Heroes in Home Entertainment 2023

Media Play News for the sixth 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, these heroes are contributing how and where they can.

 

Bekah Sturm

Senior Project Manager, DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group

Bekah Sturm with foster dogs.

Sturm has found that man’s best friend may need one.

She works for A Purposeful Rescue, a nonprofit dog rescue organization in the Los Angeles area that gives animals in high-kill shelters who are overlooked a new chance at life.

“Often, the animals that come through APR have medical needs or require a little extra work that can put off potential adopters,” she says. “The fosters and volunteers help these animals get their second chance.”

It was through a friend that Sturm learned about the charity.

“I have always loved dogs, and a friend of mine was heavily involved with the rescue, and I helped her with her foster dogs until I was in a place to be able to foster dogs myself,” she says.

She’s helped several dogs find what she calls their “furever home.”

“A few of my fosters needed multiple medical baths or a place to recover from surgery, and I was able to help nurse them to health until they found their perfect families,” she says. “The rescue does adoption events several times a month.”

The need is often dire.

“Most of these dogs are in rough shape and look terrible,” Sturm says. “The shelter workers do the absolute best they can, but have limited resources and are overworked.”

One dog she fostered that particularly affected her was in the shelter for a month after being seized by police, most likely because of some sort of abuse situation.

“He was completely matted to the point of painful dreadlocks,” she recalls. “When the shelter did get to shave him, they found giant hairless spots and callouses from him sitting on concrete for the majority of his life. Now, he has a full coat of fur and the callouses have disappeared. He is with a family that loves him dearly — and he will never sleep on concrete again.”

One of the most gratifying aspects of working with these canines in need is seeing their transformation.

“So many of these dogs are stressed out and scared in the shelter environment,” Sturm says. “Seeing these dogs decompress and let their fun, quirky personalities come to the surface is the best feeling. They are often so loving and sweet, but in the overcrowded shelter, they don’t act that way. Once they realize they are safe, an amazing dog appears. Sometimes, they just need time and space, and being able to offer that place for them to be their best self makes my heart happy.”

That’s why she has a new friend at home. His name is Charlie.

“When we first got Charlie, he was basically hairless,” Sturm says. “We were just supposed to foster him, but we loved him so much, he stayed.”

 

David Oyelowo

Co-Founder, Mansa

David Oyelowo (left) with students during his 2018 visit to Nigeria.

When not playing groundbreaking historical figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma and one of the first black deputy U.S. marshals west of the Mississippi River in the Paramount+ production “Lawmen: Bass Reeves” (which he executive produces with Taylor Sheridan) Oyelowo — also a co-founder of ad-supported Black content streaming service Mansa — has found time to change the future of Nigerian girls.

“In 2014 when the Chibok girls were kidnapped in northern Nigeria by Boko Haram, it sparked the Bring Back Our Girls campaign,” he recalls. “I felt very strongly that even though it was great that the world was paying attention, that attention would not last for long and these girls would probably be in more danger.”

He felt more should be done, so he teamed with the GEANCO Foundation, already doing great work in Nigeria, to establish a leadership scholarship to help educate girls.

“It was to be an answer to the fact that what was being taken away from those girls who were kidnapped is their ability to be educated,” he says. “The notion that girls should be educated is what was being attacked.”

The David Oyelowo Leadership Scholarship for Girls, first awarded in 2016, is a program to help girls in Nigeria get everything from critical health care to education. Every year, a new class of young women receives full tuition, housing, health care and social support with five partner schools. This year, the cohort numbers 45 girls receiving support thanks to partner GEANCO and Oyelowo.

Oyelowo traveled to Nigeria in 2018 to meet some of the beneficiaries of his scholarship, including some of the first recipients.

“To meet with those initial seven girls and just to see how impactful the scholarship was on their lives was huge,” he says. “Some of them were coming out of truly difficult situations. They had suffered any kind of abuse you could think of, compiled with economic deprivation, and not being educated at the level of their intelligence and ability in relation to what was possible for them in terms of prospects. That trip was incredibly impactful.”

He continues to be gratified by “the joy that it brings these girls to feel seen, to feel supported, and to be given a future that is indisputably more full of potential than what they were staring down the barrel of without the scholarship.”

The scholarships are a vital component in “encouraging them into the best version of themselves in terms of possibility and prospect,” he says.

One of the most gratifying things for Oyelowo is that previous beneficiaries are giving back. “Girls who are now cycling out of the scholarship are now going back to help educate and support the new girls being accepted into the program,” he says. “That’s how you know it’s working.”

 

Erica Marie Dionne

SVP, Release Planning and Business Operations, NBCUniversal

Erica Marie Dionne with one of her Girl Scouts.

Dionne says that “as a media and technology Latinx female executive, I often find myself in rooms where I am the ‘only’ or ‘one of a few.’”

That’s what has prompted her to help others populate those rooms through her work with the Girl Scouts and with America On Tech, which has a mission “to prepare the next generation of technology leaders from underestimated communities” by creating career pathways into degrees and/or careers in technology.

“Having grown up in the inner city and being a first-generation college student, my passion to support America On Tech’s mission stems from my belief that we can collectively break down barriers and make universal opportunity a reality for future generations, envisioning a world where everyone, regardless of background, can reach for and attain their aspirations in the tech industry,” she says.

Dionne on the weekends spends time with her Girl Scout troop.

“I became involved with the Girl Scouts with the aim of fostering a sense of community among students at my local school and providing girls with opportunities to develop confidence in various areas they might not otherwise encounter,” she says.

With America On Tech, Dionne is both an executive who spearheads fundraising and a hands-on volunteer. Over the past two years, she’s served as the chair of the local regional advisory board, and this year she took on the role of co-chair for the Innovators & Disruptors Awards in Los Angeles, which raised more than $138,000. She also directly engages with students in such signature programs as the Tech360 Summer Bootcamp, a three-week program where students learn how to code through web design and web development.

“Hosting 330 students and parents on the NBCUniversal DreamWorks Campus for the Tech360 program’s graduation was a personal highlight this summer,” she says. “Witnessing the pride of parents, the hugs, and the hope in the room underscored the transformative impact of early exposure to technology — an impact that is truly rewarding to witness as each graduate becomes a potential game-changer in the tech landscape.”

With Girl Scouts, she sees a similar impact, albeit, because they are 7 and 8 year olds, on a “smaller” scale.

“During one of our initial meetings this year, as the girls embarked on their Brownie Journey, we delved into their unique qualities and talents,” she says. “Each girl crafted a personal collage reflecting aspects of themselves, and it was truly heartening to witness them describe themselves as kind, happy, bold, courageous, and more. In that same troop meeting, the troop members had the opportunity to uncover potential new talents with music. They experimented with singing, guitars, drums, piano, banjos, and other string instruments. The sheer expression of joy was remarkable. Witnessing the girls radiate pride and confidently engage with their parents about their newfound musical talent was gratifying. It’s in these seemingly modest moments that courage and confidence take root and flourish. It’s in the exploration of ‘yes, you can’ that we begin to raise the leaders of tomorrow.” 

Her volunteer work is about unveiling possibilities, she says.

“I often think about how I grew-up, how we were exposed to few or no options,” she says. “I question what different choices my peers would have made in an alternative universe where they could have been introduced to a world of possibilities earlier in life. Perhaps more would have graduated high school, gone on to college, or pursued a career in a field that could have led to significant generational economic change.”

She says America On Tech students have expressed that they never thought about pursuing a career in cybersecurity or were unaware of digital marketing analytics before attending a company-sponsored fellowship session.

“The Girl Scouts troop members’ exclamations of ‘wow’ when they hear from individuals who care for farms, or from professionals in our field, is the verbal expression of a mind growing and a world widening,” Dionne says. 

 

Tracy Kim

VP, Digital Platforms, NBCUniversal

Tracy Kim (right) with her mentee Yoselin at the Minds Matter SoCal Picnic.

Applying to college is daunting for most teenagers, but it can be particularly intimidating when that teenager is the first in their family to do so.

Kim has found a way to help one of those teenagers through Minds Matter Southern California.

“I discovered Minds Matter as a nonprofit partner through NBCUnites, a division of Comcast NBCUniversal that provides employees with local volunteer opportunities,” she says. “After participating in several one-off programs, I sought a long-term opportunity to serve and establish a mentorship relationship over time. With a focus on educational equity, the mission of Minds Matter, as a college access program for high-achieving high school students from underserved communities, resonated with me.”

Through Minds Matter, Kim — along with a co-mentor — has helped a teenager realize her dream of getting into college.

“Assisting with the application process for several college summer programs and witnessing my mentee’s admission to her first choice was a rewarding milestone,” Kim says. “I love that Minds Matter encourages students to think of what’s possible and to dream big. Watching my mentee set ambitious goals and successfully achieve them, only to set her sights even higher each time, has been truly gratifying.”

Kim says she saw an extraordinary transformation in her mentee.

“In just two short years of the program, I’ve observed my mentee’s remarkable personal growth and transformation — from a shy 15-year-old to a quietly ambitious and confident college-bound senior,” she says. “As the first in her family to attend college, she is not only paving the way for herself but also setting an inspiring example as a role model for her siblings, family and community. I am excited to see what more she accomplishes for herself and how she pays it forward.”

The relationship that developed over time among the “triad” (two mentors paired with one student) “has been unexpectedly enriching,” she says.

“I’ve found that I’ve learned as much, if not more, from my mentee and co-mentor through this experience,” Kim says. “The program has also allowed me to establish connections with fellow volunteers and students from various backgrounds whom I may not have otherwise had the chance to meet in my day-to-day life. It serves as a reminder of how fortunate we are to live in a diverse city like Los Angeles.”

 

Pamela Sivula

VP, Finance, Paramount Home Entertainment International

Pamela Sivula rock climbing in Joshua Tree National Park in California.

We learn to protect nature best through hands- (and feet)-on experiences, Sivula has found.

“If people love the wilderness, they will also help protect and conserve those wild spaces for future generations,” she says.

