Driving south from his hometown of San Fernando, comedian George Lopez replays the scene he just witnessed: 30 members of the San Fernando High School Tigers baseball team accepting their rings as champions of the Los Angeles City League.

Lopez, who grew up in San Fernando, loves any excuse to return there. But this was no tour down memory lane. Learning that the players couldn’t afford the $400 apiece needed for their championship rings, Lopez ponied up the $12,000. Attending the ring ceremony was all the thanks he needed.

Showing gratitude

“I look at these kids and I say, ‘Wow. They have accomplished so much.They have achieved this huge thing. They are so far ahead of where I was when I was their age. And no one cares.’”

Seeing the soft side of George Lopez might surprise anyone familiar with his stand-up comedy or his many appearances on film, TV and late night talk shows (as both guest and host). That George Lopez has an unsparing take on race and ethnicity including his own poor upbringing in San Fernando.

In private Lopez is wistful, almost despairing, over the unfairness that he sees in the depiction of Latinos. “We are labeled as takers, as people who don’t contribute. I drive through these neighborhoods. I look with my eyes.I see what we do.

“Kids are always coming up to me and asking ‘How can I get where you are?’ I know how they can get there. With some respect, some encouragement these kids can get anywhere.”

It’s not what we are labeled [as].” Lopez fights back by trying to make a difference and takes delight in demonstrating how even a small gesture can generate big results. He focuses his efforts through the Lopez Foundation, its range of interests reflecting Lopez’s own varied concerns: the educational needs of young Latinos, military families and kidney disease (Lopez has a genetic disorder and in 2005 had a kidney transplant).

A generous voice

“George knows what it’s like to be hungry,” said Linda Small, executive director of the Foundation.“He looks for ways he can make a difference and help people go to the next level.” Lopez has received numerous awards for his philanthropy including the Artist of the Year and Humanitarian Award from Harvard University. This September he was awarded the prestigious 2011 ADCOLOR All-Star Award, in recognition of his work as a philanthropist and pioneer in the entertainment industry.

Lopez sees his giving as a catalyst: unleashing the hidden potential that’s inside everyone. “Kids are always coming up to me and asking ‘How can I get where you are?’ I know how they can get there. With some respect, some encouragement these kids can get anywhere.”