Heroes in Home Entertainment 2022: Helping Hands and Caring Hearts
December 19, 2022
Charity may begin at home — but it certainly flourishes in home entertainment. Media Play News for the fifth consecutive year has selected a panel of honorees in the home entertainment industry who are known for their charitable work. From those who serve on boards or participate in direct charitable giving and activities, to those who do hands-on volunteer work in philanthropic endeavors locally, nationally and abroad, this group is contributing how and where they can.
Senior Director, Global Creative Services,
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment Marketing
Phifer is a member of the Black@UPHE Internship Taskforce, where she partners with NBCU Campus Recruitment to mentor intern students throughout the calendar year. Over the past two years, she has personally mentored eight interns.
Phifer says she enjoys “helping to shape the next generation of young career professionals by providing inspiration, acceptance, a listening ear, assistance in navigating through day-to-day challenges, and, most importantly, making them feel valued.”
“In addition, by mentoring I’m able to build my leadership and management skills and provide an empowering opportunity to give back,” she adds.
Last summer, Phifer volunteered as a moderator for a panel sponsored by NBCU Launch and NBCU Campus Recruitment for the HBCU LA Internship Program. This program provides a select group of diverse student leaders the opportunity to participate in a paid eight- to 10-week immersive internship program in the entertainment industry. This fall, Phifer partnered with NBCU Global Talent Development & Inclusion by volunteering in a roundtable networking discussion designed to give access to underrepresented students seeking a pathway to leadership in the entertainment field by having exposure to diverse executives within the company.
As part of her mentorship, Phifer helps interns with specific job-seeking activities.
“I sit on an Internship Taskforce within NBCU where we partner with HR to provide additional support to our interns by helping them prepare their resumés, supplying them with additional tools and programs to help further their knowledge and skillset within the entertainment industry, and providing valuable networking opportunities with other senior leaders offering their insights developed over years of experience,” she says.
Phifer’s efforts have paid dividends.
“Several of my interns have been asked to return for an additional semester to receive further training and learning in the hopes of providing immeasurable benefits for long-term career growth,” she notes. “I’ve also assisted in getting interns hired to full-time positions within and outside of the company after graduation.”
That’s just a portion of Phifer’s volunteer activities. She partnered with NBCUnites and volunteered her time to do pro bono creative design work for Good Call, a community-centered, nonprofit organization focused on providing early legal intervention for those arrested. Also, as an HBCU graduate, she had the opportunity to partner with the Black Employee Network (one of the Employee Resource Groups within Comcast NBCU) to volunteer as a moderator for a panel honoring current HBCU presidents throughout the United States, including the president from her alma mater, Grambling State University.
Elevating and collaborating with others in her volunteer work is rewarding, Phifer says.
“Having a shared passion allows me to meet other individuals that I can impact, connect, and build meaningful relationships that last a lifetime,” she says.
Commercial Director, Australia,
Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment
It is often a personal connection — a family member — that draws someone to help others. For Mandatis, it was her son.
“My son James was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) when he was 18 months old (he’s now 14),” Mandatis recalls. “Finding a school that caters to children with autism specifically is very difficult (if not impossible) in Australia. We heard about the wonderful charity and school through a friend and were fortunate enough to have James accepted as a student at Giant Steps nine years ago. Giant Steps charges no fees to parents and receives approximately 50% funding from the government. The remainder of the funds are raised through fundraising activities organized either by the school, or the majority by the parents.”
The mission of Giant Steps Sydney (giantsteps.net.au) is to develop intensive therapeutic and educational programs to ensure that each child has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential. Giant Steps also seeks to provide support to families, to improve understanding of autism in the wider community and to develop best practices among caregivers and professionals.
Mandatis jumped in to help the school in it fundraising activities.
“Over the last nine years, I’ve held a Greek Night Gala to raise funds for Giant Steps,” she says. “Through these nine years this event has raised in excess of $190,000, which goes directly to helping children and young adults with autism. My last event was on Friday, Nov. 4, where we raised over $31,000. The funds help in a number of ways — additional support for the students, access to community activities, playground updates, etc. I’ve also had the honor of being the guest speaker at the Giant Steps Annual Ball in 2019. There were 1,200 people in attendance and the event raised over $500,000.”
