The Viacommunity Spirit Emerges from the Eye of the Storm

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

As Hurricane Maria intensified to a Category 5 storm and set a bullseye on Puerto Rico last September, Victor Caro knew there was only one place he could go: directly into the eye of the storm.

Though he lived in Connecticut, both Caro and his wife had grown up in Puerto Rico. Most of his family still lived there, including his 90-year-old grandmother. The island’s storm supplies had been wiped out when Hurricane Irma had skirted the island earlier that month. So Caro would fly down with bags stuffed full of water purification supplies, batteries, emergency radios, and portable stoves. The day before the storm hit, he boarded a nearly empty San Juan-bound plane out of JFK airport.

Victor Caro – Headshots at Viacom, New York City, NY

He bunkered down in the family’s concrete house in Carolina with his grandmother, aunt and cousin. The wind and rain started that first night and continued all the next day. The windows shook, but the house held.

When the family finally emerged, it was to a wrecked world: electricity knocked out island-wide, cellphone service rare and patchy, clean water no longer running from taps. Land lines worked for three days and then stopped. The authorities, where they showed up at all, were slow to arrive and ill-equipped to deal with the scale of the catastrophe.

Caro stayed for a week, clearing debris, checking on friends and family, and distributing what supplies he could. The breeze quit and the family roasted in their uncooled home. Sleep became difficult. At night, they listened to WAPA radio as officials relayed information and, in one instance, desperate hospital staff delivered frantic pleas for help as babies wailed in the background.

When Caro finally boarded a charter plane back to the mainland, the immensity of the destruction he had witnessed – and the inadequacy of the official emergency response – overwhelmed him.

“I’d never felt survivor’s remorse,” Caro said. “But I just felt awful. I don’t think I’d cried in 10 years, and I just bawled that day. For weeks, being at home with my family, watching cable, ordering food, air conditioning, I felt guilty enjoying those things. And that’s part of what motivated me to get out and help the people who were screwed the most.”

Sending angels to the rescue

Actually doing something was more difficult. Bureaucratic and logistical obstacles make moving goods to Puerto Rico arduous under normal circumstances. Arcane shipping regulations meant that the only realistic relief option was to fly supplies in, an expensive and logistically exasperating undertaking.

Enter Warrior Angels Rescue, an extraordinary coalition of concerned citizens on the U.S. mainland and on Puerto Rico, headed by Valerie Edmondson Bolaños. The organization materialized out of Maria’s fumes to deliver supplies to the island and evacuate those whose medical issues made it imperative that they leave.

Over many weeks following the storm, Caro and his wife worked with Warrior Angels Rescue (which is part of the Puerto Rico Relief Alliance), to stitch together a massive relief effort. They gathered 30,000 pounds of medical supplies and donated cargo, along with the $70,000 required to fly them to Puerto Rico. When the plane returned to the mainland, it carried nearly 150 medically fragile passengers – expectant mothers, babies, the elderly, cancer patients.

Caro worked as a sort of fixer, a go-between who had the connections both on the mainland and the island to make the critical link between needs and resources for El Barrio Caimital Bajo y Alto in the Puerto Rican town of Guayama, a town that was in great need even before Maria struck. During the holiday season, their delivery arrived with 3,000 pounds of food, water, toys, formula, baby food, diapers, wipes, toiletries, and more to help 46 families in great need.

The sheer scale of organizing one plane trip was incredible: moving truckloads of water, food, clothing and toys from garages and schools – even, at one point, Caro’s daughter’s kung fu dojo – in the Northeast to and through Florida; raising funds for and coordinating the charter flight to Puerto Rico; moving these materials over a mountainous island with a decimated road network; identifying those most in need of both the supplies and a ride off the island; and ensuring that medical help and transportation to a safe place awaited those who evacuated to the mainland.

Clockwise from left: holiday gifts awaiting delivery; the chartered airplane that delivered toys from the mainland and evacuated vulnerable residents; coordinating the operation aboard the plane; unloading the supplies in Guayama. Photos courtesy of Victor Caro.

His colleagues noticed. When Viacommunity – the company’s social responsibility initiative – put out a companywide call for “exemplary employees who represent Viacom’s sense of social responsibility and make a powerful impact on their communities,” for its annual Viacommunity Award late last year, multiple employees nominated Caro for the honor.

“Every free second he has is spent working with anyone that will listen to help those in need in Puerto Rico,” one said in their nomination.

