“That I Can Actually Call That My Job Is Awesome” – Living Viacommunity at Paramount

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

A Chicken Dinner Served Hot

When lunchtime arrived at the Jamaica orphanage, a knife-wielding worker snatched a chicken from the yard and lopped its head off, shocking the cluster of California volunteers who had stopped off at this hilltop enclave en route to Kingston from Ocho Rios.

Erin Jordan was shocked.

“That’s what they do before they get to the grocery store,” the man said. “I don’t understand why ya’ll don’t get that. But this will be the best chicken you’ll ever have.”

They roasted it over coals on the side of the road. “And you know what?” Jordan said. “It was the best chicken I ever had.”

Jordan is a manager on Paramount Picture’s corporate social responsibility team, a board member of the Sickle Cell Disease Foundation of California, and a veteran of volunteer efforts all over the world, from the inner cities of New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Phoenix to the favelas climbing Brazilian hillsides. It is these volunteer efforts, she says, that frame her life perspective and ground her sense of place in the world.

“Most of us have so much, and you don’t realize it until you meet people or communities who don’t have that,” Jordan says. “And if I have the time or resources to spare, I’m willing to do that.”

Erin Jordan on a 2002 mission to Bahia, Brazil, to deliver supplies to those in need.

Spreading the Lot’s Influence Beyond the Gates

Like all Viacom brands, Paramount Pictures throws its full weight behind the company’s annual Viacommunity Day (which is coming up this Friday, April 20), when thousands of employees turn their energies over to good causes all over the world.

But long before the trees are planted and the meals are served, the prep begins. For Paramount, that starts with Jordan and the rest of the studio’s corporate social responsibility team. For Viacommunity Day, the small but highly effective team coordinates up to a dozen sites around Los Angeles and supports the international teams as they develop projects. They wrangle supplies and secure permits, and organize an on-site petting zoo and a wrap party, which last year featured Keith Urban joining Paramount staff for game night.

The city-wide events disperse 600 to 800 volunteers around Los Angeles, but once the party raps up and Keith Urban goes home, the studio’s social responsibility team continues their year-round focus on education, HIV/AIDS, and sustainability through Paramount’s Green Team.

They don’t have to travel far. Santa Monica Boulevard Charter sits right across the street from the Paramount lot, in a neighborhood designated a White House Promise Zone under President Barack Obama, and it is a beneficiary of the studio’s Kindergarten to Cap & Gown mentoring program. Jordan helps organize one-to-one student-mentor literacy matches that stretch through most of the school year and in some cases across many years, following the students to junior high.

These immersive long-term engagements can profoundly impact both student and mentor. “When you have more frequent contact with a student as part of an overall plan, I feel that they see you want the best for them and you’re concerned with their success,” Jordan says. “That I can actually do that and call that my job is awesome.”

Classroom reading, kindergarten yoga, dance classes, science labs and playground games – all organized by Jordan and attended by Paramount volunteers on Viacommunity Day – further fuse these powerful student-mentor relationships with the studio’s neighbor.

Building a Better Place to Live

Los Angeles, with its 4 million people sprawled over a vast basin between mountain and ocean, is an easy place to lose yourself. Peppered among the endless tracts tucked within the spider web of freeways are oases for those who need a little help tracking themselves down again. Jordan’s work draws her to these places.

One of these is Project New Hope, a home where men with HIV/AIDS can stay until they find permanent housing. The organization has been fulfilling this noble mission since the days when the diseases were considered a death sentence, and tenants were still shuffling around on 20-year-old carpet in upstairs bedrooms. Jordan’s team called upon the generous Paramount facilities employees to secure surplus carpeting from the studio lot to update the worn flooring.

These sorts of good-will gestures can have an uplifting effect not just on the tenants, but on the staff who tend to the home daily. “The people who do this kind of work every single day are not always thanked, but it’s encouraging when they see we have the will and the resources to do that at Paramount, and that the people here genuinely have a heart for this,” said Jordan.

Elsewhere in Los Angeles is Alexandria House, a sanctuary for women escaping the nightmare of domestic violence. Together with HERE, Viacom’s employee resource group for women, Jordan’s team hosted a barbeque for women last year, with pottery and games for the children of residents and volunteers.

Part of Jordan’s job is to introduce every new Paramount Pictures employee to Viacommunity at new-hire orientations, and she is continually impressed by the collective enthusiasm for volunteering.

“The work at Alexandria House is very important to me,” Jordan said. “The way our employees rallied around and kept asking, ‘What else can I do?’ is really telling of how giving everyone is here and how they want to be a part of it, and I think that’s the thing that sets Paramount apart.”

Giving Children an Escape into Childhood

Last summer, Jordan volunteered at a summer camp for 9-, 10- and 11-year-old children. In many ways, Camp Crescent Moon was just like any other children’s escape: the kids spent time outdoors, slept communally in bungalows, stayed up late, bickered and had petty arguments. But this was a camp designed by the Sickle Cell Disease Foundation of California for children afflicted with the disease, whose side effects include painful swelling and fatigue.

The camp is staffed by Kaiser Permanente doctors and nurses who volunteer to ensure the kids are safe and get proper medication. If the campers are exhausted or need more water, they can go rest in their quarters without worrying that they are missing out on something, since everyone at the camp is having the same experience.

“I thought, this is so awesome, because they’re getting the same experience as I did, even though they’re not completely well most of the time,” Jordan said. “It doesn’t take their pain away, but it gives them time that they need. If they’re in a traditional school, then not everyone understands that they can’t play PE, but this camp is exclusively for a community of kids that know exactly what they’re going through, and you see them looking out for each other.”

This time, though, Jordan was not just there as a volunteer, or even as part of her job. At the invitation of a friend, Jordan had joined Camp Crescent Moon’s board as the organization launched its 50th anniversary. It is a logical next step for someone who has devoted their career to giving back to others.

From “A Must Do” to a career

Before there were boards or events or job titles, there were Sunday school supply drives. Jordan’s church group would collect toiletries, socks, T-shirts, shoes – all the staples of modern life – and deliver them on one- or two-week-long missions to Indonesia or Jamaica or Brazil, journeying to an orphanage or a humble shack up a steep path in a Sao Paolo favela, where they would meet a family destitute, a pregnant woman with two kids, no job, no stove, no running water.

“It’s jarring, to be honest, but humbling at the same time, because I complain about so much, and they have so little, and they’re completely happy and grateful for everything they have,” Jordan said. “It’s admirable.”

Her career since graduating from Clark Atlanta University has been a montage of aspirational goodwill: Helping to launch multiple support programs for Washington D.C.’s Kenilworth neighborhood with DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative, collaborating with New York Cares and the American Heart Association while working for Bank of America|Merrill Lynch in New York City, and now, back in the West Coast community where she was born and raised, helping spread Paramount Pictures’ resources across the city.

As is the case with so many who devote their efforts to community service, Jordan acquired this passion from her mother and grandmother, both devoted community workers through their church. “It was a must-do when I was younger, and it just stuck with me after.”

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