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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Helping Dreamers Dream Bigger at Viacom HQ

Viacommunity and the “I Have a Dream” Foundation joined forces recently at Viacom’s Times Square headquarters for a speed mentoring event, an invigorating and inspirational experience for a group of under-served students seeking career guidance.

Focusing on goals, Viacom employees from across the Sales, Production, Marketing and Graphic Design departments, among others, delivered career advice to college students affiliated with the “I Have a Dream” Foundation, who are otherwise known as Dreamers.

Both the students and Viacom employees came equipped with positive spirit and energy. During several timed sessions, students rotated among tables organized by Viacom’s departments. Two employees were stationed at each table facing one Dreamer, providing an intimate setting that provoked thoughtful questions about job-search processes and career tracks. Throughout the two-and-a-half-hour event, the room buzzed with motivational chatter, as conversations trickled on long after each timer expired. Viacom’s employees were eager to share personal anecdotes to show Dreamers that they too can pursue careers in the entertainment field and the students, in turn, left our offices energized and inspired.

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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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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.

Viacom Ad Sales’ Greg Cantwell Leads the Stocking Stuffing Assembly Line for Manhattan’s Homeless

Stuart Winchester by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Eleven years ago, Greg Cantwell had an idea.

It was Christmastime. Complaints rained around him, about the commercialization of Christmas, about the excess of presents.

So he asked himself, would anyone really care if he spent half as much on presents and put the other half toward something a little more worthy?

“I couldn’t think of anyone in my life who would care, so I thought, why not just do it?”

But where to put the resources? That wasn’t so hard, as it turned out. He’d been in New York a long time. He knew how difficult conditions were for homeless people, especially around the holidays.

So he and two friends met at his apartment, and they assembled a couple dozen Christmas stockings. They stuffed them with a toothbrush, toothpaste, socks, cookies, gum, candy canes, a McDonald’s gift certificate, a five dollar bill.

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Cantwell, right, stuffing an enormous pile of stockings at his Brooklyn apartment with fellow Operation Santa Claus volunteers Carlos Gonzalez and Viacom employee Judi Sadon. Photo courtesy of Operation Santa Claus

Then they threaded their way through Manhattan’s East Village and handed the parcels out to the homeless. They hit Tomkins Square Park and Washington Square Park and Avenue A and anyplace else where they could find someone who could use a little extra.

“We were astonished, the reaction we got from people,” Cantwell, a client planning director for Viacom Ad Sales, recalls. “They were just not expecting it.”

Operation Santa Claus was born.

Cantwell has repeated the effort each year since, generally on the weekend before Christmas. Planning starts a minimum of two months in advance, with a Go Fund Me page and an email blast and social media posts.

As donations accumulate, Cantwell and “Chief Elf” Luisa Alves, who works in Spike’s inventory team, coordinate to determine how many stockings they can afford and what will go in each. A mammoth trip to Costco follows. They fill four or five shopping carts. Cantwell orders the gift cards in bulk from McDonald’s.

On the designated day, Cantwell invites everyone out to his Williamsburg home for a sangria party. A mammoth assembly line snakes through his two-bedroom apartment. Dozens of volunteers drop up to 50 items in each stocking. In 2015, they assembled 250. The goal for 2016 is 300.

It’s a novel project, a flourish of goodwill and selflessness that pushes back against the relentless commercial tide of the holiday season. People have noticed. A few years ago, NBC local news in New York featured Cantwell and Operation Santa Claus in a segment:

Each year, the event grows larger. Each year, Cantwell rouses the volunteers with a speech just before they disperse across the city.

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Paramount Invites Local Schoolchildren for Halloween Screening of Charlotte’s Web

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Each year, Paramount hosts a Halloween screening of its classic, Charlotte’s Web, for pajama-clad local schoolkids. This year, 1,500 children journeyed from the Santa Monica Blvd Community Charter School and the Van Ness Blend Elementary School to watch the film at the Paramount Theatre.

Paramount has actually distributed two versions of Charlotte’s Web over the decades: the first a fully animated 1973 film; the second a live-action 2006 version produced in part by Nickelodeon Movies. Take a journey back with the trailers below.

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Why “He Didn’t Mean It” Has Got to Go

Stuart Winchester by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

We’ve all heard the excuses.

“Well, he was drunk.”

