ViacomCBS Gives Back With Virtual Community Day
By Crystal Barnes
For 23 consecutive years, thousands of Viacom employees have gathered at hundreds of sites around the world to rebuild and re-energize their communities in an outpouring of goodwill that was called “Viacommunity Day.” When Viacomjoined forces with CBS—whose employees had their own decades-long history of giving back—last December, we looked forward to uniting and enhancing our traditions under the ViacomCBS umbrella this spring.
Then COVID-19 shut down the world.
Overnight, 20,000-plus ViacomCBS employees were working from home. Our television and film productions froze. Gatherings of any kind or any size for any reason were suspended until further notice. And in many ways, life, it seemed, was on hold.
None of this diminished our employees’ deep-seated spirit of generosity and concern for their neighbors. They made it clear to our team , through emails, virtual meetings and DMs, that their isolation had not dampened their desire to care for our communities, and do so together. Management at all levels across the company supported the idea. It is in that spirit of irrepressible goodwill and restless creativity that the first ViacomCBS Virtual Community Day was born.
This week and in the weeks ahead, ViacomCBS employees around the world will pour their talents and their energy and their hearts into helping individuals and organizations in need. They will consult with nonprofits on better business strategies. They will mentor students with America on Tech. They will host social issues discussions with the ACLU and lead virtual learning hours with Breakthrough New York and provide feedback to young writers and transcribe records for the Smithsonian Museum. And they will help World Food Program USA and Urban School Fund Alliance donate 50,000 meals through the atlasGO global health and wellness challenge. They will do it all online, a changed approach for a changed world.
Over the past weeks, we have seen people of all backgrounds unite to speak out against the systemic racism and police violence that has impacted so many victims of racial injustice and most recently led to George Floyd’s tragic murder. While there is much work to be done, the protests, in their scope and duration, have been inspiring. It is in this same spirit of civic renewal and institutional change that ViacomCBS employees reach out to their neighbors in need, their generosity undiminished by distance. Beyond the day, it is our ongoing commitment to each other and our communities to do more, together. Here are a few of our stories.
Crystal Barnes is the SVP for Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Strategy & Reporting at ViacomCBS. She oversees company-wide initiatives that extend ViacomCBS’ deep legacy and expertise in social impact, philanthropy, and community and employee engagement.
Julien Guiteau, Client Service Representative, ViacomCBS Ad Sales (New York, NY)
I haven’t participated in past Community Day events but I’m looking forward to a great first experience. I decided to participate in the Story Pirates event being hosted over Zoom. The organization is nationally renowned group of top comedians, musicians, best-selling authors and incredible teachers with fifteen years of experience creating content that celebrates the imaginations of kids, and their mission is to equip young writers with the tools they need to create stories of their own.
I connected with this strongly because I personally strive to uplift, teach and inspire the youth. At work, I am a client service representative within the ad sales department. Outside of work, I am a content creator, producer, and presenter. I created a web video series called Adventures with Julien for YouTube and other social media platforms in February 2019. It’s hosted by me and filmed by various talented videographers, and its mission is to bring communities together through positivity. The goal of each episode is to highlight how certain companies are beneficially impacting communities, to entertain and enlighten viewers, and to bring communities together through positivity.
Stephen Divenere, Director, Talent Acquisition (Hollywood, CA)
Being able to volunteer in person is ideal, but in this upside-down world we find ourselves in, I respect and appreciate the company so much for its continued commitment to philanthropy. People are hurting in every aspect of our society and need a helping hand now more than ever.
I chose to volunteer this year with MOSTe (Motivating Our Students Through Experience). MOSTe is a community-based mentoring, scholarship, and college-access organization that encourages young women’s education and success. I chose it because as a Talent Acquisition professional, I love mentoring and getting young people ready for the working world. I also volunteer throughout the year as a mentor to kids in need through ViacomCBS’ youth mentorship program, and have spent a lot of time working with youth at the LGBTQ center.
I’ve been with Viacom for four years and have always volunteered for community day. I‘ve met so many amazing people both within the community I was servicing as well as across the company. I love giving back and also making new friends.
Scarlette Whyte, Director, Professional Development, CBS News (Washington, DC)
I was so thrilled when I read the first email about Community Day. I am proud to work for a company that wants to give back, even during a time of uncertainty.
I chose to participate in a fundraiser for Pajama Program. This is a non-profit organization that donates new pajamas and books to children who are in foster care and homeless shelters. Due to COVID-19, Pajama Program established a separate initiative to provide new pajamas and books for the children of first responders, healthcare professionals and other essential workers. I was so touched by its initiatives I had to jump on-board.
I make it a point to do at least a few community service projects per year on my own. In December of last year I collected nearly 200 pairs of pajamas and 100 books for the local Washington D.C Chapter of Pajama Program. In addition, I donate monthly to the Areti Full Gospel Christian School in Ethiopia. A little girl named Ayanlesh is the student whom I sponsor.
