it's amazing what you see. You get a real direct, immediate result. These children, they're just these beautiful little souls. Some of these kids can't speak, so they really just have their eyes and their souls to communicate. And when you finger-paint with a kid or you dance and you see their little eyes light up, it's pretty incredible. And when you start visiting them on a regular basis, you see their growth. It's really quite special.

Brown: Has there been a particular child who inspired you?

Mendes: David is one of the most creative souls I've ever met. He ends up writing a play every year for Christmas, and we end up all acting in it. David has now written three plays for me. He's a demanding director. David's face is completely deformed, and he has a lot of internal problems and health issues due to his deformities. He's this awesome kid who's found a purpose and who's found a voice through The Art of Elysium.

Brown: It sounds like you're pretty involved.

Mendes: I would love to say that I give selflessly, but that's not true; what I get back is tenfold. My vocabulary doesn't even contain the words I feel once I leave the hospital. There is total sense of purpose and fulfillment that I feel that I don't get from any other area of my life. It's a two-way deal. It's just so gratifying.

Brown: Do you have any heroes? What is a hero to you?

Mendes: Charity and giving back begins at home, and that is really important to remember. You can be out there saving the world, but if you're not trying to save your own family and doing the work at home, it doesn't really make any sense.

You asked me who my hero is -- my mom. She is a survivor in every sense of the word, and it began at home with her. She is a very compassionate woman, and she always taught me to think about other people. As bad as things were for us, there was always someone who was worse off. That always put me in a state of gratitude, and I thank her for that. But that, to me, is a hero. A woman who is a survivor and doesn't let life beat them down.

Brown: Moving onto CNN Heroes, you were a presenter at "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute" last year. How did that compare to other awards shows you've been to?

Mendes: Can I say a bad word? It wasn't full of s---. It was real. It was inspiring. I left that night feeling like I wanted to change the world right then and there. It was beautiful because you have all of these people coming together, swapping stories and ideas. It was just amazing to have all of these "good-doers" in one room together. It's a lot of power. It's a lot of energy, and that's inspiring.

Brown: What was it like to see all of those heroes? How did it affect you personally?

Mendes: It makes me realize that, due to this celebrity thing, I do have a light that follows me around. So what I choose to do with that light is shine it on other things that are important, not just what I'm wearing. ... So it just keeps everything in perspective and makes me realize my purpose as well and the purpose of this crazy thing called celebrity.