Indeed, it was a Sierra Club course in backpacking and camping that spawned her interest in wilderness preservation and in helping others to appreciate the great outdoors.

“I took the 10-week Wilderness Travel Course in 2010 and loved it,” she says. “The course teaches participants how to go off trail to backpack to and camp in stunning locations while being prepared, remaining safe, and respectful of the land, the resources, and the wildlife. Through the course, I discovered that I love rock scrambling and snow camping, two activities I would never even have tried if the course hadn’t included them. That summer, as encouraged by the course, I went on an off-trail backpacking trip with other classmates. The trip was led by outings leaders of the Sierra Club and was to the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness in the Sierra National Forest. The views and crystal-clear lakes were so stunning — and we had the place all to ourselves. The experience was so different than lakeside camping in drive-up camps that I’d experienced before. The deep connection I felt with the serenity and stunning beauty of the wilderness inspired me to get involved with the course, so that I could help others discover this.”

Sivula volunteers with the Wilderness Travel Course of the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club. The course is designed to teach avid day hikers the skills necessary to go safety and responsibly on back-country backpacking trips, skills such as compass-and-map navigation, leave no trace, and gear selection.

“We introduce so many participants each year to the outdoors and ways to enjoy it and protect it,” she says. “Many of our participants go on to lead outings for the Sierra Club or get involved in local or national conservation efforts. It’s rewarding to see that sharing my love of the outdoors can have follow-on effects.”

The course, which because of the volunteers is significantly less costly than commercially operated programs, has 10 classroom sessions and four outings, including a snow backpacking trip in the eastern Sierra Nevada. As the program chairperson, Sivula leads the planning for the course and spearheads the management and direction of the more than 150 volunteer instructors and support personnel, as they offer the course each year to more than 250 participants in Los Angeles and Orange County. Sivula has also obtained certification as a Wilderness EMT to enhance her ability to handle an emergency.

“My favorite thing about the course itself is getting to see participants discover a passion for the outdoors and activities they may not have considered before — when the navigation and terrain recognition clicks, usually on our navigation day in Joshua Tree National Park, and they realize they can visualize the terrain from the squiggly lines on the map and find their way with the compass, or when they have childlike wonder at snow camp and the surrounding beauty of frosted trees and sparkling white landscapes,” she says.

The outings can truly spark a change in hikers, she says.

“One participant started off somewhat quiet and shy, and she carried herself like she didn’t have much self-confidence,” Sivula recalls. “During our Joshua Tree outing, when we began to introduce and practice rock scrambling skills, she really came alive. The concentration and confidence she showed on rock was really cool to see. She turned out to have a knack for it and did extremely well on rock for a first time. After that day, she walked with much more general self-confidence with the course and appeared to have that connection and care for the Mars-like landscape of Joshua Tree’s rocks. I knew that from then on, she would always be a great supporter of wilderness conservation efforts because of the impact the outdoors had had on her personally.”

 

Kirsten Anderson

Publicist, Paramount Home Entertainment

Kirsten Anderson (left) and Ginger Chan, another Cabin Big Buddy at Camp Erin.

Anderson has found ways to volunteer all around her.

She got involved with Camp Erin after listening to a segment of “This American Life.” Every year, Our House Grief Support Center hosts the weekend-long camp for children ages 6 to 17 who’ve lost loved ones. The camp combines traditional camp activities such as swimming and tie-dyeing shirts with grief support, remembrance projects and ceremonies to encourage and promote healing. Anderson’s role at Camp Erin is to co-lead a group of campers for the weekend as a Cabin Big Buddy, encouraging and supporting campers as they engage in activities to ensure a fun, supportive and nurturing experience.

“It’s amazing how much these kids grow within just 48 hours,” she says. “When kids make friends because they’ve both experienced the death of someone close, they don’t feel so alone — and that makes all the difference.”

She says her thoughts, worries and concerns melt away that weekend as she is moved by the strength and resilience of these campers.

She was introduced to the Motion Picture & Television Fund — which supports working and retired members of the entertainment community with a safety net of health and social services, including temporary financial assistance, case management, and residential living — as an assistant at DreamWorks, where employees were encouraged to help serve at holiday banquets. She was hooked at a Valentine’s Day banquet, serving punch and cookies and hearing residents’ Hollywood stories. Now, Anderson’s time with the MPTF is spent making weekly calls for the Daily Call Sheet, providing a friendly social call to people who might otherwise be lonely and isolated.

“It just takes a few minutes a day or two a week to make a positive impact,” she says.

She has made calls to five Daily Call Sheet buddies over the years. From discovering new places to visit, such as Bloom Ranch or the Kilcoyne Lilac Farm, to getting the behind-the-scenes scoop from those who have spent their whole career in the industry, she says she “also reaps the benefits from making these calls.”

Inspired by one of her mother’s music student’s mission trip to Kenya, Anderson got involved with the Grain of Rice Project (GORP), a nonprofit organization that empowers Kenyans through education and training initiatives. Based in a village outside of Nanyuki, there’s an artisan program, volunteer housing, vegetable gardens and the Grain of Rice Academy for the Child Advocate Program. The program provides uniforms, books, materials, education and meals for a child who would normally struggle to attend school. In addition to making beautiful, handcrafted products, the artisans learn essential skills to improve their standard of living, including budgeting, savings, goal setting, resumé writing, leadership, parenting and healthy living.

“I have supported the same student for seven years in their Child Advocate Program,” Anderson says. “It’s amazing how much a small consistent donation can really make a strong impact. We’ve been exchanging pictures and letters over the years and it’s always exciting to see the progress they’ve made. Also, I usually receive compliments whenever wearing jewelry made by the GORP artisans.”

Anderson also participates in several activities she’s found through Paramount, including Paramount Community Day, a day that deploys thousands of volunteers each year to serve in communities where Paramount Global has operations. She has planted flowers and pulled weeds, created cards for soldiers, prepared food at Project Angel Food and recently participated in virtual mock interviews with high school students. She also spent time at the Assistance League of Los Angeles helping young women get ready for Prom Day 2023 and joined thousands at Big Sunday for their 11th annual MLK Day clothing drive and community breakfast.

“It’s a great way to reach out to the community and meet some colleagues with whom you might not otherwise have crossed paths,” she says. 

Heroes in Home Entertainment 2022: Helping Hands and Caring Hearts

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.

Reshelet Phifer

Senior Director, Global Creative Services,
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment Marketing

Reshelet Phifer

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.

Reshelet Phifer (bottom row, left) with interns at the NBCU/HBCU Alum Roundtable Global Talent Development & Inclusion event.

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.

Joanne Mandatis

Commercial Director, Australia,
Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment

Joanne Mandatis

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.”

James Mandatis learning cooking skills at Giant Steps.

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.”

Joanne Mandatis (right) with her husband Angelo and eldest son Peter at the Giant Steps Greek Night.

“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.”

Lyle Goff

Quality Assurance Manager,
Alliance Entertainment/Distribution Solutions/BrandStudio/Mill Creek Entertainment

Lyle Goff

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.

Lyle Goff (right) with son Brandon and wife Theresa working at the Lions Foundation’s information booth at the Minnesota State Fair.

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.

Evie Kelly

Director, Midwest Ad Sales and Brand Partnerships,
Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment

Evie Kelly

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.

Evie Kelly celebrating a mile marker during the Out of the Darkness Overnight walk for AFSP.

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.”

Michele Fino

Head of Branded Entertainment,
Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment

Michele Fino

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.

Michele Fino and her kids during the Big Climb in 2020.

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.

Shavonne Wieder

VP, Global Brand Marketing,
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Shavonne Wieder

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.”

Durriya Gunja

Senior Director, Brand, Creative Services and Content Management, Redbox, a Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment company

Durriya Gunja

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.”

KDO Board Members (from left) Durriya Kisat Gunja, Jamila Gunja, Amaan Chalisa, Dr. Nuzhat Kisat Chalisa, Farah Chalisa and Shabbir Kisat.

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.”

Allie Talbott

VP, Digital Distribution,
Sony Pictures Entertainment

Talbott got involved with the National Charity League (nationalcharityleague.org/chapter/manhattanhermosa) on the advice of neighbors.

Allie Talbot at a National Charity League event.

“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.”

Heroes in Home Entertainment 2021

For a fourth consecutive year, Media Play News has selected a panel of honorees in the home entertainment industry who are known for their charitable work. From the executives who serve on boards or participate in direct charitable giving and activities, to those focusing their talents as foot soldiers in philanthropic endeavors locally, nationally and abroad, this group is contributing how and where they can.

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Mike Aaronson

EVP, digital distribution and global strategy,
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

The Westside Infant-Family Network (WIN) addresses a key issue at the root of many problems facing underprivileged communities in Los Angeles, says Mike Aaronson, who has been on its board for four years, including two years as board chairman.

“A lot of what we do as a society is focus on the problems we see, like how to feed meals to the homeless, how to get them into a safe place to live — which is all super important,” he says. “But equally important is how do we prevent more people from landing in that situation, and I think most people may not appreciate that it starts really, really early on in life. Something like homelessness is probably not something that just happened to a 30-year-old. It’s something that results from experiences that happened long before.”

Mike Aaronson (left) with Henry Winkler, who was honored by WIN in 2020.

WIN offers in-home mental health services for families with young kids, mostly 5 and under, to ameliorate adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs. ACEs can range from divorce or parental incarceration to physical or mental neglect, physical or mental abuse and racial discrimination.

“The impact ACEs have on kids is very well known in the pediatric community, but not well known among the public, and ultimately is responsible for massive economic and social costs that we bear as a society,” says Aaronson. He says he learned more about the issue from his wife, a pediatrician whose employer, Kaiser Permanente, in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, produced some of the underpinning research on ACEs in the late 1990s.

Studies have shown a direct link between the number of ACEs a child experiences and the incidence of negative outcomes, such as poor school performance, depression, anxiety and risk behaviors as youths and, ultimately, illnesses such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes as adults.

