Shauna Thomas still catches herself getting surprised when friends call her inspiring. As the founder of the Yellow Rose Project, this is something she will have to get used to. Her project aims to help teenage girls who have lost their mothers to terminal illness. Thomas wants to motivate these girls and set them up for a brilliant future —starting with prom night.
Thomas was 7 when her mother passed away, and she was raised by her grandmother and aunt. Although she was lucky to have strong female role models in her life, she lacked the special attention only a mother can provide.
“Prom is a coming-of-age moment,” said Thomas. “It’s a celebration of adulthood—one of the key moments where you need a mother’s guidance.”
Thomas volunteered for a charity in California called the Princess Project, which donates prom dresses to high school girls who can’t afford them. Thomas wanted to do something similar to honor her mother and late grandmother.
“Basically, it started as an idea, and manifested into an actual project,” said Thomas, who works as an employment law coordinator here at Viacom.
She began calling a few nonprofits in the fall, looking for one to partner with. Eventually Thomas found The Family Center, which set her up with four New York City-based girls in need of the sort of prom giveaway that she was offering. That began the arduous process of making her glamorous vision a reality. She’d need money to pay for dresses, car service, hair, makeup, and nails.
The Family Center provided a donation link on their website to help pay for some of these expenses. To encourage donations, Thomas arranged an online raffle for sponsors pledging a certain sum of money. Michelle McCrea, our manager of philanthropic investment, helped organize a lucrative prize for the raffle winner—a pair of VMA tickets.
Thomas found a makeup-artist and two hair salons willing to volunteer their services for the big night. Viacom would help pay for the car service. The donations would go towards shopping expenses. But the process of finding the right dress shop took a bit more scrutiny.
“From my experience with Prom Project in California,” said Thomas, “These women have never worn a gown.” She finally chose a family-owned boutique, Atiana, located in Yonkers.
On April 2, Thomas held a kick-off event at the Family Center. She gave the young women look-books of different prom styles she had created in the Print Lounge. They discussed what prom meant to them.
“One young woman said the project meant that she mattered,” said Thomas. “It kind of makes you take a step back. At some point in our lives, we all felt we didn’t matter. I had a lump in my throat when I heard that. I know beauty can be superficial, but it’s what they needed.”
Feedback like this makes Thomas’s efforts worthwhile. It’s been a grueling process—reaching out to volunteers, posting updates on the group Facebook page, and engaging in many late-night group texts with her mentees. “The fact that I’m passionate keeps me going,” said Thomas.
On April 26, Thomas brought the girls to Viacom. They ate lunch at The Lodge, toured the building, and met her coworkers in the legal department.
“They’re at an age where seeing a workplace in action is more important than hearing about it,” said Thomas. She knew showing them a dynamic environment like Viacom would leave an impression. She was right—after visiting Viacom, all four girls want to work here.
The trip also included a stop at the Viacommunity Day registration fair, as Thomas plans on setting up a day for the girls to volunteer. “I believe in paying it forward,” said Thomas.
On May 7, Thomas brought the girls to Atiana to shop for gowns. The staff exceeded her expectations. “They greeted us as soon as we walked in,” said Thomas. “The salespeople kept pulling things for them to try, and remembered everybody’s name, size, and style preferences.”
Each girl found their dream dress. It was exactly the red-carpet experience Thomas envisioned.
A montage of the shopping extravaganza.
In a few weeks, prom will be over and her hard work will have come to fruition. But this is just the beginning for Thomas. She wants to continue the Yellow Rose Project indefinitely, and keep up a relationship with the girls so they will come back and give testimony for future sessions. She wants to eventually start her own nonprofit. As it grows, she wants it to be a peer support group.
“Yellow roses were my grandmother’s favorite flowers,” said Thomas, explaining how she chose the name. “The flower is a symbol of friendship, joy, and well wishes. I thought it was fitting. I wanted to include the word ‘project’ because I thought of all the people that have helped me at one time or another in my life. The overall idea is that I am one of those people for these young women, a friend that brings joy and well wishes, someone they will always remember.”
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, Viacom is profiling 20 employees who embody the Viacommunity spirit in their everyday lives.