Viacom employee Tamara Hood spends more than two weeks in Jamaica every summer. But instead of touching down at Montego Bay and beelining via shuttle bus to a Negril resort like the majority of visitors, she heads up into the Blue Mountains.
There, instead of all-you-can-eat gluttony and air-conditioned sea-view suites, electricity is spotty and cell service and hot water are often non-existent. The place is spectacularly beautiful, but that’s a bonus – she isn’t there for vacation. Hood is there to work. For free. For a children’s summer camp, where she acts as director of operations.
For days upon arriving she preps, organizing schedules and events with a small logistics team. Then the campers arrive, up to 125 of them, ranging from 5-year-olds to seniors in high school. Some of them walk two hours, each way, every day for six days. For most of them, it is the only access they’ll have all year to an arts education, which is not generally accessible in their school systems.
“I give back literally all the time,” Hood said. “As long as it’s to better the world, I want to be a part of it.”
“These kids don’t realize how tough it is for them there versus how it is for people in the rest of the world,” Hood said. “Jamaica is very spiritual, and that gives you an opportunity, because you’re so unplugged, to just kind of meditate about your life and realize what you have here in the U.S. versus what they have there. And they’re happy, even though they have very little of monetary and materialistic value.”
Technically, Hood is on vacation from her post on Viacom’s research team when she’s in Jamaica. But on the ground, she is working, and at her own expense – she pays for the flight down and for a room during her stay.
But this is just who she is. In her decade at Viacom, she’s been a steady participant in Viacommunity, cleaning up Long Island’s Long Beach or trekking into the lightly trod woods of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, cleaning up condoms, trash, bottles and cans. She is constantly donating to friends running marathons for suicide prevention or organizing events for women’s empowerment. “I give back literally all the time,” Hood said. “As long as it’s to better the world, I want to be a part of it.”
This philanthropic spirit can be attributed at least partly to Hood’s upbringing. She grew up adopted in Maine, living off the land with parents that she describes as hippies. She grew up at protests, poetry readings, concerts for Veterans for Peace, Free Angela Davis, and No Nukes. “There was always a cause,” Hood remembers. “We were always giving back, trying to improve other people’s lives.” To this day, her mother teaches writing in the prison system.
Hood carried this activism into her adult life, where community involvement has grown to mean much more than charity work. In 2007, she and a dozen others formed Brooklyn for Barack, igniting nationwide grassroots support for the then-senator’s ultimately successful run for president. She volunteered full time, every day after work and every weekend for two and a half years, traveling the country and chasing politicians to their cars to sell them on his candidacy. She ended up being a delegate for the state of New York during the 2008 election.
When she found herself short of travel money, a number of Viacom executives pitched in on the tab. “I think it’s amazing that this company is so focused on giving back. It’s good to be able to feel like the life I have outside of here is appreciated within the organization too.”
So passionate is Hood about giving back that she’s started her own business – LivelyHood (LivelyHood), an event-planning service for artists and social entrepreneurs. A portion of the proceeds go toward the nonprofit of their choice.
“I can’t imagine living my life without volunteering,” Hood says. “It’s half of who I am. People ask how I separate my job and my life. I feel like it’s our duty, especially here in the United States where what most of us often have are first-world problems.”
Now in its 20th year Viacommunity, our social responsibility umbrella, has become more than just something we do – it is part of who we are, a core value of our company. To underscore how deeply embedded giving back is to our identity, the Viacom Blog is profiling 20 employees who embody the Viacommunity spirit in their everyday lives.