“But he’s such a nice guy.”

“He didn’t mean it.”

But they don’t excuse anything. For survivors of sexual violence, these words – their stubborn, insistent existence – only exasperates the pain.

But:

“He said he was sorry.”

“It was just a misunderstanding.”

“It only happened once.”

So what can be done? After all, boys will be boys. Right?

“It’s none of my business.”

“This is a women’s issue.”

“Yeah, no, we don’t talk about that.”

Right?

“We’re never gonna change it.”

“It’s sad, but, um, we’re never gonna fix it.”

The Joyful Heart Foundation does not believe that we will never fix this. That a culture that excuses rape and sexual assault is normal. That there are any excuses left. That boys will just always be boys, and what boys will be is dismissive, aggressive, willful, and, ultimately, excused.

The organization believes that we have had “Enough.” In a powerful new PSA campaign of the same name, produced in conjunction with Viacom Velocity, the organization commandeers these vile but pervasive words and challenges men to actively transform how we view and talk about sexual assault.

They brought company. Joyful Heart founder Mariska Hargitay, who also stars on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, rallied her costars and many other public figures to stand up against this archaic language: Andre Braugher, Andrew Rannells, Anthony Edwards, Blair Underwood, Chris Meloni, Daniel Dae Kim, Dann Florek, Danny Pino, Dave Navarro, David Marciano, Ice-T, Nick Lachey, Peter Hermann, Raul Esparza and Tate Donovan.

The series of PSAs, which will air across MTV, VH1, TV Land, BET, and Spike, among other Viacom properties, is a bold challenge to men: let’s change how we talk about this, so we can, some day, end it.

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A Closed Fist Gets You Nothing: Nickelodeon’s Gerald Yarborough Finds a Path to His Dreams

Stuart Winchester by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

“Follow your dreams. Do what you want to do. Don’t screw up.”

These were among the last words Gerald Yarborough’s mother had spoken to him before she passed away, and they had been his motivation through his adult life. It was late 1998, and he was a freshman at St. John’s University, settling into his studies as a pharmacy major. He had everything lined up: a five-year scholarship with a good-paying job in a high-demand field likely upon graduation. Yet, his mother’s directive was persistent.

He was not following his dreams. He was not living his purpose. He felt this more strongly every day. Pharmaceuticals just wasn’t for him. He felt as though he was wasting his true gift: art.

So that is where he focused his full energies: his art electives. But after one year, St. John’s warned him that if he did not start taking sciences courses, he would lose his scholarship.

His mother’s simple proclamation gnawing at him, uncertain where to go, he left school instead of falling into debt with student loans. He told himself that if art was his true purpose in life, God would make a way. It appeared as though school was no longer in his plan. So he joined Geico, working in customer service.

He would spend the next three years there. But those last words from his mother hung with him, refusing to let his dreams dry up.

While he once struggled to find his purpose in school, Gerald Yarborough now devotes time to helping others see their own potential.

While he once struggled to find his purpose in school, Gerald Yarborough now devotes time to helping others see their own potential.

Helping others find their dreams

His name was Jonathan.

Gerald had met him at Nassau County Correctional Facility. They had encountered one another there many times before, Jonathan as the inmate, Gerald a visitor.

“I was doing good until somebody called the cops,” Jonathan would say.

“If you wouldn’t have been doing that, nobody would have called the police,” Gerald would counter.

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From Children’s Wellness to Aircraft Carrier Maintenance, Chryssi Mikus Is Here to Help

Stuart Winchester by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Chryssi Mikus has a long and ongoing relationship with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, working to secure donations and auction items for large fundraisers. In 2015, she traveled to the center’s flagship institution in Memphis, Tennessee. She sits on the Friends of St. Jude committee, a group that brainstorms new fundraising opportunities and identifies potential new community or corporate partners.

While such dedication to the St. Jude’s cause might suggest some sort of full-time commitment to the organization, Mikus is actually a senior manager in Viacom’s Marketing & Partner Insights group, working across all of the company’s networks. Her expansive contributions to St. Jude are entirely voluntary.

“I think it’s important to give back, especially to causes you’re passionate about, whether it’s children or animals or the elderly,” Mikus says.

Chryssi Mikus has had a long relationship with St. Jude Children’s Hospital. Here she stands in front of the center’s flagship in Memphis, Tennessee.

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