The brutal atmospheric river storm that has been battering California gave way to sunshine and blue skies on Wednesday, and the near-perfect conditions also lit up the face of Christian Bale. “Look how clear it is,” the actor said with his unmistakable grin as he surveyed the environment. “It turned out a hell of a lot nicer than I expected.”
The scene that surrounded him before noon today in the Antelope Valley north of Los Angeles was 16 years in the making, offering Bale another reason to beam as he was joined by wife Sibi, a group of elected officials and tight-knit supporters to break ground on an ambitious project that will feature 12 homes, two studio apartments (for transitional housing) and a 7,000-square-foot community center. The blueprints reflect a village community that will operate with a singular goal: to keep siblings in the foster care system together and under the same roof.
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The project, a first of its kind for California, is estimated to cost $22 million and is expected to be completed by 2025. It’s located next to McAdam Park on 30th Street East in Palmdale, a city 60 miles north of Los Angeles with a population north of 160,000. Bale is not just the celebrity face of the operation, he’s knee-deep in the trenches as the co-founder of Together California, the organization steering the development under the leadership of executive director Tim McCormick and Bale’s co-founder and longtime friend, UCLA’s Dr. Eric Esrailian.
“With our Together California model, [the village] is something absolutely new, totally transformative and something completely needed. Imagine the absolute pain and the trauma of losing your parents or being torn from your parents, and then losing your brothers and sisters on top of that, that’s no way to treat kids,” explained Bale, who recently celebrated his 50th birthday. “And so, we will be the hub for that. I hope that this village will be the first of many, and I hope that people, Californians and Angelenos, know to come join us in opening our eyes to what’s happening right under our noses. These are our children, and we must help our children.”
The groundbreaking event saw Bale, Sibi, McCormick and Esralian stand shoulder to shoulder with L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, Palmdale Mayor Austin Bishop, Department of Children Family Services director Brandon Nichols and other notable officials as they shoveled dirt on the development’s site. They also participated in a formal ceremony under a tent that found many of them opening up from the podium about the long and winding journey of making Bale’s dream a reality.
While Bale’s focus on foster care stretches back 16 years, his passion for philanthropic service and community activism can be traced to a childhood spent in England. “I grew up with a dad who was always very active and altruistic, and we would be headed to protests and shouting at Maggie Thatcher and stuff. As a kid, I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I loved it, and I just admired the hell out of my dad in that way that he went out of his way to care for other people,” Bale told The Hollywood Reporter of his late father, David, who married activist Gloria Steinem later in life. “We were always having other people coming and living in our house who didn’t have homes, etcetera. That’s just the guy that he was.”
The sense of personal responsibility grew when Bale and wife Sibi welcomed their daughter, Luka, in 2005. “After our daughter had been born, I found myself trying to imagine what it would be like if we weren’t around. At the same time, I was doing all-night searches for what was going on in L.A. proper and where we could help. I was stunned and mad to learn that we have more foster kids here than anywhere else in the country. I was also kicking myself for not knowing that before so I thought, ‘Well, this is it. Let’s focus on this,’” said Bale. “My wife and I decided that we were going to do everything we could in our power to change that.”
Asked to name the toughest challenge or tallest bureaucratic hurdle over these many years, Bale instead said it was an issue of joining forces with the right people. “I needed people like Eric and Tim, who has worked in foster care for many years. And Eric is just far more knowledgeable about how to actually get things done,” he said. “Also, I had the very unrealistic idea that within one year I’d have created a miniature Sound of Music with kids singing on hills in an endlessly joyful environment. But I discovered no, it takes an awful long time and really well-motivated people. It’s complicated and tough to help kids. It should be a hell of a lot easier than it was, but I didn’t flinch for one second.”
Bale credited Supervisor Barger as being “absolute dynamite” in helping them secure Palmdale for the ultimate headquarters. “We met with numerous county supervisors, all wonderful and well-motivated people, but nobody could ever find a place for us until Kathryn arrived. She said, ‘I’m going to do this.’ She did it and she did it quickly. We’re here now, and I can’t thank her enough.”
During her comments from the podium, Barger revealed that prior to the project’s approval, Bale came to Palmdale to walk the city’s streets on a mission to not only make sure that the development was right for Palmdale, but that the community was the right place for their village. “Who does that? Who takes the time to understand?” she said in praising him. “This is going to be one of the most important projects that we work on in L.A. County as a place of transforming youth.”
Bale said he had no choice but to check out the community. “You can’t just pick a place. You’ve got to walk around, see what it feels like. How far is it to school? Is it practical? Where are the local stores? I was just doing all of that. I get obsessed and I get into details. I get very myopic about it all. I absolutely wanted to walk the streets and find out.”
He also opened his wallet. During the tented program, a large sign placed next to the podium listed the site’s “generous donors,” including the Bale family alongside notable industry names like Bale’s longtime agent, Endeavor executive chairman Patrick Whitesell, and Oscar winner Leonardo DiCaprio.
“I can’t do this and then not put my money where my mouth is, right?” Bale said. “And I will continue to be there for all the other villages. There are some wonderful people on that list whom I pestered, but not too much. People get this one — there’s not much to consider. The village allows us to have something very tangible. Before I started doing this, I was writing checks for various charities that I support around the world, and they’re wonderful, and I’ll continue to do that. But I want to be more involved. I want my kids to be more involved. We are going to be able to come and touch the homes and the buildings and actually see the difference that we’re able to make in children’s lives. That is just priceless.”
Regarding the price tag, Esralian said “a Hollywood friend” criticized the cost by saying, “that’s a lot of money for only 70 kids.” His response: “But it’s 70 kids or 80 kids forever, and if even one of those children ends up having an amazing life and potentially contributes to society and this village made it possible for them, I think it’s a bargain. The more I’ve learned about the plight of some of these families, especially as the children are basically ripped from one another, it makes it even more worth it.”
He also praised Bale’s commitment to getting the project across the finish line. “He’s incredible and, honestly, he’s become one of my best friends over the years because he’s so genuine. He’s a family man and we try and not call each other during family dinner time. We meet for breakfast at the crack of dawn, like a diner or a deli, so that we can have dinner with our families. He understands the value of keeping a family together and it means so much to him. Despite many of our other responsibilities and other things that we have to do, this is something important to us that we’ve been plowing forward on.”
They still have years of work ahead, but for now, Bale is grateful that his day job didn’t interfere too much with the groundbreaking festivities. “I’ve got to shave my head next week [for a movie],” he said, referring to the untitled Maggie Gyllenhaal film he’s about to do for Warner Bros., in which he will play Frankenstein. “I asked them to please let me hold off on doing that but everyone was going, ‘What’s wrong with Bale? What’s up with him?’ I said, ‘Just let me get through the groundbreaking and then I’ll be off to join you.’ I’ll be working with the wonderful Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jessie Buckley and so many talented actors in the cast. I’ve got to get busy getting on the rack, breaking my bones and eating lots of fertilizer or something to try and grow,” he said, while standing in a heap of dirt on the site that will soon grow his dream foster village.
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