“Imagine if you’re a 4-year-old kid and your parents are struggling to put food on the table or a parent has been incarcerated or taken by ICE, detained and maybe deported — your brain is in fight or flight mode most of the time,” he says. “What that means is these kids have cortisol flowing through their brains all the time. That can drastically alter the chemical makeup of a child’s brain, especially between the critical ages of 0 and 5 when most neural connections are created.”

Through referrals from local clinics and other sources, WIN intervenes, providing between 50 and 100 families annually with free in-home mental health therapy designed to build a stronger bond between parent and child. They also facilitate meeting the family’s basic needs by supplying things such as food, diapers and metro passes, all designed to stabilize the homes and foster healthy environments in which each child can thrive.

“They focus on the years where there’s the most plasticity in the brain, when there’s the most opportunity to change the trajectory of how the brain develops and the trajectory of a child’s life,” he says.

Aaronson has helped the organization win contracts from the Los Angeles Department of Mental Health and grow fourfold. During his term, WIN has also mounted fundraisers honoring those who do similar work in the space. In fall 2018, the nonprofit awarded Robert Redford’s son Jamie Redford (since passed) for his documentaries related to the topic, including Paper Tigers about teenagers in a high school for troubled kids. In February 2020, WIN honored Henry Winkler for his years of advocacy for children with learning disabilities as well as his daughter Zoe for her work creating better conditions for children and families at the border.

 

Sherry Brennan

GM and EVP,
Whip Media

Sherry Brennan

The cause is personal for Sherry Brennan, who is on the board of directors of the Food Research & Action Center.

As a child, she and her family depended on food assistance, and Brennan grew up knowing what it was like to come home to a bare kitchen.

Her own story is the reason she got involved with FRAC, a nonprofit on a mission to improve the nutrition, health and well-being of people struggling against poverty-related hunger in the United States. For about a decade, Brennan has worked with FRAC on lobbying efforts in support of nutrition assistance programs. She has spoken at their annual Conference on Hunger and received FRAC’s 2017 Distinguished Service Award.

Brennan first got involved when a lobbyist friend asked her to write about the food assistance she had received as a child for a booklet put together for incoming senators and members of Congress. “These programs were very important to me as a kid, and as I grew into adulthood and obviously became a successful executive, it was very important to me to give back and to work in whatever way I could to help those who are still struggling on their own paths up the ladder,” Brennan says.

There are two types of food insecurity, she notes. One is persistent lack of access to food, and the other is lack of access to quality food.

“About 15% of American families face some form of food insecurity, and that is a shocking number to many people, including me,” she says. “The other thing that’s shocking to me is that so many American families rely on cheap processed food as opposed to fresh, whole, nutritious food, and that is something that the SNAP (the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) tries to address by giving people access to coupons that they can use to buy food. There’s been a lot of progress made about places like farmers markets taking SNAP payment for fresh produce, which is really important to me.”

FRAC also supports free breakfast and lunch programs in schools, another program that Brennan depended upon as a child.

“All I had to do was find a way to quietly slink into the cafeteria manager’s office to get my lunch card every week, and after that I was able to get lunch just like all the other kids,” she recalled in her published story. “I was grateful for the mercy of a lunch system that made it possible for me to feel ‘normal.’”

Brennan is passionate about continued support for that program.

“Children cannot focus on school if they are hungry,” she says. “And we know that education is pretty much the only way out of poverty, unless you happen to be a star athlete, in which case you also need to eat.”

In addition to lobbying congress for continued financial support of these programs, FRAC also lobbies state legislatures. (The federal programs are administered by the states.) The mostly privately funded organization also supports numerous food banks.

The help makes all the difference in the trajectory of many Americans’ lives, she says, recalling one single mom’s story about putting herself through college. “She talked about the fact that SNAP benefits were the difference between her being able to have a 20-hour-a-week job and a 40-hour-a-week job,” Brennan recalls. “If she hadn’t had access to SNAP, she would have either had to quit school or she would have had to work more hours while being in school. You can imagine the dilemma there because if you quit school you’re stuck forever in a grinding cycle of low-income jobs. If you stay in school, you are faced with how to feed my kid.”

 

Richard Foos

Executive Chairman and Co-Founder,
Shout! Factory

Richard Foos’ journey with nonprofits is rooted in his love of music.

Richard Foos

He has been in the entertainment business for more than 35 years, starting with a small record store called Rhino Records, which grew into an audio label with more than $100 million in annual revenue. He and his partner, Harold Bronson, sold Rhino to Time Warner in 1998, and in 2003 Foos and his partners started Shout! Factory, a leading independent video and music distributor.

“For most of my career in the music industry, I was just kind of horrified that especially in the two biggest cities, L.A. and New York, they had stopped music education in the schools, so I really wanted to really get involved in an organization that was restoring music education,” he says.

He now serves as chairman emeritus for the nonprofit Little Kids Rock, with which he’s been involved for the past dozen years.

“They are the largest provider of music programs into inner city schools throughout the country,” he says.

Founded by David Wish, an elementary school teacher, Little Kids Rock offers a curriculum and musical instruments to about 2,500 schools across 48 states.

“When we adopt a school, we send them rock music instruments, guitars, drums and keyboards, 40 or 50 instruments maybe, depending on how many kids are in the class, and then the school provides a teacher,” Foos says. “Many times, it’s not a music teacher. It could be a math teacher who plays guitar and had a band in college 20 years before, and we teach them how to be Little Kids Rock teachers.”

Foos has been able to leverage his music connections to boost the program.

“I have a relationship with Joe Walsh of the Eagles, and I brought him to a class once and he was just amazing to watch,” he recalls. “You know these kids had probably never heard of Joe Walsh or the Eagles, but he had the class in the palm of his hand. You saw what a charismatic performer can do. They were mesmerized by him.”

One particularly inspirational teacher at Pio Pico Middle School in Los Angeles instructs about 300 kids.

“He has adolescent kids, and they all have instruments, and it could be a total cacophony, and instead he has them all playing together and helping each other,” Foos says. “He introduced us to a seventh grader who’d had some traumatic experiences and had written about them, and she sang us two or three songs she had written, and they were just unbelievable.”

Music led Foos to yet another nonprofit. He’s on the board of the Pico Union Project, started in Los Angeles by a friend, Craig Taubman, who previously had a musical show on the Disney Channel called “Craig and Company.” (Rhino had published his songs.) The Pico Union Project is an interfaith spiritual organization that does work for the community.

Foos is also involved in several other charities. He’s on the boards of the Volunteer Collective, a community service group he founded locally with friends, and College Match, which helps bright students in inner city Los Angeles schools get into top colleges. He also supports The Narrative Method, a nonprofit teaching empathy, cooperation and teamwork to at risk populations. It was founded by his wife, who started out as a punk rock singer.

“She used to sell her records to my record store,” Foos notes.

 

Judy Guevara

VP, Global Brand Marketing,
Sony Pictures Entertainment

Judy Guevara believes in volunteering wherever she is needed, whether it’s in her own backyard in Los Angeles, in another state or abroad in countries such as Haiti.

She is a hands-on volunteer with Habitat for Humanity and The Fuller Center for Housing. She has traveled to Uganda, Guatemala and Mexico, as well as Haiti, working with children and building homes and rebuilding homes after natural disasters. In recent years, she’s worked in Puerto Rico to help rebuild post Hurricane Maria and in Nicaragua, building a home for a young family. In September, she traveled to Louisiana to work with Saint Bernard Project’s disaster relief team to help families impacted by Hurricane Ida.

Locally, Guevara also volunteers with the L.A. Foodbank once a month and supports Good City Mentors as a mentor, meeting weekly with high school students.

“Working in entertainment, sometimes you kind of need a reality check,” Guevara says. “Life is difficult for a lot of people, and it kind of gives me a reality check trying to help others and just make the world a better place, being able to contribute and make a change in people’s lives.”

Her international volunteer work started when she read an article on “voluntourism.” Since then, she’s traveled to many countries, including five trips to Haiti.

“Haiti will always have a piece of my heart,” she says, recalling a special moment in the town of Pignon, where she had volunteered the previous year. Walking down the street, she heard kids yelling her name.

“It was these kids that I’d met the year before — and it’s not like we’d talked to each other,” she says. “They didn’t know I was coming, but they recognized me.”

Judy Guevara (center) with Saint Bernard Project’s disaster relief team in New Orleans after Hurricane Ida.

She also recalls building a home for a family in Nicaragua. “We were basically able to build their home where they could move in within that week, which was just a great feeling, to see the looks on their faces, the pure joy,” she says.

She knows such travel isn’t for everyone. “If you have fears about traveling internationally, there’s plenty to do here, in your own backyard,” she says.

The food bank Guevara helps out is just 10 minutes from her house. “People always say they don’t have the time, but if you make it part of your schedule or part of your life, it’s not that difficult,” she says.

Her mentoring duties with Good City Mentors (since the pandemic hit) involve a weekly, one-hour Zoom call. “I’m now mentoring a STEM school in Hollywood where we basically just get on a Zoom call with all the kids — they’re high school age, young adults,” she says. “We just kind of talk about values and ourselves and them, as well as what they’re going through.”

Further afield in New Orleans this year she helped clean up houses damaged by the hurricane. “We had to wear hazmat suits in 96-degree heat!” she recalls.

But she likes to get out of the country at least once a year and encourages people to do their research and volunteer abroad.

“They’re not going to allow you to go into a dangerous situation, these organizations,” she says. “You’re safe and secure, and the people are all lovely people, full of love, and they want your help. It’s just a great way to kind of see the world and to help others.”

During her travels, Guevara has developed a tight circle of voluntour friends.

“Once you get your first trip, I think you’re kind of hooked,” she says.

 

Hilary Hoffman

EVP, Global Marketing,
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Big Sunday connects people who want to help with those who need it most, says Hilary Hoffman.

“The organization has always believed that we’re all in it together, a particularly important message in these unprecedented times,” notes Hoffman, who became engaged with the nonprofit through NBC Universal’s corporate initiative.

