When Hurricane Sandy smashed the U.S. East Coast in late 2012, Jessie Farrell and her family were right in its path. The storm surge roared off the Atlantic and struck their home just a few blocks from Long Island’s Long Beach, destroying their cars and leaving their house powerless and uninhabitable for a month.
Suddenly, the long-time Viacom employee at the NOC in Hauppauge, who had spent so much time cleaning beaches and organizing onsite garden sales, all in the name of Viacommunity, was homeless.
Not for long. Mobilizing its resources, Viacom located an apartment in Midtown Manhattan for her family, which included three young sons.
After the storm had blown itself to bits over the North American landmass and her family had reclaimed their home, she turned her energies toward restoring the rest of Long Beach. “After how considerate and caring Viacom was to me and my family after the storm, I knew I had to bring Viacommunity to Long Beach,” Farrell said. “It was a nice tie-in for me to be able to give something back.”
That’s exactly what she did. With many people still unable to return home, debris still littered the beach, which is an enormous part of the town’s economy. With Viacommunity Day approaching, Farrell organized a Long Beach cleanup with the help of city officials. More than 100 Viacom employees showed up. Inspired by her example, the local government declared it a city-wide cleanup day. As Viacom employees filled trash bags with storm debris and planted flowerbeds that day, passing cars honked to cheer on their work.
Taking Viacommunity a couple dozen miles east of Manhattan wasn’t that much of a change for Farrell, though. She’s accustomed to bringing Viacommunity in-house for duty-bound NOC employees who would like to participate in offsite events but cannot, as doing so could lead to a broadcast disruption. Her and the NOC HR team organized garden sales for Team Taylor and the Honeysuckle Foundation, and joined up with the Red Cross and Operation Goody Bag to prepare comfort kits to distribute to veterans or soldiers stationed abroad.
Her goal this year is to connect Viacommunity with Stars of Hope, which provides hand-decorated stars to areas in need of inspiration. The charity’s efforts deeply moved her following Sandy, when these stars poured in from around the country with words such as “hope” or “community” splayed across them.
“Viacommunity is one of the main reasons I love working here,” Farrell says. “People always ask me how I do all the volunteering with my job, and I tell them that I’m completely fortunate to work where I do. For one, because of how much they care about people, and I cite the example of how they put my family up after Hurricane Sandy. And two, it gives employees a sense of pride to work for a place that has those values. We’re all focused on working, working, working, but it’s important to have that balance and that ability to switch gears to focus on something just as important as work.”
Giving back is core to Farrell’s life, however, and she doesn’t limit her philanthropy to Viacommunity. Her whole family fundraises and participates in events for Mustaches 4 Kids Long Island Chapter, which raises money for pediatric care at Memorial Sloan Kettering. They’ve raised more than $70,000 per year over the past three years and they organize an annual visit to keep the sick children company. Her work there was a serendipitous silver lining to Hurricane Sandy – she met the core of the group in the storm’s aftermath and latched onto their commitment.
Farrell has always volunteered, but something shifted when she became a parent nearly a decade ago. Now, Jack, Ryan and Liam join the family for Mustaches for Kids and Stars of Hope events. “It’s a good role model for my kids,” she explains. “Everything and anything I’ve done in Long Beach, I try to bring them along to participate. They love it. They don’t know any different. They don’t know that they’re doing anything out of the ordinary. It’s just what they do.”
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.