[INTERVIEW] Disney Star Debby Ryan Talks About Giving Back & Her Hit Show ‘Jessie’

Photo: (Derek Wood Photography)

Debby Ryan may be best-known for starring in the hit Disney Channel series “Jessie,” but soon she might be just as famous for being a philanthropist!

She’s an ambassador for Disney’s Friends for Change program and used her 18th birthday last year as a way to get donations to Music Saves Lives, an org that uses music education to educate young people about life-saving causes. We wanted to learn more about what Debby’s been up to (and how you can help!), what’s in store for season two of “Jessie” (premiering October 5) and we even asked her for babysitting tips! I MEAN she does play the nanny that we all wanted growing up, right? Sorry Mary Poppins! Read our Q&A with the 19-year-old below.

ACT: How did you get involved with Disney’s Friends for Change program? How can people get involved with it?

DEBBY: I’ve been involved since the maiden voyage, with our environmental programs. As it grew and evolved, I asked the people behind it if we could reach out with a focus on humanitarian programs. They created a select few “Ambassador” positions, with me heading up the Communities leg, and it’s just grown from there. It’s been the most beautiful, fulfilling thing to watch everyone from children to elders grow and restore a stronger sense of value in their own communities.

I love watching other Friends For Change around the states make their changes in their own community. If you go to Disney.com/FriendsForChange and click on my icon, it’ll give you all the info you need to move forward changing what YOU want about YOUR community. You can even submit your volunteer hours and watch them add up for really cool opportunities.

ACT: For your 18th bday, you asked that donations be made to Music Saves Lives. We love it! What inspired you to donate your bday and why did you pick this org?

DEBBY: I knew I had no desire to have a “celebrate me!” gift-hoarding type of birthday. Most of my friends are musicians, singers, dancers, DJs, so I just wanted all my friends to jam. I threw my party at a local record store and set up a stage full of instruments. It was like band karaoke! I had seen and heard a lot about the awesome people behind Music Saves Lives and the incredible stuff they did, so not only was it perfect with the music theme, it was something my friends and family could get behind.

ACT: How did you get started with philanthropy?

DEBBY: I was raised to volunteer: nursing homes, clinics, church nurseries, school, everywhere that could use help. It’s such an intrinsic part of me, to use my life to help improve the quality of others. All of the awards, applause, Twitter followers, shoes, it will all go away eventually. But if I can leave the world slightly more hopeful, inspired, and more healed than when I arrived, I did my job.

ACT: What can young people do to help make a difference in their community?

DEBBY: I think what’s great about your community is that it’s different than anyone else’s. Look around. What do you want to change? What needs to be built, or what’s valuable and needs to be maintained? Is it the people? Local animals? Your parks or gardens? Hospitals? Look at what you want to change, gather a few people who believe in it like you do, and start moving forward. It’s important to remember that you don’t always need a destination. Sometimes, you just have to make forward motion. And you absolutely can.

ACT: Back To School is here. Any tips on getting back into the groove of things?

DEBBY: Make a friend in every class. Be a friend. If someone’s sitting alone, if they have the cutest top ever, if you have a common friend but you’ve never met…go introduce yourself. They say to get a friend you have to be a friend.

ACT: You’re finally able to vote. Congrats! Are you going to vote in this year’s presidential election? If yes, why do you think it’s important to vote?

DEBBY: I’m absolutely going to vote! I’m very excited; that was the first thing I did last year on my birthday, register to vote. If you can’t tell, I’m a big fan of finding your voice and making it heard. This is MY country, too. Sitting and letting other people make the decisions for us defeats the purpose of freedom of speech. And even if your candidate doesn’t win, you can know that your vote was part of the number that stood for your beliefs, and is being counted.

ACT: What can fans expect for the upcoming season of “Jessie”?

DEBBY: Season two is going to have just as much madness and fun as season one, but bigger and better. You really get to see Jessie try new things and experience the city, and different career fields, while still juggling the crazy kids.

ACT: Since you play a nanny on TV, do you have any good babysitting tips?

DEBBY: Have an agenda, but be flexible. Have a bag full of puzzles, craft supplies, simple musical instruments — like a drum or tambourine, fun hats, etc. Set boundaries (no paint in the living room, wear blankets as capes but leave the couch cushions in place, etc.), and let the kid you are babysitting know what they are and are not allowed to do. From there, let them decide and be whatever they want to be. I think it’s really important to allow kids to explore things they haven’t done before, and presenting it in a controlled environment will only help them. Plus, make believe is always fun with kids. When it’s time to clean up, put on one song that they know and dare yourselves to have everything in place before it ends. This teaches them that sometimes they’ll have to do things they don’t want to do, but it can feel like a dance party or a secret mission.

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Disney's Friends for Change

Disney's Friends for Change

Check out Debby's page at Disney's Friends for Change and see how you can help out!

take action

Music Saves Lives

Music Saves Lives

Follow Debby's lead and help out Music Saves Lives!