Their mission is expansive. “They offer an enormous variety of opportunities to get involved,” she says. “They produce, promote, sponsor or are involved with more than 2,000 helping and giving activities every year that engage, empower, bring together and connect more than 50,000 people annually.”

Hilary Hoffman

Hoffman was drawn to the organization’s belief that “absolutely everyone has some way that they can help someone else.”

Big Sunday provides NBC Universal employees volunteer opportunities throughout the year.

“Our home entertainment division has supported several of these events over the years, enabling us to demonstrate to our employees that we are committed to fostering a positive culture. It is not just about the work we do, but about understanding that by giving back to our community we create a better, more engaged work environment,” Hoffman says.

The nonprofit excels at matching volunteers’ talents with the many needs in the community, she says.

“There are so many people in our communities who need your help and there are so many ways to get involved,” Hoffman says. “On a weekly basis,

Big Sunday provides opportunities to participate in person, virtually, or by donating. They have projects supporting every passion, from homelessness, literacy and the environment, to seniors, veterans and hunger. The organization welcomes, embraces and maximizes every talent offered, from cooking, cleaning, painting, gardening, electric, plumbing, legal aid and medical assistance, to singing, dancing and art.”

One of her favorite events during the year is the annual MLK Day Clothing Drive and Community Breakfast.

“Over the past few years we’ve given away 100,000 items of new and gently-used clothing,” Hoffman says. “The donations are distributed to grateful people of all ages at scores of nonprofits and schools throughout the greater L.A. area.”

The event serves the community by providing breakfast, live music and experiences such as the Civil Rights History Exhibit and the Something in Common project, where people are asked to find a complete stranger, find something that they have in common and have their picture taken together. The upcoming MLK event takes place Jan. 17 at Big Sunday headquarters on 6111 Melrose Ave. in Los Angeles.
Big Sunday also has an “Emergency Fund,” which they use to make quick grants of up to $100 each to hardworking people who are having trouble paying their bills. They pay all or part of any kind of bill — electric, cable, phone, car, medical, rent or mortgage. The fund is completely supported by donations.

 

Savannah Kattan

Employee Experience Specialist,
NBCU Direct-to-Consumer/Fandango and Vudu

Mentoring is key to both Savannah Kattan’s professional and volunteer career. She’s a human resources executive and for the past six years also has been a “Big Sister” for Big Brothers, Big Sisters — Los Angeles.

Helping youngsters is about giving back for Kattan.

“I was mentored when I was in high school when I really needed it,” she says. “I had a stressful time in high school. My family was going through a lot and the extra support I received was the boost I needed to keep my confidence up and get into college. In college I mentored incoming college freshmen during their junior and senior years of high school, and it was really rewarding watching them apply and be accepted into school. Through another collegiate program, I had the opportunity to tutor kids 7 to 14. You don’t just help them with homework, but really get to know them on an emotional level. After I graduated college and started working, I wanted to get back to that — support the youth in my community. A few friends had successfully participated with BBBS-LA, so I applied.”

Savannah Kattan and her ‘Little Sister’ Desiree at the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank.

As a Big Sister, Kattan formed a strong bond her Little Sister.

“It was immediate,” she says. “When you’re paired, you do this short chemistry meeting first to see if it will be a fit. Within the first two minutes we had each other laughing. Desiree was 14, and I was twice her age, and it was, like, this instant sibling magic. We loved the same junk food, the same types of music, and our family structure mirrored each other. She was driven, interested in everything around her, and wanted someone to take her seriously. She told me, at 14, she wanted to be a doctor, and I said, ‘Great! I’ve always wanted to know a doctor!’ And I’ve just always believed she could do it. Now, she is pre-med at Humboldt. She has stayed focused and determined, and I’m extremely proud of her.”

Kattan also sees herself as a guide for fellow employees. At the start of 2020, she oversaw Fandango’s inaugural launch of five Employee Resource Groups and assisted in their immediate pivot into digital spaces as necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would actually say that the more community work I do, the better I am at HR,” she says. “Working in the community offers a pretty broad perspective on the desires, wants, and needs of people. How does that translate to the office? How can I meet people where they are? There is a lot of mindfulness and patience I practice in my regular day to day that I bring with me to work. I lean in to our company values and root myself as an ambassador of our internal culture — this determines how I am best able to show up for folks.”

Her desire to help also extends to her community.

“Community isn’t just the neighborhood you live in, but the people who live in it,” she says. “I volunteer when I can and I try to inspire all my friends and family to come along, too. And I’m not just talking your typical food drives, but sustainably supporting community fridges — and pitching in by signing up for a cleaning session. Sweep in front of your apartment building and keep things tidy where you can. Have extra? Get a couple loaves of bread, some PB&J and water. Hand out a quick bite and drink to houseless folks on your block. Volunteer for reading programs at the library. I just try to stay active and productive for the people I share the world with. We are all just trying our best — and I just want people to know they are seen, and that they matter.”

 

Dina Wiggins

SVP, Legal Affairs,
Sony Pictures Entertainment

When Dina Wiggins found out that $250 could change a child’s life, she joined the cause of Mending Faces. Founded by a group of medical professionals, the charity’s mission is to restore hope and provide a brighter future to those whose lives are burdened by a cleft lip, cleft palate and other deformities. All medical, dental and outreach personnel donate their time and expertise and fully fund their own travel and lodging expenses, allowing Mending Faces to perform procedures for roughly $250 each, provided at no cost to the patient or their family. These same procedures in the United States cost approximately $10,000 to $15,000 each.

Inspired by her brother, who is an anesthesiologist and founding board member of the charity founded in 2010, Wiggins has donated and participated in fundraisers for the cause for more than a decade.

Dina Wiggins (right) with her brother Dr. Sami Lababidi at a hospital in Kalibo, Philippines.

Children born with facial defects face many disadvantages, such as difficulty in feeding and getting proper nutrition, which can lead to numerous other health problems. When the roof of the mouth is not closed properly, it can lead to constant upper respiratory tract and sinus infections. Children can also have difficulties speaking properly.

“Sadly, many of these children are kept out of school because of the stigma and illnesses associated with their deformity, preventing them from receiving a proper education, limiting their opportunities and causing self-esteem issues,” she notes.

In February 2020, shortly before the pandemic hit, Wiggins joined the annual medical mission to the Philippines as a volunteer.

“I assisted in the pre-screening, surgical prep, transfers from pre-op to operating room to recovery, and obtaining and organizing supplies for a very busy mission consisting of 63 patients and 77 cleft lip and palate procedures in one week,” she says.

As part of outreach in the community, she visited an elementary school where the charity provided each of the children with dental education, a toothbrush, toothpaste and an oral hygiene pamphlet.

Changing one young life particularly affected Wiggins.

“There was a young patient (approximately 7 years old) that I was able to be with throughout each stage of the process,” she says. “I assisted her as she went through screening to determine that she was a good candidate for surgery and pre-op preparation. When it was time for her operation, she literally skipped into the operating room full of masked strange adults and medical equipment. When asked if she was ready for her operation, she said, ‘Yes!,’ hopped up on the operating table and laid down. After her surgical recovery time in the hospital, I also accompanied her home with a backpack of supplies for her post-op care and bags of rice, fruit and bottled water for her and her family. Their home was very modest — made of cinder block, plywood and corrugated metal sheeting for the roof — and they were so gracious and grateful. It was obvious that there was no way they could have paid for the surgery without Mending Faces.

“As we were leaving, I asked her if she would like a sticker from a Barbie sticker sheet I brought from home because she had been such a wonderful, brave patient. As she eyed the sheet trying so hard to decide which one she wanted, I told her she could keep the whole sheet. The utter joy on her beautiful, newly repaired face as she clutched that sticker sheet to her little chest is something I will never forget.”

Netflix Establishes Chadwick Boseman Scholarship at Howard

Howard University and Netflix have announced a $5.4 million endowed scholarship to honor the late actor, director, writer, producer and Howard alumnus Chadwick A. Boseman.

The Chadwick A. Boseman Memorial Scholarship will provide incoming students in the College of Fine Arts with a four-year scholarship to cover the full cost of university tuition.

“It is with immense pleasure and deep gratitude that we announce the creation of an endowed scholarship in honor of alumnus, Chadwick Boseman, whose life and contributions to the arts continues to inspire,” said Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick, M.D. “This scholarship embodies Chadwick’s love for Howard, his passion for storytelling, and his willingness to support future generations of Howard students. I am thankful for the continuous support and partnership of Chadwick’s wife, Mrs. Simone Ledward Boseman, and to Netflix for this important gift.”

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The Chadwick A. Boseman Memorial Scholarship was established with the support of Boseman’s wife, Simone Ledward-Boseman, and sponsorship from Netflix, the inaugural donor. It will focus on students who exemplify exceptional skills in the arts reminiscent of Boseman, and who demonstrate financial need. Four students representing one member of each class are being awarded the scholarship in the first year. The inaugural class of awardees are Sarah Long, a freshman in musical theater; Shawn Smith, a sophomore studying acting; Janee’ Ferguson, a junior in theater arts administration; and senior Deirdre Dunkin who studies dance. The award will in subsequent years be distributed to an incoming freshman each year on an annual basis.

“Many exemplary artists are not afforded the opportunity to pursue higher learning, we hope to support as many students as possible by removing the financial barrier to education. This endowment represents Chad’s devotion to the craft, his compassion for others, and his desire to support future storytellers,” said Ledward-Boseman. “My deepest thanks to Ted Sarandos, Scott Stuber and our family at Netflix for their generous investment into the education of all present and future Boseman Scholars, and to President Wayne Frederick, Dean Phylicia Rashad and Mr. David Bennett for their partnership and continued commitment to Chad’s legacy at Howard. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude and amazed at the love and dedication shown by so many continuing to honor my husband’s work. I know he’d be proud.”