It’s not just funding that Mandatis is helping to expand. She says she also relishes “growing awareness and acceptance for people on the spectrum.”
“I’m truly passionate about Giant Steps and about ASD awareness and acceptance in the community,” she says. “The more people hear and garner an understanding, the more people will be accepting of the differences. #DifferentNotLess.”
The kind of help Giant Steps provides is invaluable, Mandatis says.
“Giant Steps goes above and beyond, not just for the students, but for the families also,” she says. “In 2015 we needed to sell our house and buy a bigger home, as the current house we had was not suitable for James’ needs. I had mentioned this to one of James’ teachers. The next day they called me to say that when we are looking at a property that we like to let them know — I wasn’t sure why. We did find a house we liked, and as suggested I let them know. The next day — after school hours — James’ teacher and his occupational therapist came to see the house. They spent the next two hours reviewing every inch of the property to make sure that it was safe and would meet James’ needs. They documented changes and suggestions and then followed up with picture cards of the new house so that James could become familiar with it before we moved into it.
“This is something that I will never forget as it put my mind at ease about the move, and also prepared James so that he would not be overwhelmed.
“They are also teaching James life skills like showering, cooking and shopping. They take him to the local supermarket once a week and are teaching him how to shop using visual aids and self-checkout. He now loves to go to the supermarket with me.”
Quality Assurance Manager,
Alliance Entertainment/Distribution Solutions/BrandStudio/Mill Creek Entertainment
Most people don’t often think about how crucial eyesight is to everyday life.
Not Goff, who has lost approximately 15% to 20% of the vision in his left eye due to hemorrhaging in his retina from high blood pressure and who spends his volunteer time on charitable activities to help others see.
“I am reminded daily on how precious one’s sight is and how easily it can be taken for granted,” he says.
Goff is on the board of the Minnesota Lions Vision Foundation (mnlionsvisionfoundation.org), which has been working to help the blind and visually impaired since 1960.
“I have shared my story with others in the hopes that someone will never have to deal with the loss of their sight,” he says.
Through its support of Lions Gift of Sight (formerly the Minnesota Lions Eye Bank), its collaboration with the University of Minnesota’s Department of Ophthalmology, and its work collecting and distributing used eyeglasses, the foundation, which is affiliated with Lions Clubs International, helps countless people every day. Founded in 1917, Lions Clubs International is best known for fighting blindness since Helen Keller, while at the Lions’ convention in 1925, asked the organization to become “knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness,” Goff notes.
One of the foundation’s charitable endeavors is its pledge to build an eye institute at the University of Minnesota. The $50 million-plus project will gather the separate parts of the department of ophthalmology under one roof and will incorporate new levels of collaboration and cooperation between the various clinics and researchers. New offerings such as a low-vision clinic and expanded eye surgery facilities will help reach more patients. The first step in the development of the eye institute was the creation of the Minnesota Lions’ Eye Surgery Center in 2015 with a $4 Million contribution, Goff says. The University of Minnesota created two eye surgery bays with state-of-the-art equipment to not only help in patient treatment, but also allow for students training to be eye surgeons to learn on the best equipment available. In the 30 years prior to the creation of this eye surgery center, no eye surgeries were performed at the University of Minnesota, Goff notes, but there were more than 2,000 eye surgeries performed in 2021, with more than 2,500 projected for 2023.
“That one makes me smile every time I think about it,” he says.
The Lions of Minnesota have also collected more than 12 million pairs of glasses that have been sent off as part of mission trips to other countries, he says.
“Volunteers who have been a part of these trips have told us tales of people walking dozens of miles and standing for hours in the sun just for a chance to get a pair of glasses that will help them see,” Goff notes.
He finds it gratifying that the foundation’s charitable activities stretch across the globe.
