Long before Viacom’s Viacommunity Initiative was formalized and began impacting communities and making a difference across the world, the company started small and local. A dedicated group of Viacom executives walked across the street from the organization’s New York City headquarters to paint a homeless shelter. Among them was Lou Converse.
“I grew up in a rural area,” said Converse. “It wasn’t until I moved to New York in the 1980s that I saw the kind of need that exists out there.” Since then, she worked on many outreach projects, both as a participant in Viacommunity efforts and through her involvement with her church community.
Over time, Converse began to commit to longer outreach projects, including a week repairing houses for members of the Black Mesa community in Navaho Country, Arizona with her church in 2010. After what was an amazing experience in Arizona, Converse was hooked. She ventured out to Gary, West Virginia in 2011 for a second mission.
Most recently, she has found a passion for the work of Habitat for Humanity, the global nonprofit dedicated to addressing housing shortages and related issues around the world to ensure everyone has a decent place to live. Converse was proud to learn that Viacom provides employees with additional time off when they volunteer with Habitat.
“I was amazed,” said Converse about this benefit. “It was such a concrete example of how Viacom supports the good works of its employees.”
Viacom’s Give and Take program will reimburse employees up to five PTO days for participating in a Habitat for Humanity Build. Converse, a 30-year Viacom veteran currently serving as vice president and assistant treasurer, is a devoted philanthropist who has worked on various projects through her church and passed along her social-minded spirit to her two boys.
In 2014, she traveled with Habitat for Humanity to San Juan de la Maguana, an area of the Dominican Republic bordering Haiti, for another project. On this trip, Converse’s team participated in all aspects of a build: digging foundations, transporting basic materials, mixing and pouring concrete, tying rebar, and building with cinderblock. The camaraderie and the act of building something that impacts people’s lives instilled trip participants with a profound sense of accomplishment, according to Converse. A few moments in particular encapsulate the magic of the experience and inspired her dedication to the program:
“At the end of our trip on the Navaho reservation, practically the whole town came out and prepared a barbeque for us on the edge of this gorgeous bluff on the reservation. The elders of the community were making fry bread for us, sharing and celebrating the week,” she said. “In the Dominican Republic, we had a feast at the end with the ‘build’ families we were helping and all of their children. Just seeing the smiles on their faces, knowing they would have clean running water and a roof that didn’t involve corrugated tin and rags was just wonderful.”
Converse will continue her work in January when she travels to Costa Rica for her second Habitat build. This time, one of her college-aged sons will join her, dedicating part of his winter break from school to the effort. For Converse, it’s about the human connection and, in her words, “knowing you’ve made a difference in people’s lives where they live