“It is with enormous pride that we announce our endowment of the Chadwick A. Boseman Memorial Scholarship,” said Ted Sarandos, Netflix co-CEO and chief content officer. “While he was taken from us too soon, his spirit is with us always in his work and the good that he has inspired. He always spoke of his time at Howard and the positive way it shaped his life and career. Now, we will have the opportunity to give many future superheroes a chance to experience the same. We are grateful to Simone and Chadwick’s whole family and our partners at Howard University for making this possible.”

In continuing the actor’s legacy, preference for the scholarship will be given to students in the dramatic arts who exemplify Boseman’s values.

For more information about the scholarship, contact finearts@howard.edu.

Heroes in Home Entertainment 2020

It’s been a year of tragedy and controversy, topped by the coronavirus pandemic — an unprecedented event — and also including protests over police brutality, widespread denunciations of racism and a contentious election.

Key players in the entertainment sector stepped in to help.

To support the mission of When We All Vote, a nonprofit co-chaired by Michelle Obama and founded to increase voter participation, HBO Max streamed for free to non-subscribers a get-out-the-vote election special featuring the original cast from “The West Wing.” For the first time in 17 years, the cast came together for a stage presentation of the “Hartsfield’s Landing” episode, and WarnerMedia made a financial donation to When We All Vote.

Moved by the murder of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police, ongoing racism and disproportionate suffering in the black community as a result of the coronavirus, Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings and his wife, Patty Quillin, in June announced they would donate $120 million to educational institutions emphasizing access to students of color.

Also in June, The Walt Disney Co. pledged $5 million to support nonprofit organizations that advance social justice, beginning with a $2 million donation to the NAACP. On May 2, Disney aired a slate of special programming on a number of its TV networks to encourage a discussion of racism and oppression in America.

Disney also stepped up to assist health workers during the pandemic. On April 1, the company announced the donation of 100,000 N95 masks and 150,000 rain ponchos to healthcare workers in California, New York and Florida.

In the spring during the initial shutdowns, Lionsgate presented “Lionsgate Live! A Night at the Movies,” a program of free movies streamed live on YouTube, and hosted by Jamie Lee Curtis, to benefit theater employees furloughed by the COVID-19 crisis. The studio, along with Fandango and YouTube, live-streamed four of Lionsgate’s most popular library titles — The Hunger Games, Dirty Dancing, La La Land and John Wick — on Lionsgate’s YouTube page and Fandango’s Movieclips YouTube page. Lionsgate’s initial donation as well as audience and partner donations throughout the event benefited the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation, dedicated to helping workers throughout the motion picture industry.

To support the shuttered live theater industry, Universal Pictures on April 2 announced a “The Shows Must Go On” YouTube Channel, providing live theater fans with a West End and Broadway experience online for free. Fans on the site could make a charitable donation to a variety of organizations, including Acting for Others, Broadway Cares and Actors Benevolent Fund. The initiative came from the Universal Pictures Home Entertainment Content Group, a London-based “repertoire centre” of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment that acquires and produces entertainment for distribution across theatrical, home entertainment, television and digital platforms.

Meanwhile, with public schools switching to online classes during the coronavirus pandemic, Comcast Corp. CEO Brian Roberts and his wife, Aileen, in March pledged $5 million toward the purchase of laptop computers for school children in Philadelphia.

While giving was and is widespread in Hollywood, Media Play News for a third consecutive year has selected a few honorees in the home entertainment industry who are known for their charitable and activist work. From the executives who serve on boards or participate in direct charitable giving and activities, to those focusing their talents as foot soldiers in philanthropic and activist endeavors, this group is contributing how and where they can.

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Sheila Appleton

Senior Analyst, Business Operations, Disney Platform Distribution

Sheila Appleton

While most of us have been making a sport of being a couch potato, bragging about our binge-viewing prowess during the pandemic, Appleton has found a way to stay busy, even when she’s sitting down.

Among her many volunteering efforts, she helps out a nonprofit called Zooniverse through the Smithsonian Museum by entering historical statistics on climate change, wildlife patterns and other phenomena into a computer.

“Research vessels have gone out and tracked the weather in certain regions or tracked migration, and those are all hand-written logs,” she says.

Appleton takes scans of those logs and transcribes them for easy use and search on the Web.

“Different scientists trying to do a study, students, all sorts of people then have access to this research that was done, rather than it just sitting in a storage room somewhere in a notebook,” she says. “I’ve done one where you’re documenting a photograph in the Serengeti of the different wildlife, where you count the wildlife, write about what they’re doing, put down what type of wildlife it is.

“It’s great because it’s helping a scientist, a biologist or someone who’s studying climate change and the effect of that. If I can help do my little part, I’m thrilled.”

This type of volunteering also holds a special interest for Appleton, as she was a history major in college. She is currently working on transcribing data from the Holocaust.

“I think the more we learn from history of mistakes made in the past, the more we will prevent those mistakes from happening again,” she says.

“Mentally it’s very draining because these are people that most likely didn’t make it, and they had to give all the information on their entire family and those people were then getting rounded up and imprisoned and killed.”

The work is affecting in another way. Growing up, her grandparents’ next-door neighbor was Gerda Weissman Klein, a Holocaust survivor who wrote a book about her experience (All But My Life), which she read.

“I knew her, so when I saw this project it was like I’m going to do this in honor of her because this is someone who was in my life, who survived this, who shared her story,” Appleton says.

During the pandemic, her daughter, who is a nurse, kept her apprised of the PPE needs at the hospital. Appleton made face masks for the hospital, as well as for volunteers at a local food bank experiencing a crush of needy citizens. Lately, she’s been making scrub caps for the nurses.

“I guess they’ve found recently the coronavirus does tend to cling to different parts of your body, especially your hair, and a lot of the nurses have longer hair, and typical scrub caps were made for men with short hair,” she says. “So I make scrub caps that have little ponytail pockets that can encapsulate all their hair.”

Among the other charitable ventures in which she’s involved are working for a clean-water nonprofit, serving as the communications chairperson on a Disney employee resource group in the disability space, spending time as a ski patroller providing first-response medical care (though she doesn’t even ski), composting, recycling, donating to local animal shelters — and serving on the board of a nonprofit that supports a school in Haiti.

“We’re so spoiled in this country because we have free education,” Appleton notes. “In a country like Haiti, you have to pay to go to school. Few kids get to go to school, so very few people learn to read and write and have the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty.”

A lot of the girls at the school are basically indentured servants. “You’d think in this day and age that doesn’t happen, but it does, and by providing them a meal every day, all of their school supplies, their tuition, the uniform, everything, it gets their whole family out of poverty because they can then get a job, earn money, not have to work basically as an indentured servant,” she says.

Giving back is important to Appleton and her family, and she says one bright spot in the pandemic is that it’s allowed her to convert some of her two-hour commuting time into volunteer activities.

“I’m someone who doesn’t like to sit still,” Appleton says.

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Ryan Black

VP, Acquisitions and Development, Grindstone Entertainment Group, a Lionsgate Company

Ryan Black

Black’s work with the veteran community began as many stories do — with a dog.

Stan Wertlieb, head of acquisitions and a partner at Grindstone, and Karen Kraft, chair of the board of directors for Veterans in Media and Entertainment (VME), met while walking their dogs in their neighborhood.

VME is a nonprofit organization of more than 4,200 members that unites current and former members of the military working in the entertainment industry through programs for jobs, internships and education.

“VME had been searching for a way to get some of their talented writers experience in pitching projects and to get their scripts seen by more studios and production companies,” Black recalls.

Out of Wertlieb and Kraft’s dog walks would come the Grindstone-VME annual script pitch program and the opportunity for Black to begin working with veterans.

With the encouragement and support of Barry Brooker, president of Grindstone, Black spearheaded the first of several script pitch events, in which VME members pitched their scripts to the Grindstone team. This pitch program gave the veterans experience pitching to film executives and offered Grindstone the opportunity to find good scripts that it could help get produced.

Ryan Black (left) and VME members Danillo Prieto (Marine veteran, standing) and Mark Maley (Army veteran) after the L.A. Marathon.

“One of the old adages about screenwriting is write what you know, and these folks have lived through a lot of experiences that someone like me can’t even fathom,” Black says. “What they bring to these scripts is from personal experience. That’s something that you just can’t teach.”

The Grindstone team has since put several of these scripts into development. The subjects fit right into the action-thriller genre for which the company is well known.

Inspired by the veterans he met in VME, Black then volunteered to be the civilian co-lead of the Lionsgate Veterans Employee Resource Group at its inception in 2017 (a position he held until the end of 2019).

Along with co-leader Leon Pilosof, Navy veteran and Lionsgate EVP and head of procurement, Black led numerous philanthropic and volunteer events to benefit veterans in the Los Angeles community with organizations such as Veterans Day L.A., New Directions for Veterans, Operation Gratitude, Mission Continues and Honor Flight Homecoming.

Ryan Black and other Lionsgate employees with members of the VME at American Legion Post 283 in Pacific Palisades carb loading prior to the L.A. Marathon.

Black also helped organize roundtrip shuttle buses for homeless veterans to participate in the Los Angeles Veteran’s Administration’s Stand Down Day which provided assistance such as dental and medical services, haircuts and hot meals. He also led Team VME/LG Vets in running the 2019 L.A. Marathon, raising more than $11,000 for VMEconnect, an online platform for veterans and hiring managers.

The Lionsgate ERG group also helped facilitate several veteran hires at the company.

“I’ve always been in awe of the military and the bravery of those men and women who serve this country,” Black says.

Black wants to encourage other civilians to get involved.

“It’s an honor to be able to give back in some small way to help show appreciation for those folks who have put their life on the line for our freedom,” he says.

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VaNiesha Honani

Software Developer Engineer in Test, FandangoNow and Vudu

VaNiesha Honani

For Honani, a member of the Hopi Nation, giving to her community is a family affair.

Her great-grandfather was a Bronze Star code talker during World War II. A code talker is the name given to Native Americans who used their tribal language to send secret communications on the battlefield. Her grandfather served in the Navy in the same war (lying about his age at 16 to enlist after Pearl Harbor). And she served in the Navy as an IT technician from 1998 to 2005.

