Jane Fonda Wants to Give Young People Hope They 'Will Have a Future' as She Turns 85

Jane Fonda attends the Special FYC Event For Netflix's "Grace And Frankie"
Jane Fonda attends the Special FYC Event For Netflix's "Grace And Frankie"

Charley Gallay/Getty Images

As Jane Fonda is about to celebrate her 85th birthday Dec. 21, her focus remains on empowering youth and making a better world.

The Academy Award winner spoke to PEOPLE about her life and legacy while preparing to celebrate her milestone birthday on Thursday with a party benefitting the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Power & Potential (GCAPP), the adolescent health organization she founded in 1995.

"I've lived a good life. I've lived a productive and intentional life. And I knew I couldn't make it any longer than it was going to be, but I could make it wider and deeper," says the star, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in September. "And I've done that. I feel like I'm doing that."

Fonda adds, "I hope that I can be an example to young people so they won't be afraid of getting older."

Since launching GCAPP, Fonda has helped provide comprehensive age-appropriate sex education to kids around Georgia, in addition to providing education for parents on how to have a dialogue with their children about sex.

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"It was very hard then in Georgia because most schools taught, 'Just Say No. Don't engage in sex until you're married,' " Fonda recalls. "Kids are getting married later and later, and it doesn't help them understand what they're supposed to do with the hormones and the feelings and the passion that arises in them at this age."

She recalls traveling the state in 1994, shortly before launching GCAPP, when she visited the hospital room of a 14-year-old girl giving birth to her second baby.

Fonda says she felt "so helpless and sad for her," adding, "I remember looking into her face and not knowing what I could say to her."

"I realized that whatever we do, we have to, in the work, give young people a sense that they will have a future," Fonda continues. "And that they needed to stay out of trouble that would compromise that future."

GCAPP Hosts "Eight Decades of Jane" in Celebration of Jane Fonda's 80th Birthday
GCAPP Hosts "Eight Decades of Jane" in Celebration of Jane Fonda's 80th Birthday

Rick Diamond/Getty Images for GAACP

By 2025, GCAPP's goal is to reach 360,000 adolescents and 200,000 parents in 80 counties of Georgia, with hopes to eventually expand to every county in the state.

Just as she did when turning 80 and 75, Fonda is using her 85th birthday to shed a light on GCAPP's work with Thursday's celebration. Hosted by comedian Heather McMahan, the event will feature a performance by Gladys Knight, with the likes of Lily Tomlin, Tyler Perry, Ludacris, Glennon Doyle and Abby Wambach expected to be in attendance.

In addition to her work with GCAPP, Fonda is returning to Washington, D.C. on Dec. 2 for her first physical Fire Drill Fridays rally since the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Grace and Frankie star notes that the world is "going in the wrong direction" with climate change, as the problem is "going to get much, much worse." She adds that people should "pay very close attention" to the toll such issues take on mental health and economic insecurity, particularly for young people who will inherit the problem.

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As Fonda reaches the halfway point of her ninth decade, she credits her family with motivating her to continue doing the work: "I just want my young grandchildren to know that grandma did her best."

"It's going to be rough for young people, and I just want my kids to know and my grandkids to know that I did my best," Fonda adds.

Jane Fonda's 85th birthday celebration will take place Thursday in Atlanta. Tickets are available online and donations are encouraged.