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Viacom to Support Courageous Youth Activists Who Have Had Enough of Gun Violence

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

February 27, 2018 – Parkland, Florida, United States: Volunteers hang banners, including this one reading “Stay strong, Stoneman Douglas, we’re with you,” around the perimeter of Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school to welcome back students who returned to school on Feb. 28, two weeks after the mass shooting that killed 17 students and staff. (Susan Stocker/SF Sun Sentinel/Polaris)

In the weeks since a gunman claimed 17 lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, courageous young people have marched and raised their voices to demand action on gun violence in the United States.

Viacom and its brands have a long history of supporting young people’s movements around the world, and today the company is extending that tradition by leveraging its substantial multi-platform footprint to support these extraordinary individuals and amplify the reach and impact of their activism.

This series of efforts across MTV, BET, Nickelodeon, Paramount Network, Comedy Central, TV Land, CMT and other properties will include partnerships with a coalition of organizations and students that are working to make America’s schools safer and reduce gun violence.

In addition, Shari Redstone, Vice Chair of Viacom’s Board, is personally championing the work of the student activists, contributing time and resources, including a $500,000 donation, to the March For Our Lives movement.

“This generation continues to be the driving force for change,” said Viacom Executive Vice President of Global Inclusion Marva Smalls. “With more than 17 young people dying from gun violence every single day, unfortunately no community is safe. We believe it’s critical to support the inspiring efforts of our youth, who are literally fighting for their lives. Viacom also has a responsibility to our audiences to do everything we can to elevate the many brave and bold activists to help them extend the reach and impact of their voices in this important movement.”

Here’s a sampling of the initiatives that Viacom brands have planned for the weeks ahead:

A pause to remember the victims

At 10 a.m. on Wednesday, March 14, all Viacom networks and platforms will suspend regularly scheduled programming for 17 minutes. This pause will coincide with the National School Walkout, a tribute to the 17 lives lost in the Parkland shooting, and to all young victims of gun violence. Students across the country will take over MTV’s social media accounts during the walkout.

The power of Viacom’s united brands support a march on Washington

Viacom’s brands will drive awareness of March For Our Lives through extensive on-air and digital coverage, as well as on-the-ground initiatives, leading up to the March For Our Lives demonstration in Washington, D.C. on March 24. MTV and Comedy Central will change the color of their logos to orange – in support of gun violence awareness – for the 10 days leading up to the event. The Daily Show with Trevor Noah plans to continue its ongoing coverage of the growing anti-gun violence movement in the country. So will The Opposition w/ Jordan Klepper, which will build on its recent interviews with students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as well as educators and former military officials on arming teachers, and the 2017 special he produced, Jordan Klepper Solves Guns. Paramount Network will capture powerful first-person accounts for its pro-social initiative. Nickelodeon’s Kids’ Choice Awards, which airs that night, will acknowledge the march for its audience of millions.

Supporting efforts to reduce gun violence

Viacom networks have begun an array of ongoing initiatives aimed at curbing gun violence over the long term. For example, MTV has set up a website where people can learn how to take further action, BET will award DISARM pop-up grants to youth activists with innovative ideas about addressing gun violence and mental health issues, and CMT will work with the country music industry on its efforts to support gun safety.

Joining gun safety leaders to drive change

Viacom is partnering with organizations across the spectrum to develop gun safety-related projects for Viacommunity Day, Viacom’s annual day of community service, on April 20.

Get Schooled expands its curriculum

Get Schooled, an organization founded through a partnership between Viacom and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will expand its efforts to educate young people on the actions they can take to participate in the national discussion.

*On average, 19.4 young people aged 24 and under die by gun violence every day. Source – Everytown analysis: CDC Fatal Injury Reports (WISQARS), data for 2012-2016.

Viacom Takes a “Day On” in Recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service

The Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, often referred to as “a day on, not a day off,” is a call for Americans from all backgrounds to unite in the spirit of Dr. King.

In the spirit of embracing the variety of backgrounds and ways of thinking that make Viacom strong, Viacommunity – the company’s social responsibility umbrella – hosted three MLK Day of Service volunteer projects in partnership with the “I Have a Dream” Foundation. The events, focused on motivating and empowering students to reach their educational and career potential, took place during the week leading up to MLK Day.

Viacom employees and “I Have a Dream” Foundation Dreamers talk educational and career goals at an MLK Day of Service event at Viacom’s Times Square headquarters.

At Viacom’s Times Square headquarters, Viacommunity and the foundation’s New York chapter hosted their annual workshop for dozens of “Dreamers,” college students who had gained access to higher education with the organization’s assistance.