“That pair of used eyeglasses dropped off in our local collection pail can end up providing sight to someone in another country, and who may not be able to afford to buy glasses,” he says. “The cornea donated to our local eye bank may help restore sight to someone in your own community, or |someone living in on the other side of the Earth. That research being done at our local university may be something that results in eliminating blindness that affects people on a global scale.”
When he talks to the community about eye donation and the work at the university, he says, he also hopes he has “reached someone who will now think better about protecting their eyesight and about giving the gift of sight to others when the time comes.”
At an annual symposium held by the University of Minnesota’s Department of Ophthalmology and the Minnesota Lions Vision Foundation, attendees hear from transplant recipients and eye donor family members.
“I never come away from this annual event without being instilled with a sense of hope and some pride in what has been accomplished,” he says.
Director, Midwest Ad Sales and Brand Partnerships,
Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment
For four years, Kelly has participated in a 16-mile overnight walk to bring suicide prevention “out of the darkness,” organized by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (theovernight.org).
The AFSP Overnight takes place once a year to raise awareness and money to send the message that suicide is preventable, and that no one is alone.
After she finishes each long walk, Kelly notes how meaningful it is“ seeing thousands of luminarias light up the finish line, dedicated and decorated to those lost.”
“You’re exhausted, sore and drained, yet honored that you’ve accomplished something really important to anyone suffering,” she says.
Kelly is also on the board of the Charles E. Kubly Foundation in Milwaukee, a public charity devoted to improving the lives of those affected by depression, eliminating stigma, and supporting suicide prevention programs.
It was a personal experience that prompted Kelly to get involved in the cause.
“After a family tragedy, I became very interested in aligning with organizations that raise awareness, focus on stigma reduction, and provide much-needed resources to suicide prevention programs, especially with teens and veterans,” she says. “I wanted to make a difference in the conversation about mental health and suicide prevention.”
With the SPAN Suicide Prevention Action Network (now part of AFSP) legislative conference in Washington D.C., Kelly also worked with her elected congressman and senators in support of suicide prevention bills.
Kelly says she is gratified by “putting action behind and much needed awareness on a disease that’s been in the shadows for too long.”
Indeed, the AFSP Overnight Walks bring to light painful but important experiences.
Kelly feels a sense of community and agency “during those long, late night overnight walks, hearing stories and connecting with so many people whose lives have been affected by depression.”
Head of Branded Entertainment,
Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment
Fino takes pleasure in the way her involvement with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (lls.org) has inspired her family.
Indeed, she participates in many of the charity’s events with them.
“My favorite activities with LLS are anything with my kids,” Fino says. “We’ve done two ‘Big Climbs’ together, one during the quarantine in 2020 and an in-person event at the U.S. Open in New York City this past May. My youngest son and I did ‘Light the Night’ together in 2020, and I did a virtual ‘Team in Training’ event with my siblings all over the country in January 2021 for a Resolution Challenge.”
Fino also has another family connection to the mission. Her mother has multiple myeloma.
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is dedicated to funding and investing in research to fight blood cancers.
During her work with the organization, Fino says, she has found that “meeting pediatric oncologists and blood cancer survivors is incredibly moving.”
Fino consults and advises the charitable organization on branding. In fact, it was her branding expertise that brought her to LLS.
“My work with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society started with a friend reaching out over text at the beginning of COVID because she knew how I could help LLS with their branded content,” she notes.
Fino says she enjoys evangelizing for the charity, “introducing new audiences, like the ones on the Players’ Tribune or on Twitch Crown, to the research and patient and family resources that LLS has to offer, like our scholarship for blood cancer survivors.”
But she says it is how her involvement is introducing her kids to doing good for others that is the ultimate reward.
“Watching my 13-year-old stream while wearing my LLS hat and knowing that the mission of LLS has passed on to my next generation is all a parent can hope for,” she says.
VP, Global Brand Marketing,
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Wieder enjoys bringing her job skills and experience as a woman of color to her charity work.
Volunteering with the Hollywood Food Coalition (hofoco.org) through the NBCUniversal Talent Lab Pro-Bono program, she and her team worked to create marketing and communication strategies to grow the nonprofit.
