Celebrating Our 2016 Viacommunity Award Winners

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Each year, the Viacommunity Award recognizes two Viacom employees who have gone above and beyond to make an impact in their communities with a $10,000 donation to the organizations of their choice. With more than a hundred submissions from colleagues across the company, it was truly a difficult decision to pick just two winners.

This year, Viacom is proud to present the coveted Viacommunity Awards to Kevin Chalk and Hasani Henderson for their incredible efforts with two amazing organizations, Back on My Feet and #TheTakeBack.

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Get Schooled Scores a Spot on Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies in Gaming List

Stuart Winchester by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

The lighting-thumbed gamer diehards will nod in knowing agreement as they glance at Fast Company’s roll call of the 10 most innovative companies in gaming – streamer Twitch, gamemakers 2K and Activision Blizzard, founding father of modern gaming Nintendo. But the name at number nine might teach even the most seasoned gamer something brand new: Get Schooled, the non-profit organization whose primary mission is inspiring students to finish high school and succeed in college.

How exactly does an organization founded via a partnership between the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Viacom crash a who’s who of modern gaming giants? By adopting the fearless attitude and experimental dynamic of a Silicon Valley start-up driven to solve an complex problem.

“Get Schooled has a track record of success in part because we have adopted the principles of a high performing tech start up: we value partnerships, use data to continuously improve and have learned how to fail fast,” said Marie Groark, Executive Director of Get Schooled.

Those improvements have hinged upon a bold and vast adventure into gamification, a realm that many high school students know well and require no primer to engage with. The pivot began just two years after Get Schooled launched in 2010, transforming www.getschooled.com into an immersive gamified universe, where competition, point scoring and rules have engaged millions of young people, who can cash out their points for stuff like autographed gear from NBA and NFL stars, calculators or backpacks in a rewards store sponsored by the organization.

Students can also earn scholarships, or celebrity appearances by the likes of DJ Khaled, Nicki Minaj, James Harden, KeKe Palmer, Nick Cannon, Ne-Yo, Chance the Rapper and Ludacris. Check out Kendrick Lamar’s visit to Bethel High School in Alaska, a former “drop-out factory” that earned the visit by winning one of Get Schooled’s national points-based competitions:

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Paramount’s Kevin Chalk Is Getting L.A.’s Homeless Population Back on Their Feet

At 4:40 a.m., Paramount employee Kevin Chalk’s alarm goes off. He puts on running clothes and sneakers and is out the door in 30 minutes. He’s on his way to Los Angeles’s infamous skid row.

It’s certainly an odd choice for a morning jog. But Chalk is a volunteer at Back on My Feet, a nonprofit that combats homelessness through the power of running, community support and essential employment and housing resources.

Chalk’s morning itinerary is precise and consistent, much like the training regimen of a seasoned athlete. By 5:25, Chalk is driving past makeshift tents in the impoverished neighborhood. Skid row has the highest concentration of homelessness in the nation—in just one square mile, over 2,000 people live in squalor.

Chalk steps out of his car and is struck by the putrid odor of synthetic marijuana, or spice. Spice is a cheap (albeit potentially lethal) high, making homeless residents an easy target for dealers. The toxic stench grows stronger as Chalk walks towards the Mission. He weaves in between tarps draped over fences, derelict buildings and throngs of families and neighbors huddled beneath threadbare blankets.

Rap music blasts from set of speakers in one tent, while 70s soul blares from a car radio. It’s barely dawn. There are men, women, and children of all ages mingling in the streets amidst rats and tumbleweeds of trash.

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Skid Row in Los Angeles. Photos courtesy of Getty Images.

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16 out of ’16: The Viacom Blog’s Most Popular Posts From Last Year, According to You Guys

What makes our readers click?

According to our Google Analytics stats, it’s innovative marketing, brilliant shows and movies, political coverage, LGBT initiatives, A$AP Rocky, tacos, and Mediterranean music festivals.