A panel discussion followed, featuring inspirational advice from two Viacom employees: Essence Dashtaray, manager of Human Resources and Jason Williams, vice president of Global Inclusion Strategy. A speed mentoring event then combined employee volunteers with rotating groups of students to discuss their career paths and the Dreamers’ educational goals. In a testament to Viacom’s ongoing support of the foundation and genuine connection to its students, some of the Dreamers, now soon-to-be college grads, were reconnecting with Viacom employees that they had known since their freshman year.

The Viacommunity team moderates a panel between Viacom’s Essence Dashtaray, seated right, and Jason Williams and “I Have a Dream” Foundation Dreamers at Viacom’s Times Square headquarters.

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Paramount Viacommunity Film Vies for Top Spot at Boston College Festival

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

​Each year, thousands of Viacom employees around the world unite for Viacommunity Day, helping to rebuild and revitalize their local communities with a series of service projects. At Paramount Pictures – which for the past two years has had the highest percentage of employees from any Viacom company division participating in projects – the day has special resonance.

To commemorate the titanic efforts of their employees at last year’s event, Paramount’s social responsibility team put together A Day for Unity, a rousing video recap of the landscaping, painting, organizing, and volunteering at zoos, community centers, soup kitchens and food distribution centers that took place across the Los Angeles area on Viacommunity Day 2017.

Paramount Viacommunity 2017 Video from Viacom on Vimeo.

This video testament to Paramount’s efforts is now part of the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship International Corporate Citizenship Film Festival, an annual event that honors the best in corporate social responsibility. Click here by Feb. 19 to vote for Paramount’s submission.

Viacom’s Season of Giving Kicks off Its All Good, All Year Initiative

Packing 10,151 meals may sound like a hefty feat, but Viacom volunteers took the challenge head on and held two Rise Against Hunger meal-packing events during Viacommunity’s 2017 “Season of Giving.”

Enormous as this effort was, these two events represented just a portion of the many volunteer opportunities offered during Viacom’s annual Season of Giving, which engages employees nationwide with holiday-themed volunteer opportunities throughout November and December.

Viacom employees prepping some of the thousands of meals they assembled in conjunction with Rise Against Hunger during Viacommunity’s 2017 Season of Giving.

Winter Wishes fulfilled

The corporate social responsibility team kicked off its most recent holiday-themed efforts by distributing nearly 300 New York Cares Winter Wishes letters to employees at Viacom’s Times Square headquarters and 345 Hudson office. Each hand-written letter outlined a list of recent achievements and desired holiday gifts from an underrepresented New York City elementary school student. Viacom employees selected one or more letters, then purchased and wrapped the gifts, which New York Cares distributed to the children.

Winter Wishes gifts wrapped and ready for distribution by New York Cares.

Stuffing more than turkeys Thanksgiving week

During the week leading up to Thanksgiving, a group of nearly 15 Viacom volunteers delivered nutritious holiday meals to homebound elderly in Midtown Manhattan through Citymeals on Wheels. Similarly, more than 100 volunteers united to package about 20,000 meals for the world’s most vulnerable communities with Rise Against Hunger at Viacom’s Times Square and Hollywood offices.

Viacom volunteers delivered meals to Manhattan residents in need via Citymeals on Wheels during Thanksgiving week 2017.

On the day before the holiday, as part of Viacom’s annual Kids Day – where employees bring their children to work for a day of fun and activities – the young ones gave back to their local communities, just like their parents. With help from Viacommunity and Employee Events, our young visitors helped stuff more than 200 cuddly giraffes, bears and elephants, which were then donated to children affected by Hurricanes Maria, Irma, and Harvey via The GOOD+ Foundation, SAFE (Stuffed Animals for Emergencies), and Spirit Airlines.

Critters ready to be stuffed for those in need by the child guests of Viacom employees at the company’s annual Kids’ Day.

In celebration of the social media-powered global #GivingTuesday that follows Thanksgiving weekend, employees across the U.S. contributed to Viacom’s foundation partners: VH1 Save The Music, Get Schooled and MTV Staying Alive. At Viacom’s New York, Hollywood, Paramount Pictures, and Miami offices, youth carolers from local VH1 Save the Music partner schools amplified this holiday cheer with festive songs.

Children liven up Viacom’s Times Square headquarters with holiday carols during Viacommunity’s 2017 Season of Giving.

