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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Helping Immigration, Child Services, Hunger and Homelessness – Viacom, Catchafire Celebrate another Successful Year Collaborating

This spring, Viacom teams collaborated with nonprofit organizations from across the country and donated their time and skills through Talent for Good, Viacom’s skills-based volunteering program. These efforts culminated on July 10 when Viacom and Catchafire welcomed members from these four amazing nonprofits alongside the employees who volunteer with them in a celebration at Viacom’s New York headquarters.

This event, organized and hosted by Viacommunity, united everyone to share their experiences and celebrate their achievements. Adam Robinson, director of Corporate Social Responsibility, kicked the event off with a toast.

“Talent for Good gives our employees the opportunity to build and sharpen their skill-sets, and give back to the community in a much needed and impactful way,” Robinson said.

Adam Robinson, director of Viacom Corporate Social Responsibility, kicked off a Talent for Good partner event with a toast.

The first group to speak at the luncheon was a team of Viacom employees discussing how they banded together to create a pitch deck for L.A. based homeless youth shelter My Friend’s Place. As a native New Yorker, I felt a personal connection to this particular Talent for Good project. Manhattan, much like other large metropolitan areas, is riddled with homelessness. I see sleeping bags filled with tired bodies and men holding out cups filled with coins every day on my way to work in Times Square.

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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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Meet Dewey Caddell and the Pirates Who Give Back

Dewey Caddell, a program administrator for Viacom’s learning and development department, spends his free time moonlighting as a pirate. A Story Pirate, to be exact.

Here’s how it works: A school wants to add a story-writing activity to their curriculum. Story Pirates – a nonprofit education and media organization comprised of world-class actors and writers – come to that school and teach the kids the basic elements of the craft. Together, they create a narrative, taking suggestions from the kids for each act. The kids send Story Pirates their finished work, and the group comes back to provide positive feedback to each author. The team then chooses five stories to perform in front of the class.

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Meet Ramzy Masri, Nickelodeon Senior Designer

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LOWLINE 2Ramzy Masri, senior designer at Nickelodeon, is Viacom’s Talent For Good Employee spotlight this March. Read more to find out how Ramzy’s used his Talent for Good and how you can give back today.

Why did you decide to volunteer through Talent for Good?
I believe that good causes deserve the best resources to relay their messages and connect with their audience. There are so many hardworking non-profits that are overworked and understaffed — the opportunity to donate my time to a cause that I’m passionate about was a blessing.

What was your experience working on a Talent For Good project?
I volunteered with The Lowline, the world’s first underground park, and designed ‘Lowline Lab‘ — an exhibit showcasing the technology that makes underground parks possible. I designed informational panels, wayfinding, merchandise and promotional materials.

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Talent for Good: Viacom’s JM Chilgren Auditions for The Actors Fund

The Actors Fund website was designed in 2001, a relic from the dial-up era. Beyond the unintentionally nostalgic design, the website was challenging to manage and almost impossible to navigate. The Actors Fund, a nonprofit that provides services and programs to members of the entertainment community, was struggling to serve its members with this outdated Internet presence. ​

Compounding that problem was that the organization did not have the resources or the expertise to re-design its website and transform its relationships with clients and donors.

It was a situation perfectly suited for Viacom’s Talent for Good program, part of our Viacommunity social impact umbrella. The Talent for Good program matches employees’ professional expertise with nonprofits to serve a need that those organizations can’t fill themselves.

JM Chilgren, senior product manager on the Multiplatform Monetization team at Viacom, is no stranger to Viacommunity and to volunteering. He’s a co-chair of LGBT Employee Resource Group Emerge, an active participant in Viacommunity Day, and a frequent volunteer with LGBT nonprofits.  Chilgren was asked to join the Talent for Good pilot and acted as project lead on the team that would help The Actors Fund overhaul their website. Chilgren’s team included a Senior Product Director Kimberly Hicks, Design Director Al Lucca, Senior Manager of Emerging Trends Product Research Tracy Stender, Software Engineer Martino Buffalino, and UX Researcher Mike Suneja, all from Viacom’s Central Product Group under David Kline.

“Talent for Good allows individuals to grow in the corporation by contributing their skills,” said Chilgren. “The program makes it easy to pair yourself with a nonprofit. More importantly, it’s an amazing way for Viacom to not just give money to an organization, but contribute actual talent to solve real world problems they are facing.”

The project began with significant communication between Chilgren’s team and the Actors Fund to identify the website’s most pressing needs. The Viacom team then presented the nonprofit with recommendations and finally created a prototype of a new website. Each of those steps drew considerably on the Viacom employees’ professional experiences, but more importantly, depended on their ability to combine their different expertise to serve the project. Chilgren highlighted the interdisciplinary aspects of the program: “Working with the other team members, we all gained experience and learned a little bit about areas that don’t involve our day to day.”

As he conducted weekly check-ins with the Actors Fund leadership team and developed a website prototype that matched the organization’s needs, Chilgren gained an appreciation for how a large company like Viacom with extensive resources can work with smaller organizations to benefit both groups. “The most rewarding moment was realizing the impact our work with The Actors Fund would have on people’s actual lives – that thousands of people will be able to better find the services and benefits that they need and depend on through The Actors Fund website,” he said. “We hope The Actors Fund will be able to better communicate their mission through their Web presence, helping to raise more money and allow them to continue to grow and support their amazing community.”

The Actors Fund is working on building the website right now, with the hope that they can soon go from their current site (on the left), to an updated site based upon the Viacom Talent for Good team’s wireframe (on the right):

Actors Fund Website Current  Actors Fund Website Wireframe

Chilgren has already paired up with another nonprofit through Talent For Good, conducting a website audit for Live Out Loud, which pairs LGBT youth in high school with mentors and professionals.