Honani now gives back by working with and talking to kids in her Hopi and other Native American tribes about jobs in STEM. She has also shared her career path to becoming an engineer at local elementary school career days and at the University of California, Riverside, Science and Entertainment Exchange, and Hopi Education Endowment Fund events. She also is a regular speaker for AISES (the American Indian Science & Engineering Society).

From the small village of Walpi, one of the oldest inhabited places in North America located on the Hopi Reservation (population 19,327) in northern Arizona, Honani learned from her grandfather Perry Honani Jr. to serve those around her.

“It’s something that he just really drove into us,” she says. “If we’re going to leave the reservation or we’re going to leave home, we do something to help our people.”

(L-R): VaNiesha Honani’s cousin Caroline Sekaquaptewa, her paternal grandmother (Mary Ann Honani), Honani (holding the gold medal) and her aunt Rosa Honani in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 20, 2013. The medal was awarded to the tribe on behalf of 11 Hopi code talkers.

Honani, who has also played semi-professional football as a lineman for the Los Angeles Warriors, sees herself an unconventional role model. She got into IT by teaching herself and gaining experience in the Navy. Starting as a radio technician on the ship, she moved into networking and at one point got a book on how to repair computers.

“Before you knew it, I was managing our network shop, our IT shop,” she says. The Navy started sending her to schools for certifications, and she got into QA work, which eventually led her to MGO, which was acquired and became FandangoNow.

She uses that experience to show kids “you can come from a village with no electricity and water and be in technology.”

There’s not one pathway to success, she emphasizes.

“I was horrible at math and my teacher told me, ‘That’s OK if you don’t know math. You’re probably not going to be an engineer,’” she recalls. “Today that’s what I do.”

At a hackathon for AISES, she helped a dyslexic girl working on a dictionary for her native language learn how to use computers to make it easier to read. After speaking at a school for Fandango TECHWomen, Honani received a thank you card from one of the girls who attended. Honani always brings her football equipment with her and shows kids how to run a test on the screen. In her note, the girl said she wanted to get into coding and play football, as well.

“I come from a very traditional family. As far as Hopi, Native American, we’re very traditional people. I’m like an octagon in a square box,” she says. “You reach somebody like that — and that was what it was all about.”
As a veteran, she has been a member of Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) for 10 years, utilizing resources through IAVA to raise awareness about PTSD, suicide prevention and mental health in conjunction with the Hopi’s local American Legion Post. She recently finished her first “ultramarathon” (50K) to raise awareness for Hopi water issues. She started her own blog, “1,000 Words and a Cup of Coffee,” where she writes about a variety of topics, including the history of Hopi code talkers and her military service.

At one point several years ago, she helped folks in the town of Piru in Ventura County, filled with agricultural workers, install solar panels that took them off the grid. Recently, she has been raising money for Hopi Relief, which is providing supplies during COVID while the reservation is in lockdown. The closest stores are about 100 miles away.

All the while, Honani has recalled the core Hopi values of community — sumi’nungwa, meaning “come together for the benefit of all”; and nami’nangwa, helping others in need without being asked or expecting something back.

“Be useful,” she recalls her grandfather telling her. “Don’t be a lump on a log. Be useful.”

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Michael Murphy

President, Gravitas Ventures

Michael Murphy

For Murphy, there’s no place like home to make a difference.

Murphy is an executive at independent supplier Gravitas Ventures — which has had a footprint in his hometown of Cleveland since 2013 and completed its move from Los Angeles in 2019, buying a building in the city. He’s also been working for years at another hometown venture — Boys Hope Girls Hope of Northeastern Ohio, a college-prep program for high-potential, underprivileged kids in the city’s Garfield Heights suburb.

“The executive director was a high school classmate of mine, and I’ve known him for a long time,” Murphy says. “I initially got involved in the big fundraiser each year that’s a golf tournament. I was able to help him out with that, and he said, ‘Well, we really need you to join the board.’”

Murphy has been on the board of directors since 2016 and has raised more than $1 million for the mission.

“It’s an outstanding organization, and they are extraordinarily effective at what they do,” he says.

Boys Hope Girls Hope identifies children in fifth grade who are recommended by principals, teachers or others in the community as having potential and needing assistance.

These kids, called “scholars,” he says, “have some real motivation but are in bad circumstances through no fault of their own.” They stay with the program through high school and receive support through college graduation and career launch. About 18 scholars live on the campus in Northeastern Ohio while another roughly 180 non-residential scholars visit the campus at least weekly.

“Only 11% of children from poverty who are the first in their family to attend college actually graduate,” he notes. “For the scholars of Boys Hope Girls Hope, who fit the same profile, the persistence and graduation rate is nearly 90%, so the efficacy of the program was what drew me to it.”

Michael Murphy in 2019 at the dedication for the football field donated by the Haslam family that owns the Cleveland Browns.

The Boys Hope Girls Hope campus offers scholars assistance such as counseling and tutoring and amenities such as physical centers for yoga, basketball courts, and even a football field that was donated by the Haslam family that owns the Cleveland Browns. In fact, the organization was the first non-school recipient of a field from the family. The kids, who go to school throughout Cleveland, are transported to the campus by volunteers and staff.

“Some of these are students who, if they were left wherever they were, probably wouldn’t graduate high school,” he says. “They’d be an unfortunate statistic that’s very real in our community.”

The campus also offers amenities to the community surrounding it, and during the pandemic shutdown, Boys Hope Girls Hope was able to assist local schools with “at risk” students, allowing them to use the campus.
“I thought what does ‘at risk’ mean?” he recalls. “That meant they’re homeless. These were students that had nowhere to go. If you’re homeless and you’re at a shelter where you may have to vacate during the day or, even if you don’t have to vacate, you can only imagine trying to do Zooms or other things in that type of environment.”

During the shutdown, the organization also brought food to and checked in with their scholars, who were eager to get back to campus.

“The poverty in the city of Cleveland is very high,” he says. “It’s actually some of the highest in the nation, and it’s unfortunate that it’s happening in the place that we love and we call home. Margaux (his wife) and I decided that we’re going to take an active role in this.”

Murphy notes education is an important tool in breaking that cycle of poverty. Many of their scholars are the first in their family to attend college who will “be able to go back to their neighborhood and their community and say, ‘I did it.’”

“They become a role model, and hopefully what they’ve done is something that can be replicated,” he says. “A kid can say he or she did it; I can do it too.”

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Tara O’Donnell

Director, Global Digital Marketing, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Tara O’Donnell

“Think globally, act locally” is a common phrase among advocates, but it sums up O’Donnell’s activism.

She has been volunteering with the ONE Campaign for more than a decade. ONE is a global movement that seeks to end extreme poverty and preventable disease by 2030. O’Donnell lobbies members of Congress about legislation that aligns with the organization’s mission and has helped to pass more than 10 important bills.

She is currently the congressional district leader for California’s 29th district (where she lives), represented in the U.S. House of Representatives by Tony Cardeñas.

“ONE strives to have congressional leaders in all of the congressional districts across the United States,” she says. “It really matters to the representative that you live in their district, that you’re their constituent.”
O’Donnell organizes people in her district who are supportive of ONE’s aims to make their opinions known to the representatives. They set up tables at like-minded events to spread the word. Every February ONE has a summit in Washington, D.C., during which volunteers meet with their members of Congress or their staff and talk to them about issues of concern.

“This past February I was in Washington, D.C., and we were talking about replenishing the United States funding for GAVI, which is the Global Vaccine Alliance,” she says. “GAVI helps vaccinate almost half of the world’s children against deadly infectious diseases like measles and mumps.”

The United States is an important supporter of GAVI.

“The funding bill will expire every few years for GAVI, so we went in to talk to our representatives about making sure that the United States replenishes our funding commitment,” O’Donnell notes.

Tara O’Donnell (right) with U.S. House Representative Tony Cardeñas.

In fact, her work often involves just keeping funding in place from the United States.

“One of the things we campaign on regularly is the international affairs budget,” she says. “That’s the portion of the United States budget that gets allocated to international affairs. It’s a very small part of the budget. It’s like less than 1% of our overall budget. It covers all sorts of things like the Peace Corps and embassies, but also programs like the Global Fund, PEPFAR and GAVI. It’s always a challenge to make sure that none of that funding is cut, and you know it’s always a big success when it isn’t cut.”

While ONE’s work may seem remote from the kind of boots-on-the-ground aid of other organizations, it is having an effect, O’Donnell notes. In a recent tourist trip to Tanzania, “I saw a lot of signs around for projects from USAID and that’s the international affairs budget — so you could see the United States’ impact on the areas of the country that I was visiting,” she says.

She also talked to locals who mentioned the job opportunities created by those programs.

“I’m actually not a fan of politics,” she says. “That’s why I like ONE because it’s not about politics; it’s about advocacy.”

In fact, the group is nonpartisan and doesn’t support any piece of legislation that isn’t co-sponsored by both sides of the aisle in both houses. In persuading those unsure of giving overseas when there are problems at home, she says, “It’s a national security issue for us when there are countries that aren’t stable.” She also discusses the aim of moving countries “from aid to trade,” making sure people have jobs, can send their kids to school, etc.

“Then they become trading partners, which is good for us as a country because we have people we can sell goods to, and then that creates jobs in our country,” O’Donnell argues.

It’s also just the right thing to do, she says.

“We’re the greatest country in the world,” O’Donnell says. “We should be a leader. We should protect people who can’t protect themselves. We should have a voice for people who don’t have a voice.”

O’Donnell notes the ONE world focus is all the more important as the globe faces a pandemic.

“What COVID has taught us is that we are not alone in this world,” she says. “It’s a global economy. It’s a global world. We all impact each other. That’s why we should focus externally, as well as internally. We should fix our problems here, but we should also not ignore what’s going on outside of our borders.”

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Donny O’Malley

Founder and Chief Content Officer, VET Tv

Donny O’Malley

In his profession and as a volunteer, retired Marine Capt. O’Malley epitomizes the adage that laughter is the best medicine. He has employed comic relief in entertaining and salving the wounds of the veteran community, both as founder of San Diego-based subscription streaming service VET Tv (veterantv.com), which offers humorous content about military subjects, and as architect of the veterans nonprofit Irreverent Warriors.