2016 was monumental for Viacom, along with the rest of the world. We witnessed one of the most tectonic presidential elections in history. The way we consume media continued to evolve with advanced streaming services and virtual reality engagement. We lost beloved celebrities such as Prince and David Bowie, and sadly, many more. But we saw others rise to stardom, like Rita Ora, who now hosts VH1’s America’s Next Top Model, and Bebe Rhexa, who hosted the 2016 EMAs.

This list is by no means comprehensive of what Viacom accomplished in 2016—that would require far more than 16 posts to cover. But we’ve gathered those that made the largest impact, according what you, our readers, have clicked on the most.

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Al Gore’s Inconvenient Sequel Follows Oscar-Winning Doc at Critical Moment for Combating Climate Change

Stuart Winchester by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

An Inconvenient Truth came spinning out of Al Gore’s Powerpoint deck 11 years ago this spring, resuscitating a national conversation on global warming on its way to winning a pair of Oscars and Best Documentary honors from more than a dozen film critics associations.

Directed by Davis Guggenheim and distributed by Paramount, the film brought in $50 million and became a vital part of the worldwide climate change dialogue. In a powerful statement of Gore’s total commitment to a cause he has been devoted to since initiating the first congressional hearing on global warming in the early 1980s, he and his wife donated all profits to initiatives that would help educate more people about the dangers and realities of climate change.

A decade later, the issues Gore articulated in the film are as urgent as ever, as newly inaugurated President Donald Trump has suggested he may “cancel” the extraordinary Paris Agreement between 195 countries that is intended to slow and ultimately halt global warming. The timing, then, is optimal for An Inconvenient Sequel, Gore’s follow-up that debuted to a standing ovation last week at the Sundance Film Festival.

The film, which Paramount will release in theaters on July 28, is a wide-ranging examination of the global climate turmoil that threatens to massively disrupt life on Earth. In one compelling scene, Gore outlines how one of his most controversial 2006 predictions – that floodwaters could inundate the September 11 Memorial in lower Manhattan – has already happened:

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Viacom Employees Celebrate Talent For Good

When four teams of Viacom employees convened with Viacommunity and various nonprofit organizations at company headquarters in Times Square, they welcomed the celebratory event as an opportunity to reflect back on their endeavors. Over the past few months, these handpicked groups of employees joined forces across the brands on Viacommunity Talent For Good projects, dedicating their time and skills to supporting the initiatives of causes that they care about. The four team projects explored a variety of pro-bono volunteer work. Whether it was providing a social media plan, creating a brochure, developing a communications strategy, or producing a promotional video, all of the groups made lasting connections with their nonprofit partners.

The four subsequent nonprofits – FIGMENT NYC, Musicians On Call, Unlocking Futures, and Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund – attended the Talent for Good team project event at Viacom headquarters. Viacommunity representative Alexandra Tuck and staff members from Catchafire kicked off the team wrap up event emphasizing Viacom’s unique cross-brand passion for volunteering and employee engagement.

Check out the video created for Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund’s Name Change Project.

The event switched to an arena for the presentations that each group worked on. Teams discussed the various challenges, processes, and assets that they acquired throughout the course of their three to four month long projects. As a special treat, each corresponding nonprofit also had the chance to share their points of view and project experiences. Emotions ran strong as each nonprofit expressed its sincere gratitude to their Viacom team members, making the event a truly inspiring one.

Throughout the rest of the evening, the Viacom teams mingled, swapping anecdotes here and there about their project experiences. A common sentiment from many of the team members that night was that Talent For Good connected employees with others at Viacom that they normally do not get the chance to work with on a daily basis. In such a large company, it was refreshing to meet new peers and learn about the different work that goes into each department and brand. It was clear that not only did these close-knit partnerships create outlets for each employee to strengthen his or her skills to benefit great causes, but through these collaborative efforts, cross-brand friendships were forged as well.