Shawn Greer, Creative Resources Director, Nickelodeon Experience Design (Orlando, FL)
I am so proud to be a part of Virtual Community Day. We are socially responsible and truly care about our fans and employees. We are not just “talking the talk,” we are all taking an active role in the future of the country and society as a whole.
I, with others on the Nick Experience Design team based in Orlando, are mentoring people of color to help them get into the theme park business. I’m excited to meet them. So far, I have 30 people scheduled and the team has upwards of 230 total to meet.
I serve my community by volunteering for the career days at the local schools to teach them about what we do and how important it is for them to work hard at everything they do as you never know what skills you will need in the future. I try to inspire them all to be their best, most authentic selves and to help each other and not allow any bullying for any reason.
Danielle Green, Manager, Production Finance, Showtime (Hollywood, CA)
I’m choosing to volunteer with Common Impact because I support its mission to help non-profits build organizational capacity through skill-based volunteerism. The organization connects corporate employees to nonprofits, and I was set up as a team leader and facilitator with Diamond in the RAW foundation, which is devoted to empowering and transforming the lives of foster care and at-risk teen girls. Non-profit work is very difficult and the work requires compassionate, and caring individuals.
I’m involved with community work with various nonprofits in Los Angeles as a Board Member of NAMIC – Southern California. With my work with NAMIC, I’ve been able to partner with ViacomCBS on various youth based training and professional development workshops. I’ve also been able to connect and support other nonprofits within the Southern California Region to align them with the mission of NAMIC.
Felipe Reis, Manager, Communications and Social Impact, ViacomCBS Networks Americas (São Paulo, Brazil)
I think this year’s virtual work solution suits the moment in which we live perfectly. This adaptation is a sign that ViacomCBS, despite the challenges, is innovative in the search for creative solutions and does not let its commitment to society be diminished by difficulties.
I’ve chosen to dedicate myself to lecturing on professional guidance to needy teenagers. I’ve chosen this activity because I remember how fundamental it was for me, when I was a teenager, to listen to market professionals to decide which profession to choose.
Besides being a part of the ViacomCBS Social Impact team and being 100% dedicated to the Virtual Community Day in Brazil, I have always sought to aid small business owners. Lately, I’ve been doing this more frequently by consuming products from small producers and helping friends and family who have had their business affected by the pandemic.
Victoria Wells, Director, Production, Entertainment & Youth Group, ViacomCBS (Hollywood, CA)
My value is more than my job description. Community Day offers a workday of purpose beyond a paycheck.
As someone who grew up underserved and bi-racial, I often wonder how youth programs could have shaped my adolescent development. Volunteers are a link in the chain of facilitating these programs to participants, who far too often are told and believe that they are not good enough—in the words “you ain’t s**t.” Teachers and counselors of my past have uttered similar words. Joke’s on them.
As a Curtis Kulig stan, youth mentor, and supporter of art accessibility, I will be volunteering for the Free Arts Day with Curtis Kulig on Thursday to advocate for the marginalized. But, my life is devoted to service year-round, and I’m involved as a mentor for the Youth Mentor Connection, Time’s Up, and ViacomCBS’ professional mentoring program. I’m also involved with various organizations on the local and national level.
This will be my 10th year participating in Community Day. Now is a critical time for service, check-in, and immediate action.
Michael Roberts, Director, Customer Marketing, Paramount Pictures (Hollywood, CA)
This will be my 8th year in a row volunteering on Community Day. It is hands down my favorite day at Paramount. Not only are we given the opportunity to spend our time and energy bettering our community, but it’s also an amazing day to feel pride in where we work and who we work with. I am always the painter. I’ve painted everything from a kitchen at New Economics for Women to counseling rooms at APAIT. The biggest takeaway for me each year is a sense of hope knowing that there are countless organizations around the country that work every day to make sure that the future is bright, and that we’re giving more people the opportunity to benefit from it.
This year, I’m leading the voter registration task through When We All Vote. It’s a fantastic organization that works to increase engagement in the voting process, particularly with minorities and young Americans. November 2020 will be one of the most consequential elections of our lifetime. In these uncertain times, voting is one of the most empowering and significant things we can all do to not only ensure that our voices are being heard, but to enforce long overdue change for communities in need.
Getting the word out to vote has been my top priority this year. In addition to When We All Vote, I’ve also worked with the nonprofit organization, VoteForward. Its mission is to empower grassroots volunteers to help register voters from underrepresented communities. There are so many things to focus on that need our social and financial attention. Some of my favorite organizations to donate to are the ACLU, GLSEN, and Foster Nation.
Sarah Pindler, Manager, Production & Project Management, Attractions & Exhibits Nickelodeon Experience Design (Orlando, FL)
Virtual Community Day is important for all of us to understand that there are so many different ways we can all help. I am thrilled that I work for a company that not only supports an initiative to volunteer, but also really encourages all employees to take a working day to do so. It is inspiring that even during this pandemic, ViacomCBS still pushes the importance of volunteering. In addition to helping those who need it, community day has also been an amazing team building exercise and brings our office closer together, usually filled with smiles and laughs.
