Why Ethan Hawke and the YMCA Want You to Take a Selfie With Someone New

Ethan Hawke has been going to the YMCA since he was a kid — and now he's lending his celebrity to promote their new community building initiative: Take a #SelfieWithSomeoneNew

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 has four children: two daughters with his wife Ryan Hawke — Clementine Jane, 9, and Indiana, 6 — and a son and a daughter with his ex-wife Uma Thurman — Maya, 19, and Levon, 15.

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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.”

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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.

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