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Matthew McConaughey Tells Teens: Just Keep Livin'

Actor and dad Matthew McConaughey helps at-risk youth get healthy and remembers his dad, who taught him to give back. Plus, his new movie, 'Magic Mike.'

The Lessons of J.K. Livin continued...

"We want the kids to have and to understand gratitude ... to open doors to new things coming into your life," he says, pointing to the "gratitude circle," an integral part of the program during which kids discuss what they are thankful for. "When kids finally get comfortable enough to be part of the gratitude circle -- and that's not an easy thing, because saying 'thank you' when you're 17 in front of a bunch of people is not really cool -- I was most surprised when they were thankful [for] the foundation, that they now had a safe place to go."

Many of the program's participants come from single-parent homes, some with a harried mother struggling to keep it all together. Many have expressed surprise, McConaughey marvels, that j.k. livin is willing to give them so much time and attention. Others, he says, report: "'I'm less stressed when I get home [now]. I've got more respect for all my mom does, how hard she works. You showed me that.'"

Matthew McConaughey: Giving Back

McConaughey credits his own father, who "always taught me to give back," with inspiring him to launch the foundation. It's also the reason the actor expects the program's kids to show up for their communities.

"Yeah, it's free," he says of his foundation. "But it can't be a one-way street! You get more out of what's given to you when what's given to you demands you give something back. We introduced community service. I didn't know how the kids would react. I thought they'd say, 'No, man, I ain't giving up my Saturday to go down and pack up food for the troops in Afghanistan!' But they love it and fully participate. They take more pride, and it gives the program a little more teeth, because it demands time and effort from the kids. They love that responsibility."

He shows up for them, too, frequently surprising "his" kids at all 14 locations when he's not shooting a film. "He'll call me and say, 'I'm going to join the kids for a jog,'" says Shannon Rotenberg, the foundation's executive director. "He's there, working out with them, all the time."

McConaughey also talks and lives the importance of staying positive, which he says he learned from his hard-working parents. (Dad ran an oil pipe supply business; Mom was a substitute schoolteacher.) "One adage we grew up on was: 'You sound like the kid who's gripin' about not having any shoes. But what about the kid with no feet?' What do you say to that?"

Nutrition the J.K. Livin Way

The actor says such life lessons led to "not taking things for granted. I remind myself each day: This day wasn't guaranteed. You woke up. Your kids are healthy. Your woman's good. You got a house. You put meals on the table. I'm not saying I don't need to do more in life. I'm saying you better damn well be gratified, and if you don't shake hands and say thank you -- whether that's to yourself or to God -- it's really gonna stop the circulation and keep other good things from coming into your life."

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