This year, I chose two opportunities. I will be packing two KyndKits—an opportunity I am very excited for. The company behind the KyndKits provides so many different options for people in need– from LGBTQ teens to homeless citizens. I chose to do two packs for citizens who receive meals on wheels. I chose those boxes because I don’t actually know any people around me who are a part of the program and I think it would be a good opportunity to meet some new folks nearby. I’ve reached out to my local chapter and they didn’t have any open driving routes, but they need help in their thrift store to unpack and move items. I am planning to bring my KyndKits to a driver (or become a driver in future weeks).
In preparation for Virtual Community Day, we also have been going through our house to find items and clothing to donate. If people are unable to take the day and go volunteer somewhere, or are not able to join a virtual volunteer opportunity, then donating items that they no longer use is a great back-up plan.
Alan Jones, Account Executive, Ad Solutions (New York, NY)
I’m excited to be participating in the Story Pirates’ “Happy Hour” this year for Community Day. This is something that really stood and I thought was cool because it’s promoting the youth to flex and strengthen their creativity muscles. I think that a lot of initiatives often promote stirring children into more conventional routes, where this promotes pride in imagination. I think it’s really cool that we’re encouraging our future storytellers here.
I’m very happy and pleased that ViacomCBS is taking part in a day of virtual community service. To be honest, I was wondering if everything was going to be postponed this year. I think it really shows that in the midst of a current world of uncertainty and economic strain, ViacomCBS is still prioritizing and finding effective ways to uphold their social responsibility.
During the year, I participate in a non-profit called 100 Roses from Concrete as a mentor. This is an initiative that aims to expose, help and coach college students of multicultural backgrounds about the media industry.
I’ve volunteered on community day for the past four years. I’ve participated in initiatives inside and outside of the ViacomCBS walls and each year has been a blast. Community day has provided an opportunity for great team building outside of our typical daily responsibilities. It has also allowed us to take a break and really connect with our neighboring communities. It’s been really fulfilling in many cases to really connect with the people of certain communities and to see the positive impact we’ve been able to have.
Jorge Tijerina, Production Supervisor & Director of Content, ViacomCBS International Studios (Mexico City, Mexico)
All companies should engage in community service just like ViacomCBS. It is a necessary and noble effort that makes our world a better place to live in. The fact that the company was able to adapt in the midst of a pandemic speaks to its humanity. It’s so wonderful to work in a company that places human needs over corporate ones. I have volunteered for “Ayudar a ayudar COVID-19” which means that I will donate money and send messages of hope to the doctors and nurses who are trying to save lives all over Mexico. I chose this activity because the medical community needs our full support during these painful times. They are our true heroes.
Throughout the year, I try to donate clothes to my local parish, participate in races and marathons that favor social causes and get involved in charity events.
In the past, I have volunteered to clean up the trash-filled streets of poor communities. It was a tough, yet ultimately emotionally rewarding experience, because it made me realize that real, tangible change can be brought about if we all team up and put in the effort.
Catherine Shousha, Supervisor, Worldwide Distribution Services, Paramount Pictures (Hollywood, CA)
I’m so proud that ViacomCBS has continued this longstanding tradition of Viacommunity Day even through the midst of this challenging time. It is such an important facet of our company’s culture and needed now more than ever. It’s incredible how so many charities have been able to pivot their outreach from in person activities to virtual ones. This way we’re still able to make a meaningful impact within the community while prioritizing everyone’s safety at the same time.
I’m volunteering as a project leader with Meals on Wheels West. COVID-19 has heavily impacted its mission as it’s seen a tremendous increase of those currently struggling to sustain themselves with enough meals throughout the week. I and those volunteering will be calling program participants to extend a friendly “hello” and check-in on how they are doing and if there are any resources we can recommend to help them through these hard times. I think human interaction of a caring voice on the other end of the phone is needed now more than ever for those struggling to even put food on the table.
I have participated in seven Viacommunity Days both as a current employee of Paramount Pictures in Hollywood, Calif. and also as a previous Viacom employee in New York City. I am also a member of Paramount’s “Volunteer Crew.” We meet once a month to learn ways in which we can champion different causes within the community. Through this resource, I have had the opportunity to participate in giving back to several worthwhile causes from AIDS Walk LA, MPTF, Epilepsy Foundation of America, Ronald McDonald House, and many others.
Paula Denise Velasco Gadea, Corporate Affairs & CSR, ViacomCBS Networks Americas (Buenos Aires, Argentina)
I am proud that ViacomCBS adapted our annual community day to a virtual format to show that we can continue to help from home. I think adapting is evolving. My work in Argentina’s Social responsibility office permits me to work with the community all year.
I am organizing the UNICEF and Red Cross lectures that will take place on June 18th, becoming the Argentine ambassador for a day and helping to spread and amplify the message of these organizations. I think it is important to help them given the hard work they are doing during COVID-19. I organized the last four community days in Argentina’s offices. I had very impactful experiences painting schools, fixing and painting houses, planting vegetable gardens, and sharing activities with children, among many others. These experiences were a very rich learning opportunity for me.