“Our team helped this rising local nonprofit to organize and outline their marketing and communications plans both internally and externally for the coming year,” Wieder says. “Being able to take my knowledge of strategic planning to help this nonprofit prioritize and continue to grow within our community was really exciting. We got a chance to learn about the past and what they hope to accomplish in the coming year — but it can’t be done without help. So we were able to help outline a way for them to get more visibility through their social media efforts with their plans for focusing their efforts that help bring food, hygiene care and dignity to our community with fundraising, volunteering and collaborative donations with other local organizations.”
Additionally, Wieder has been working with Women of Color Filmmakers (womenofcolorfilmmakers.org), a nonprofit that helps to educate and develop the skills of female filmmakers. She has been a speaker at the group’s meetings, volunteered as a mentor and worked on connecting group members with teams at Universal.
“The Women of Color Filmmakers hold an annual gala to honor the work their members have done all year,” Wieder says. “To be able to judge the shorts these women put so much work into was an honor, but honestly watching all of them come to life, to have been completed and be so personal in their storytelling, was great. Seeing the joy the winners experienced sharing with their families and other members of the group really inspired me to continue working with them and trying to spread awareness both of their organization and others that they can connect with and learn from. Seeing people’s dreams come into being is magical, and inspiring them to keep trying, to remember their audience is always bigger than they imagine and that their words and stories matter – that’s what keeps me going.”
Wieder has also been an advocate for voter registration and worked with When We All Vote, sending postcards to battleground states encouraging people to vote.
Why does she get involved in so many volunteer organizations?
“I’ve always wanted the chance to help people in a bigger way,” she says. “I’ve worked with several organizations, and the biggest thing I’ve learned is that people just need a chance and often another pair of hands or eyes to help bring an idea to life.”
She also feels empowered and driven to help by her position as a woman of color in the industry.
“As a woman of color in entertainment I often am the ‘only’ in meeting rooms, and I want to help change that, so when a friend introduced me to Laudi Maduro (President of WOCF) I immediately wanted to help her and the inspiring women who were also trying to learn and improve their skills as filmmakers,” Wieder says. “I saw some of the short films these filmmakers had created together, and they were fantastic! Women of color are rare in the filmmaker business, but it’s something I’m excited to see change. Being able to open doors and keep them open is important to me, and finding organizations that want to inspire and lift women to be more recognized is very fulfilling.”
Ultimately, it’s the people she helps that gratify her in her volunteer work.
“It’s getting to know the people who I’ve been working with, seeing the vision of what they want to create and having it come to fruition,” she says.
“The way people’s faces light up when something they are so passionate about gets to come to life is amazing and continuously inspiring. I really love that I can help organizations that truly want to make the world a more equal and open place for all.”
Senior Director, Brand, Creative Services and Content Management, Redbox, a Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment company
Gunja is involved in numerous charities, helping the battered and sick, young and old.
“My journey started with the exposure of a 40-hour domestic violence training certification I completed. The training was needed for me to volunteer at Apna Ghar, a domestic violence shelter in Chicago,” she says. “It gave me the exposure and understanding of what women go through and the everyday mistakes made in ignoring the signs of abusive behavior — most of the time due to the lack of awareness.
“I’ve since participated in volunteering my time with different organizations in varying capacities. Although all my work has some thread of personal connection, the one that is closest to home is the KDO. I am a founding board member of KDO, the Kisat Diabetes Organization (kisatdiabetes.org), which my siblings and I started after we lost our dad to the complications of diabetes. We host an annual 5K and generate funds to help spread awareness and education to support diabetes prevention.”
The KDO, where Gunja also acts as head of marketing, offers donations to the American Diabetes Association, free diabetes testing, nutritionist evaluations, community education seminars and yoga, among other assistance.
Gunja also volunteers at the AARA (American Association of Retired Asians), an organization that helps connect the elderly in various suburbs of Illinois and offers subsidized lunch outings, activities and entertainment for them (retiredasians.org); and at Aavegh (aavegh.org), an artistic and humanitarian organization with the mission of creating a dialogue on important societal issues through artistic expression. For Redbox’s Employee Resource Groups, she has volunteered at a food pantry and has acted as the lead for Women Empowered, which collected $1,000 and purses, accessories, make-up and toiletries for Love Purse (lovepurse.org) to donate to domestic violence shelters.
