06/26/2002 AT 01:00 PM EDT
He prefers to be a homebody in Minneapolis, reports PEOPLE, but "Black Hawk Down" heartthrob Josh Hartnett came into Washington, D.C., this week to honor a jazz great, as well as 108 students from around the United States who were being presented Congressional Award gold medals for their volunteer work. "I got an invitation from (Senate Majority Leader) Tom Daschle that said, 'Do you want to give an award to Wynton Marsalis?' " Hartnett, 23, told PEOPLE. "I come from a musical family, and I said, 'Oh yeah, definitely. And I never do anything like this. I don't do any public appearances or stuff like that because life is life, and I like to keep it separate from work." So what really spurred him on to make this public appearance? "This seemed like a really cool and worthwhile program," he said. Asked if he volunteers for anything himself, Hartnett replied: "I used to work at this place called Books for Africa (when I was) in high school. It's a nonprofit that takes books from universities and other libraries that have been deemed unreadable and collects them and sends them over to different places in Africa, because education is the best way to get people out of poverty. Not that people over there aren't educated, but there aren't enough supplies and materials, and we've got way too many materials. We don't even know what to do with them, so let's share the wealth a little bit."