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2017 Nickelodeon HALO Awards: Doing Good Never Sounded So Great

Ten-year-old Zoe Terry is the Miami-based CEO of Zoe’s Dolls, a nonprofit organization that collects and donates dolls with darker skin tones to girls of African, Hispanic, Caribbean and African-American descent. Terry founded her company in 2012 at age 5 to give these girls an opportunity to play with dolls that looked like them—something she felt was lacking in her community.

Since then, nearly $20,000 in dolls have been donated to more than 4,000 young girls in the U.S., Haiti and Africa. On Nov. 26, the Nickelodeon HALO Awards honored Terry and three others for their philanthropic efforts.

Nick Cannon and our 2017 HALO Honorees Raegan Junge, Caleb White, Zoe Terry, Andrew Dunn. (Photo by Andrew Toth/Getty Images for Nickelodeon)

The HALO Awards celebrates young leaders who are changing their communities and the world by “Helping and Leading Others.” Rapper Nick Cannon created the awards show in 2011, and returned this year to host the ceremony.

Nick Cannon and Raegan Junge on stage at the 2017 Nickelodeon HALO Awards (Photo by Andrew Toth/Getty Images for Nickelodeon)

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Remember, Remember the 11th of November – Viacom Honors Vets

Clockwise from top right: the author summoning the Viacommunity spirit, employees hard at work for vets, notes to vets in progress, final boxes ready to ship. All photos by Studio Brooke.

It occurs on the 11th day of the 11th month of every year: Veterans Day. Creativity and patriotism were flowing at Viacom during the lead up to the holiday this year, a time dedicated to honoring American military veterans.

This year, Viacom President and CEO Bob Bakish shared his appreciation to those who have risked their lives for our country by sending personal emails along with MyViacommunity gift cards to the more than 85 employee vets. The veterans can then use the gift cards to donate to a charity of their choice.

Viacommunity and Community Service in a Box (formerly known as Operation Goody Bag) also honored our nation’s bravest by inviting employees to decorate goody bags and send handwritten notes of encouragement to our servicemen and women currently on duty across the country and overseas.

Nearly 100 employee volunteers showed up, designing and assembling 500 Veterans Day-inspired goody bags. Viacommunity sent these gifts to the USO of Metropolitan New York.

Viacommunity featured the project on Viacom’s social pages and LinkedIn highlighted employees’ personal stories:

Viacom on LinkedIn:

“Veteran’s day is important to me because my grandfather was a veteran. He served in the Vietnam war. I have other cousins in my family who are also in the military, and these people give their lives to make us safe here at home. A lot of them travel and live in different places around the world. It must be so hard for military wives and husbands who have partners out there risking their lives, so this day really speaks to me.”

Viacom on LinkedIn:

“What I love about Viacom is the people that work here. The empathy we are trying to create within the company is something that I feel should be established in all companies. I’ve always felt that we should be more sensitive to our surroundings. When we impact people positively, they gravitate towards us. I am here today to write notes to our Viacom Veterans because I want to thank them for their service. Even though I am not their family, I want to let them know that we are grateful for everything that they do.”

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Viacommunity Takes Talent for Good West

Last month, Viacommunity journeyed to Viacom’s Hollywood office, the Paramount Lot and the Nickelodeon Animation Studio in Burbank as part of an official West Coast launch of Talent for Good, Viacom’s skills-based volunteer program in conjunction with Catchafire.

The program kicked off with an exclusive Rapid Fire event in Hollywood. We matched five teams of Viacom and Paramount volunteers with one of five local nonprofit organizations to take part in a two-hour brainstorm, exploring solutions to each nonprofit’s challenges. All five teams then shared their solutions, forging connections with their colleagues and local nonprofits. Each organization left with clear next steps and tools to overcome their challenges and move closer to achieving their missions.

Viacom volunteers and their community partners met to explore solutions to the organization’s concerns at Viacom’s new Hollywood facility in October 2017.

The participating organizations and their respective challenges were as follows:

Lambda Legal is the oldest and largest legal organization advocating through impact litigation and public policy work for the LGBTQ community and people living with HIV. The organization’s premier L.A.-based annual event, the West Coast Liberty Awards, attracts more than 400 supporters to honor advocates, activists and companies whose work complements Lambda Legal’s mission. Lambda Legal seeks to elevate their visibility as a Hollywood “influencer” so they can appeal to a new, younger audience.

My Friend’s Place assists and inspires homeless youth to build self-sufficient lives in Los Angeles. In 2018, the organization will celebrate its 30th anniversary with a spring gala and special campaign, complemented by storytelling that communicates and celebrates their heritage. The group needs creative thinkers to brainstorm inventive ways of sharing that history through unique storytelling that will drive engagement with their anniversary celebration.