Irreverent Warriors brings military veterans together at “Silkies Hikes” around the country, as well as at other events, to help build social connection while improving veteran mental health and reducing the number of veteran suicides.

“Silkies are these tiny little green shorts that used to get issued to us in boot camp,” he explains. “They can be worn as underwear. They can also be worn as outerwear. But they’re really short and they expose a lot. And so naturally in the military, when a bunch of guys are wearing silkies, you can’t help but laugh.”

The idea for an irreverent event came to him as he watched the dark humor of his fellow veterans and experienced one of them, a friend who had enjoyed his blog of funny stories about combat, die from suicide.

“His mother was crying over the casket, ‘Why?,’” he recalls. “I thought to myself maybe I can give his mother a reason why, maybe her son died so that others could live. If we could just come together and laugh, laugh with each other, good things are going to come from that.”

Donny O’Malley (left) with a veteran at a
Silkies Hike.

O’Malley decided to get a group of men with whom he served together for a hike. The idea was to “put some backpacks on, feel some weight on our back, have a little bit of that pain that we used to feel as infantrymen, put our combat boots on, and go hiking along the boardwalk of San Diego and stop at bars and laugh and tell stories and just have a good time.”

A buddy agreed, “Yes, let’s do it in silkies!”

The first hike was organized around the number 22 — with participants carrying 22 kilograms on their backs and hiking 22 kilometers for the 22 veterans who kill themselves every day.

O’Malley planned on a dozen participants, and 75 showed up, he says, attracting news coverage and spawning similar events hosted by volunteers around the country.

O’Malley later incorporated Irreverent Warriors as a nonprofit to facilitate safety and quality. Though he’s turned over day-to-day operations, O’Malley still attends a number of events around the nation. To date, Irreverent Warriors has brought together more than 60,000 veterans with dozens of hikes a year. While the hikes have been curtailed due to COVID-19, the group was able to sponsor 30 in 2020.

Then, in 2016 via a Kickstarter campaign, O’Malley brought military comedy to the streaming marketplace with VET Tv. At $5 a month, the SVOD service offers primarily original programming and has grown to 90,000 subscribers with 20 series and other content.

As a professional and as a volunteer, this former Marine’s mission is the same.

“The desire to bring veterans together to laugh, that’s what it all came from,” O’Malley says.

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Michael Roberts

Customer Marketing, Paramount Home Entertainment

Michael Roberts

Promoting the power of the vote is Roberts’ passion.

For the past few years, he has worked with various organizations helping voters use their voice up and down the ballot. Getting out the vote is incredibly important to him, particularly in underrepresented communities. He stresses that voting selects not only the president, but also district attorneys who enforce the law and school board members who determine how to teach our kids.

“These people put in these positions, everything from president to school board, they work for us, and we hire them,” he says.

Roberts has canvassed door to door (pre-COVID-19), phone-banked and through Vote Forward has written letters to voters across the country. Preliminary research from Vote Forward shows that hand-written letters, and sharing personal stories, have the same efficacy rate — if not a higher efficacy rate — as traditional canvassing door to door and talking to people face to face, he notes.

“I feel like hand-writing letters is a nice, personal touch,” he says.

“Whoever this person is they actually cared enough to take the time to fill out my name and address, put a stamp on this thing.”

He has sent letters to voters in Florida, Texas, Georgia and Michigan, among other states. The letters are not necessarily designed to persuade voters who to select, but to share why he votes.

“One of the things that I try to write in every letter is that I vote because I believe that every person in this country deserves a fair shot at health and happiness,” he says. “That’s how I start all my letters. At the base of it, that’s how I feel.”

For the Viacom Virtual Day of Service, Roberts led a team in texting, emailing, posting and calling people in their circle to get out the vote in concert with Michelle Obama’s When We All Vote nonprofit. He’s now focused on the Georgia Senate seat runoffs.

For Roberts, it’s all about engaging the power that voting affords those who didn’t start out with his advantages.

“I grew up in Southern California. I certainly never experienced any of the hardships that a lot of people around this country have experienced,” he says. “I’m grateful for the privilege I was given and born into, but I think that at the end of the day none of it really matters unless we are all given a fair shot.”

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Nicole Tiesma

Senior Manager, Digital Marketing, Paramount Home Entertainment

It was an old friend, J.D. Brown, who led Tiesma to put her expertise in digital marketing to work for a worthy cause. Brown had recently become COO of Trans Can Work, a nonprofit committed to advancing workplace inclusion for transgender individuals through training strategies and workforce development.

“He was asking me some questions about social media marketing,” she says. “They’re a very small team of six people, and the work they do is really great, but they can’t afford a full-time communications person, especially a full-time social person. So I offered to help give him and some of the staff members some training and consulting and basically help them build a toolbox so they can think like strategic social marketers and start to build out their social presence more effectively.”

Nicole Tiesma and her friend J.D. Brown (at top) have collaborated via video since the pandemic started.

Trans Can Work helps transgender and gender non-conforming job seekers in their search, assisting those looking for everything from entry level to executive positions.

“Looking for jobs is really hard, and then when you add on top of it being an othered person like that, I think it’s cool that they’re helping make that job search more approachable,” she says.

The other mission of the organization is working with companies to help teams and HR better understand gender non-conforming and transgender employees. Trans Can Work has assisted WarnerMedia, Bank of America, the City of West Hollywood, Netflix, Viacom and Macy’s, among other companies.

“I think sometimes a lot of companies now have LGBTQ training but a lot of it is focused on sexual orientation and not as much on the trans part of the letters, so I think it’s wonderful that there’s a resource for companies to go to,” she says.

In the past year, the group (founded in 2016) reports it has provided free employment services to 1,800 gender-diverse job seekers and has helped place more than 200 gender-diverse job seekers in full-time employment.
“We’ve seen so much progress just in the last few years in terms of awareness and inclusion in that area, so I love that they’re doing this really practical work in trying to make trans people more included in the workplace,” Tiesma says.

Since the pandemic hit, she’s been meeting with the Trans Can Work team remotely twice a week — and they are focused on a big December fundraising campaign.

“They have a matching grant from their board of directors up to $20,000, so I’ve been helping them craft their social media graphics and their communication around that,” she says. “I love social media marketing, and I love doing it for movies, but if ever I can take that skill set and try to have an impact somewhere else, I love that.”

It’s also a way to strengthen her bond with friends.

“I have a lot of LGBTQ friends, and it’s a way for me to be an ally,” Tiesma says. “I recognize my privilege as a cis person, and it’s so cool to be able to try to help have an impact for people who don’t have that privilege.”

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Chris Yates

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Chris Yates

Yates credits his mother and sister — both teachers — for his involvement in Los Angeles Team Mentoring (LATM).

“What they do is just life-changing for children,” he says. “I grew up around teachers and know the impact it’s had on me and the impact it has on other kids. It’s resonated with me throughout my life.”

Growing up in Australia and moving to the United States, Yates observed the American public education system’s challenges. “Public education is massively underfunded in the U.S., and no child should struggle for basics like food, security and safety. These schools serve such an important role for so many students — they provide so much more than just learning a curriculum,” he says.

Since 2012 Yates has served on the board of LATM, which supports Los Angeles-based middle school students by teaching them life and emotional skills. The nonprofit partners with 14 schools across Los Angeles, serves more than 1,400 kids every year, and focuses on driving opportunities for students from low-income and traditionally under-recognized populations of the school system.

For Yates, the goal of LATM is to empower students to “dream big.” Set up as a group mentoring program, students meet with their mentors in small cohorts and use a structured program developed by LATM to provide the students a variety of life skills, including emotional learning, confidence-building and conflict resolution. Students also have the opportunity to be exposed to new experiences such as visiting a college campus and learning about the college enrollment process. The program results include much higher high school graduation rates (22%), as well as improved GPAs and improved self-esteem and resiliency ratings.

LATM students at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.

2020 has been a tough year for many nonprofits and organizations, including LATM. A breakthrough for LATM this year was when it launched an e-learning program, called e-works.

“Our students need us now more than ever. E-works allows our students to stay connected to the LATM program,” Yates says. Led by LATM executive director Maria Melton and director of programs William Figueroa, the program has moved its learning to a virtual environment during the pandemic.

“With e-works, students are given the support they need, are better able to stay on track with their education; they need this stability more than ever during such a tumultuous time,” Yates says.

Yates sees the investment in student mentorship and public education as paving the way for a brighter, more inclusive future both in society as a whole but also for the entertainment industry.

“Representation matters,” he says. “A multitude of diverse voices better serves the entertainment industry. LATM helps their students become the next generation of leaders in this world and the entertainment industry.”

HBO Max Launches ‘Superintelligence’ Charity Campaign

HBO Max has kicked off a “20 Days of Kindness” campaign on behalf of its new film Superintelligence, launching Nov. 26 on the service from New Line Cinema.

Star Melissa McCarthy and director Ben Falcone announced the campaign Nov. 10 during their appearance on “The Today Show” while launching the first trailer for the movie. With a “20 for 20 in 20” initiative, HBO Max will highlight and donate $20,000 to a different good cause daily for 20 days while encouraging others to lend their support. In addition, AT&T helped kick off the campaign with a $1 million contribution to Girls Who Code, an international non-profit organization working to close the gender gap in technology and change the image of what a programmer looks like and does.

On Nov. 13, World Kindness Day, the campaign will celebrate acts of kindness shared across social media. Content can include a post, tagging someone with a kind word, or showing a short video of a random act of kindness.  Talent and influencers will help launch the program, encouraging others to participate using the hashtag #20DaysOfKindness.

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Consumers can go to https://20daysofkindness.com for more information and to follow the different charities daily. As part of the #20DaysofKindness campaign, McCarthy, Falcone and HBO Max are also launching a Prizeo charity sweepstakes, giving away a Tesla, a hangout with McCarthy and Falcone, and chances to attend the premiere with all funds raised benefitting Conservation International, World Central Kitchen, and Make-A-Wish. For more information visit prizeo.com/superintelligence.