Her volunteer activities extend globally with the Human Development Foundation (hdf.com), where she is a board member for the Chicago Network. She recently helped coordinate and set up an annual fundraising gala that collected more than $300,000 for HDF. Through the foundation, she has contributed and raised funds for women and children in rural areas of Karachi, Pakistan.
“When I visited the HDF site in Karachi, Pakistan, in 2018, it was a learning experience to see the living conditions and how little they had to get by,” she says. “Upon asking the children what they felt was missing in their school, the majority mentioned backpack and uniform. That was so they could feel the same dignity at school as other children they saw. Many children connected having uniforms with having a sense of belonging and motivation. These kids were not dreaming of vacations, toys or video games — all they wanted was to have a backpack to hold their book like the other kids they saw. Although we couldn’t do uniforms at the time, I was glad we were able to arrange for backpacks for the HDF school of 250 children. This experience is close to my heart. I think about it often to remind myself to not take things or people for granted.”
VP, Digital Distribution,
Sony Pictures Entertainment
Talbott got involved with the National Charity League (nationalcharityleague.org/chapter/manhattanhermosa) on the advice of neighbors.
“My good friends and neighbors in Manhattan Beach, Robin Terry and Hilary Mahan, have been part of the National Charity League for a few years,” she says. “They’ve both had great experiences volunteering with various organizations and nurturing their relationships with their daughters at the same time. When asked if I wanted to join, I jumped at the opportunity.”
Thus, Talbott and her daughter got involved with the National Charity League, often volunteering at the Richstone Family Center, preparing food baskets from grocery donations for local families in need. NCL Inc., Manhattan-Hermosa Chapter, is a group of mothers and daughters who have come together in a commitment to community service, leadership development and cultural experiences. NCL aims to foster the mother-daughter relationship by serving communities together.
Established in 2009, the Manhattan-Hermosa Chapter is the area’s oldest NCL Chapter, with nearly 550 members who volunteer at philanthropic organizations throughout Southern California. From 2021 through 2022, volunteers have contributed nearly 8,000 hours across various philanthropies such as Heal the Bay, Ballona Wetlands, Love Joy and Operation Gratitude (operationgratitude.com/volunteer/anywhere/letters). Founded in 1974, The Richstone Family Center (richstonefamily.org) works to prevent child abuse and trauma by providing families therapy care, incorporating educational programming in schools and volunteering parental assistance.
“As part of NCL, we (mom and daughter) commit to dedicating our time to philanthropic activities throughout the South Bay,” Talbott says. “My most memorable time thus far has been supporting the Richstone Family Center food pantry and Operation Gratitude, Any Soldier Letter Writing. Both organizations support families and loved ones who need extra care and attention, not just during the holidays, but throughout the year. At Richstone, I help prepare grocery boxes for local residents who rely on the weekly distribution to help support their families. In addition to the food pantry for their clients, the Richstone Family Center has been dedicated to treating and preventing child abuse and trauma; strengthening and educating families; and preventing violence in families, schools and communities.”
As a busy working mom of three, Talbott likes that NCL makes giving back easily fit into her schedule.
“It’s a priority of mine, when I’m not working or taking care of my three kids, to do something positive and impactful for the community,” she says. “NCL gives me the tools and support to do that. They partner with so many diverse charities, allowing me to find windows of opportunity to give back to the community that has given me so much in the past seven years of living here.”
It has also provided her with unforgettable moments.
“While volunteering at the P.S. I Love You Foundation beach day event I met so many young girls who had never been to the beach before, let alone in the ocean,” she recalls. “They only live a few miles from the beach, but for many, this day allowed them, for the first time ever, to put their feet in the sand and just be kids for the day. There was face-painting, T-shirt cutting, dress-up booths, hat decorating, etc. — everything to make for a great day at the beach. I was happy to have been part of this day, and that I played a role in supporting the charity’s goal of instilling love for self, others and the surrounding world.”