Brainstorming sessions between Viacom volunteers and community partners at the Viacom Hollywood office.

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Nickelodeon Helps Break Bread and Boundaries for Child Refugees

Children mingle with SpongeBob at Viacom’s Times Square headquarters during a UNICEF Refugee Welcome Dinner in partnership with Purpose and Playworks. Photo by Tatiana Cadet.

Twenty people are forcibly displaced every minute as a result of conflict or persecution. This adds up to 65.6 million people around the world, 22.5 million of whom are refugees – a person forced from their country to escape war, persecution, or a natural disaster. Unfortunately, these stateless wanderers are not always met with open arms. Many are denied a nationality and access to basic rights when the countries they flee to struggle to cope with the influx.

Companies across the U.S. have stepped up for refugees who struggle to find a community and a place to call home. Here at Viacom, Nickelodeon’s pro-social team recently participated in UNICEF’s Refugee Welcome Dinners, along with the organization’s local partner agency, Purpose, and Nickelodeon’s Worldwide Day of Play partner Playworks, which uses play to improve children’s physical health and social and emotional learning. UNICEF brought kids and families from Guatemala, Mexico, Guinea, Venezuela, Botswana, and the Central African Republic to the Lodge cafeteria at Viacom’s Times Square headquarters to join the Playworks kids for a Nickelodeon-style pizza party.

The gathering was complete with a Paw Patrol AR pictures booth, a four-square recess game, and a dancing SpongeBob SquarePants. Kid-friendly Top 40 music filled the air, and the kids showed off their best Backpack Kid dances. Tables topped with orange table cloths and piles of candy adorned the space and a Nickelodeon promo video took over the Lodge television screens.

Children mingle with SpongeBob at Viacom’s Times Square headquarters during a UNICEF Refugee Welcome Dinner in partnership with Purpose and Playworks. Photo by Tatiana Cadet.

Regardless of race or creed, each guest came together and broke bread and boundaries, in the true spirit of Viacommunity. The event in its entirety made a powerful statement about the importance of tolerance, positivity and acceptance. Above all, it showcased the true impact that joining together in play has on the wellness of children’s souls.

Cycling the Crossroads of the World with Cycle for Survival

Clockwise from top left: Cycle for Survival takes over Times Square; the author and intern Tatiana Cadet on their bikes; a Cycle for Survival bike; Cadet challenges herself to a great workout.

Times Square – the heavily nicknamed Crossroads of the World, Center of the Universe, or Heart of the World (among others) – draws an estimated 50 million annual visitors; more than 300,000 pedestrians pass through daily. It is also home to a pair of towers where Viacom keeps offices.

This bustling pedestrian and entertainment center provides the perfect backdrop for an annual Times Square Takeover by Cycle for Survival, the movement to beat rare cancers that is led by Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC).

Earlier this year, I joined the battle alongside 60 employees across 23 departments in Viacom’s New York, Hollywood, and Paramount Pictures offices by participating in Cycle for Survival’s 11th year of rides. The energy was incredible, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to represent Team Viacom by participating in this year’s Times Square Takeover.

In late September, corporate communications intern Tatiana Cadet and I took to bikes smack in the heart of Times Square for an hour-long ride. We were there to support the cause and raise awareness and excitement among employees for our larger company-sponsored Cycle for Survival ride next spring. Jubilation, motivation, hope, and friendship filled the air.

Read Tatiana’s description of the event:

“It was the end of September, it felt like summer, and I was in the middle of Time Square on an exercise bike. My heart was racing, my legs were moving, and the sun was beaming on my face. I could feel the sweat dripping down, but the woman on stage motioning us to crank it up and keep pushing harder for the people that can no longer push kept me pedaling. It was my first time participating in Cycle for Survival, and I was amazed.

“At first, I was nervous because I heard about friends talking about extreme Soul Cycling classes that left them drained, but this was nothing like that. Cycling in the middle of New York City was enough to make it different, but the trainers from Equinox who led us on our cycling journey were great motivators. They reminded us that we weren’t just cycling to get some exercise for the day, but to be a part of a great cause.

“It felt good to be surrounded by so many people that care about making a difference. Between high-fiving my cycling neighbors and riding to positive music and motivating trainers, I left the event feeling really good and proud to be a part of Team Viacom, which shows a dedication to serving diverse communities and staying involved.”

Relive the experience as it appeared on @Viacom’s Instagram Story: