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According to Sharon Palmer, the minute her daughter Keke, 16, heard about the earthquake in Haiti, she asked how she could help. "That's just Keke," says Sharon, 42, a former theater actress turned high school teacher. And now that Keke has made a name for herself with roles in Akeelah and the Bee, Madea's Family Reunion, and Nickelodeon's True Jackson, VP, she's putting her fame to good use: In January 2010 she answered phones at George Clooney's Hope for Haiti Now telethon.
"The funny thing is that when we first got to Hollywood people told me to get her involved in a charity," says Sharon, who, along with her husband, Larry, moved the family from Chicago to L.A. so Keke could pursue her career. "But our family was volunteering long before it was in vogue." Keke grew up seeing Sharon and Larry, a minister, serve meals in soup kitchens and deliver food to the homeless. "My parents showed me the value of humility and hard work," she says.
Keke attributes her confidence to her mom. "Being on TV is hard because people expect you to be perfect," she says. "But my mom tells me no matter what happens, she'll always be there for me." That self-esteem boost has helped her navigate a public adolescence with ease. "I think the reason Keke has so many fans is that she's real," says Sharon. When Keke wore her glasses recently at the iPop! Awards Showcase Gala, girls wrote letters thanking her for showing that lenses can be beautiful and glamorous. "To see Keke have that kind of impact on girls' self-esteem," says Sharon, "is what makes me really proud."