Every day, Wendy Williams greets her millions of viewers who tune into the daily syndicated “The Wendy Williams Show” with her recognizable, easily meme-able “how you doin’?”
While Williams is known for her on-air “Hot Topics” where she skewers and highlights celebrity antics, the former shock jock has a more charitable side that does not make the headlines.
Back in 2014, Williams and husband Kevin Hunter founded The Hunter Foundation, a philanthropic organization that aims to support adults, children and families, particularly by funding programs “that impact the cycle of drug addiction, poverty and bias,” according to the foundation’s website.
These issues are important for Williams, who has been very public about her personal struggles with addiction in the past. This holiday season, Williams and her family gave back to those in need through the foundation by hosting four dinners for families -- more than 1,000 guests -- in New York and New Jersey.
Williams recently spoke with CBS News about the foundation, its charitable work and how it shows a different side of the “Wendy” we all know.
I understand this is the second year you organized these dinners. What made you decide to host these?
The foundation is something I’ve always wanted to do. I grew up in New Jersey and we were always involved with philanthropic endeavors. The holiday dinners are an extension of that. When we first got started [with the foundation], we sent over a dozen girls to camp, good camps with horses and lakes and pools and swimming instructors and cabins where you can touch the ground. The Hunter Foundation really is a vision for me and my husband Kevin -- things that either we’ve been through and we loved. For me, it was summer camp.
Sounds like this need to give back really resonates strongly with you.
I was in Harlem this past week for one of the dinners, we fed some wonderful people. These are moms and dads who have children and these children need food -- that’s what we are here for. You know, we don’t have a catchphrase for The Hunter Foundation, but I always say it’s “for the good of the people.” There are people out there stuck on drugs -- moms and dads who need help, they need help for themselves and their children. I’ve been through addiction, I know that it’s tough.
What are your plans for the foundation down the line?
I would like to have some sort of center for after school programs -- I don’t know what that means yet, whether I join with a club that is already formed or make my own. I would want kids to have an after-school place to go for homework. Just something until mom and dad get home from work. After school program funding is cut very short these days -- these kids that get out of school they have to do something.
Is it hard to balance the “how you doin’” celebrity side of your life with this philanthropic work? How do you strike a balance?
It’s a balancing act, for sure, and I think I do a pretty good job. I do need guidance with the help of my team and also my “Wendy” watchers. “Wendy Williams” is “Wendy Williams” on the talk show. Definitely for me, “Wendy Hunter” is the woman who is sitting right now in my kitchen talking to you on the phone, supervising a project at home, waiting for the bus for my son. That’s not very difficult for me at this point in my life to click off from one “Wendy” to another.
Do you see a place down the line when you see these two “Wendys” melding together? Where you could use your platform to combine these two sides of yourself?
I would like to help, but some of those areas are not what the populace demands. Look, I’m also “Wendy,” let’s have fun. But look, my fantasy is to drop the “Williams” and just make it “Wendy.” Yeah, Williams is my birth name, and now it’s Hunter. Yeah the “Wendy Williams thing” gets in the way at this particular point, now I’m a Hunter. I’ve been involved with my husband, almost 25 years, married for 18 years, so I’m a Hunter, but I grew my brand prior to meeting him. In a perfect world, people call me Wendy.
So, it’s “just Wendy?”
Yes, love that -- it’s “just Wendy.” Trying to do the best she can, struggling. But it’s a good struggle, it’s glamorous and fabulous, but I want to extend my power for good.
What would you tell young Wendy, who is going to summer camp and doesn’t yet have the show, if you ran into her right now?
I would tell young Wendy: “hang in there, help is on the way.” Help came in the form of this fantastic platform of a talk show and now I’m here to help the girls. And the guys and the women and the men. I want to expand this, I want to help. And, no, I would never have thought this would have happened, not in my wildest dreams.
This conversation has been condensed and edited.