Seven Years of Giving: The History Behind Viacom’s Give Back & Get Down Celebration

In the fall of 2010, Viacom’s Office of Global Inclusion started a new tradition—a holiday party that would bring employees together to celebrate the season of giving, by giving back to those in need.

Give Back & Get Down (GBGD) is the brainchild of Nickelodeon Digital Publishing Executive Assistant Tara Shaw and BET News Production Manager Renee Jackson, leaders of the BEAT (our employee resource group focused on the African-American experience).

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The inaugural celebration supported two vital causes.

City Harvest, the only food rescue program in New York City, collects excess food from restaurants and grocery stores—fresh, nutritious food that would otherwise be thrown out. Volunteers deliver this food to homeless shelters, soup kitchens, day cares and senior centers throughout the five boroughs.

Pajama Program, a national nonprofit, helps underprivileged children have a good night’s sleep. Cozy pajamas and bedtime story books are brought to kids in foster care or temporary shelters

Employees brought donations of pajamas and food to the party. While OGI members collected these items, Grammy-winning artist Miguel performed.

Seven years later, GBGD is our annual giving celebration. It embraces the Viacommunity spirit of making a positive social impact in areas where we work and live, and gives employees at premier entertainment brands the chance to let loose and celebrate a year of hard work.

Viacom has collected approximately 60 tons of donations since 2010.

 

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This year, we’ve partnered with Safe Horizons and Sanctuary for Families to support families and individuals impacted by domestic violence. GBGD VII is rapidly approaching, and donation boxes in our New York offices are filling up with toiletries.
Check back for a recap of GBGD VII on Dec. 7.

OGI Assistant Sarah Lee contributed to this article.

An Empathetic Walk With Viacom’s Office of Global Inclusion

When the virtual reality headset first slid into place, covering my eyes and resting on the bridge of my nose, there was a moment of calm darkness. Then the screen glowed, coming to life, and there stood Grace Chikui, an elderly blind woman and long-time resident of the Little Tokyo district in downtown Los Angeles. In recognition of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) in October, Viacom’s Office of Global Inclusion (OGI) hosted a unique virtual reality (VR) experience aptly named Walking With Grace, which used 360° video and spatial audio to provide employees with unparalleled perspective into the life of someone differently-abled.

“Through select audio interviews, Grace recalls childhood memories growing up in the area, helping us discover her neighborhood. Each swivel of the head and body, left, right, backward and even up toward the sky, revealed more of her world.”

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Walking With Grace gave Viacom employees the chance to see the world through the eyes of somebody with a visual impairment.

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The 5,000 Pound CMT #InternVolunteerDay

What happens when you combine a Saturday afternoon, the largest food bank in Tennessee, and CMT’s summer 2016 interns? Over 5,000 pounds of food collected and sorted to feed the hungry throughout the state.

With seven participants representing CMT, we joined forces with Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee to help end the fight against hunger in America. Second Harvest is an organization that works with more than 450 partner agencies to ensure that men, women and children throughout the state have access to food and basic personal care needs.

CMT Intern Volunteer Day

From left to right: Chelsea Gant (Social Media intern), Elaheh Ziglari (Business & Legal Affairs intern), Betsy Howard (Human Resources intern), Jennifer Teeter (Creative Services: On-Air Graphics intern), and Erica Greskoviak (Creative Services: Short-Form Programming intern)

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Viacom’s Sarah Nix Is HERE to Give Back to Her Community

She grew up as a Girl Scout and a Special Olympics volunteer whose father donated to United Way and passed his spare change to panhandlers on family trips into Manhattan from suburban Sleepy Hollow, New York. As an adult, she set up charity galas, helped manage amfAR’s silent auction to benefit HIV prevention, and joined the planning board for the National Hemophilia Foundation’s silent auction, Denim and Diamonds.
Still, something was missing from this life of community engagement. “You don’t have the direct service element,” said Nix.

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