Ethan Hawke has been going to the YMCA since he was a kid — and now he’s lending his celebrity to promote the organization’s new community building initiative: Take a #SelfieWithSomeoneNew.
“People forget that the YMCA is a not-for-profit organization,” Hawke, 46, tells PEOPLE Now. “It’s not just a gym, it’s a place where communities can get together, where people can get college counseling, you can get food…it’s a place where the community can build.”
Hawke’s love for the YMCA goes back years, as he shares with PEOPLE Now: “My parents were split up when I was a kid and so both my mom and my dad — whether I was in New York or in Texas — would send me to the Y.”
“Now I live in Brooklyn and my kids are learning to swim there. My son and I play basketball there,” the Boyhood actor continues, adding that the Y is one of the few places where people can step out of their own little worlds and “just meet everybody.”
Hawke goes on to explain that making new friends and meeting new people is exactly what the “Take a #SelfieWithSomebodyNew” campaign is all about.
“It’s really important for young people and for older people to cross-pollinate. We’re living in a world right now where…there’s just so much division everywhere that one of the things the Y can do right now is raise their hands and say, ‘Hey, everybody’s welcome here,’ ” he continued.
So how does it work?
“It’s just taking a picture with somebody you’ve never met,” Hawke said. “It’s really simple but it’s supposed to symbolize something larger.”
RELATED VIDEO: Ethan Hawke Never Went to Hefner’s Mansion for Fear His Mom Would See It in People and Not Believe He Was at Acting Class
But just because Hawke’s supporting the YMCA’s new campaign doesn’t mean he’s a fan of selfies himself.
“Look, here’s the thing — I’ve been famous since I was 18 so the selfie’s not my friend,” he says.
Still, he does admit that if he had to take a selfie with anybody it would be Nelson Mandela.
“When I was in high school, I remember people would have these ‘Free Mandela’ stickers and it seemed like a pipe dream,” Hawke says. “It’d be like, ‘What do you mean? That’s never gonna happen.’ And then that man became president of a country non-violently — it’s the stuff legends are made of.”
Beginning Thursday, the Y is encouraging people to meet someone new, strike up a conversation and discover what they have in common, then, take a selfie and post it to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #SelfieWithSomeoneNew and tag @YMCA. For more about the initiative, head to YMCA’s website.