In the film, when an all-powerful Superintelligence (James Corden) chooses to study the most average person on Earth, Carol Peters (Melissa McCarthy), the fate of the world hangs in the balance. As the A.I. decides to enslave, save or destroy humanity, it’s up to Carol to prove that people are worth saving.

Stars of Sony’s ‘Center Stage’ to Gather for Virtual Fundraiser for Ballet

Stars of the film Center Stage, including Amanda Schull, Zoe Saldana, Sascha Radetsky and Ethan Stiefel, will gather Sept. 1 for a virtual fundraiser in support of American Ballet Theatre’s Crisis Relief Fund, which provides aid for dancers, production crew, musicians, ballet staff and faculty impacted by canceled tour engagements due to COVID-19.

During the pre-recorded reunion, moderated by “CNN Newsroom” anchor Poppy Harlow, the actors will look back at the making of the film that spawned two sequels and helped bring the ballet world into the pop culture spotlight.

The reunion will premiere simultaneously on the American Ballet Theatre and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment YouTube channels at 7:30 p.m. ET. Viewers on both channels will be able to use YouTube’s integrated fundraising capabilities to donate to the ABT Crisis Relief Fund.

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Center Stage, which celebrated its 20th anniversary earlier this year, follows a group of ballet students in the competitive world of professional dance where they must devote themselves to their art with the rigor of Olympic athletes. While experiencing the joys, sorrows and conflicts of youth, they vie for a place in a prestigious ballet company and strive to take center stage. The film has inspired two sequels, Center Stage: Turn It Up and Center Stage: On Pointe, as well as an upcoming series in development with Sony Pictures Television. Center Stage is available now on disc and digital.
American Ballet Theatre will also be hosting a ticketed pre-event reception via Zoom, beginning at 6:15 p.m. ET. Moderated by ABT dancer Erica Lall and ABT Accelerator co-chair and Gagosian Gallery director Sarah Hoover, the reception will feature an exclusive conversation with Sascha Radetsky, former ABT soloist and artistic director of ABT Studio Company, and Ethan Stiefel, former ABT principal dancer and current faculty member. Tickets, benefitting the ABT Crisis Relief Fund, will start at $150; for more information please email specialevents@abt.org.

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OTT.X to Honor Industry Heroes

OTT.X (formerly the Entertainment Merchants Association) is looking to honor industry “heroes.”

The group is looking for a team member who has gone out of his or her way to help neighbors, to help the community, to support health care workers, or to just do something good during the pandemic — or for a team member who has gone out of his or her way to help the company continue to serve its customers during the crisis.

“Just as the hard work of grocery and pharmacy teams are keeping our pantries and medicine cabinets full, all of the teams in our industry, at digital platforms, channels and retailers; at content companies; and at all of the service and technology companies that facilitate the flow of content ultimately to the consumer are playing an important role in providing the needed entertainment to keep everyone sane during these stay-at-home days,” according to OTT.X. “We need to recognize our own heroes.”

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Entries should include a brief paragraph nominating a hero or heroes and a photo if possible. In mid-June, OTT.X will hold an online live ceremony recognizing all the heroes and presenting a few special awards. Nominations must be sent no later than May 30 to mfisher@ottx.org and include “our ottx hero” in the subject line.

In addition, OTT.X is soliciting pictures of home offices and awarding prizes. Photos should be sent to mfisher@ottx.org and include “my new home office” in the subject line.

Netflix Offers Free Documentary Streaming to Teachers on Its YouTube Channel

Netflix has expanded it free documentary screening program for teachers, offing a selection of titles on the Netflix U.S. YouTube channel.

“For many years, Netflix has allowed teachers to screen documentaries in their classrooms. However, this isn’t possible with schools closed,” read the Netflix blog post. “So at their request, we have made a selection of our documentary features and series available on the Netflix U.S. YouTube Channel.

“Each title also has educational resources available, which can be used by both students and teachers — and we’ll be doing Q&As with some of the creators behind these projects so that students can hear from them firsthand.

“We hope this will, in a small way, help teachers around the world.”

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The documentaries are currently available in English, but subtitles in more than a dozen languages will be available later this week, according to the post. “Please check the ratings so that you can make informed choices for your students and children,” the post requested.

Offered on the channel is the film 13th, Ava DuVernay’s documentary with a title that refers to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which reads, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.” The progression from that second qualifying clause to the horrors of mass criminalization and the sprawling American prison industry is laid out by DuVernay, featuring a mixture of archival footage and testimony from a activists, politicians, historians, and formerly incarcerated women and men. Educational resources are here.

Also available is season one of the series “Abstract.” “Abstract: The Art of Design” takes you beyond blueprints into the art, science, and philosophy of design. The series goes inside the minds of the world’s greatest designers, showcasing the most inspiring visionaries from a variety of disciplines whose work shapes our culture and future. Educational resources are here

Select episodes of the series “Babies” are available. Filmed over the course of three years, “Babies” explores the miracle of the first full year of life through the pioneering work of leading scientists from across the globe. The series examines the epic journey every person embarks on, from helpless newborn to independent toddler. The series follows the life-changing adventures of 15 international families and featuring the latest research from eminent scientists who share their personal journeys of discovery into the infant mind. Educational resources are here.

The film Chasing Coral  taps into the collective will and wisdom of an ad man, a self-proclaimed coral nerd, top-notch camera designers, and renowned marine biologists as they invent the first time-lapse camera to record bleaching events as they happen. Educational materials are here.

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Available are select episodes of the series “Explained.” In partnership with Vox Media Studios and Vox, this explainer series takes viewers deep inside a wide range of culturally relevant topics, questions and ideas. Each episode explores current events and social trends pulled from the zeitgeist, touching topics across politics, science, history and pop culture — featuring interviews with some of the most authoritative experts in their respective fields. Educational resources are coming soon.

The film Knock Down the House follows four women who mount grassroots campaigns against powerful incumbents in the 2018 midterm elections that tipped the balance of power. When tragedy struck her family in the middle of the financial crisis, Bronx-born Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had to work double shifts as a bartender to save her home from foreclosure. After losing a loved one to a preventable medical condition, Amy Vilela didn’t know what to do with the anger she felt about America’s broken health care system. Cori Bush, a registered nurse and pastor, was drawn to the streets when the police shooting of an unarmed black man brought protests and tanks into her neighborhood. A coal miner’s daughter, Paula Jean Swearengin was fed up with watching her friends and family suffer from the environmental effects of the coal industry. Educational resources are here.

The series “Our Planet”  is available. Narrated by Sir David Attenborough, the eight-part series explores the wonders of our natural world from the creators of the award-winning series “Planet Earth.” Educational materials are here.

The short Period. End of Sentence. is available. The documentary short directed by Rayka Zehtabchi tells the story of women in a rural village outside Delhi, India, who fight against the deeply rooted stigma of menstruation. For generations, these women didn’t have access to pads, which lead to health problems and girls missing school or dropping out entirely. But when a sanitary pad machine is installed in the village, the women learn to manufacture and market their own pads, empowering the women of their community. Educational resources are here.

The short The White Helmets is available. The Netflix original short documentary, set in Aleppo, Syria and Turkey in early 2016 follows three volunteer rescue workers as they put everything on the line to save civilians affected by the war, all the while wracked with worry about the safety of their own loved ones. Educational materials are here

The short Zion is available. It’s the portrait of Zion Clark, a young wrestler born without legs who grew up in foster care. Educational materials are here.

 

Lionsgate Teams With Fandango and YouTube on Free Streamed Movies Benefit

Lionsgate is presenting “Lionsgate Live! A Night at the Movies,” a program of four Fridays of free movies streaming live on YouTube hosted by Jamie Lee Curtis, to help benefit theater employees furloughed by the COVID-19 crisis.

The studio is mounting the campaign to “honor the communal experience of watching movies in movie theaters and support the people who make those places great with a special program that reminds everyone how much we love going to the cinema,” according to a Lionsgate press release.

Beginning Friday, April 17, and continuing every Friday spanning four consecutive weeks, the studio will team with Fandango and YouTube to livestream four of Lionsgate’s most popular library titles — The Hunger Games, Dirty Dancing, La La Land and John Wick — on Lionsgate’s YouTube page and Fandango’s Movieclips YouTube page.

Host Curtis will share her own movie memories as she is joined by special guest celebrities and YouTube personalities, according to the release. Each week’s night at the movies will feature programming and interactive opportunities for fans, such as real-time fan chats via YouTube Live, live tweeting @Lionsgate and partners, and shared fan engagement opportunities in-show, including movie trivia and movie-themed challenges.

Lionsgate’s initial donation as well as audience and partner donations throughout the event will benefit the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping workers throughout the motion picture industry. The event will link to the Foundation’s charitable page so that viewers can donate. The Will Rogers Foundation is currently providing financial assistance to theater employees furloughed by the COVID-19 crisis.

The schedule of free movies that will livestream Fridays at 6 p.m. PST/9 p.m. EST is as follows: The Hunger Games April 17, Dirty Dancing April 24, La La Land May 1 and John Wick (age registration required) May 8.

To present the live movie event, in addition to Fandango Lionsgate is joining with exhibition partners such as the National Association of Theatre Owners, AMC Theatres, Regal and Cinemark Theatres, among other regional circuits.

Popcornopolis, purveyors of gourmet popcorn, will support the event with a consumer movie night offer, with 10% of sales donated to the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation. SnackNation will curate a movie-themed snack box with a special price and free shipping.

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“There’s nothing that will replace the magic of seeing a movie together with your fellow moviegoers in a theater on a big screen, but this is a chance for America to come together to recreate the experience,” said Joe Drake, chairman, Lionsgate Motion Picture Group, in a statement. “This is a great chance to show the country’s theatrical employees how much we miss going to their theaters and how much we support them. Jamie Lee Curtis — a woman who literally grew up with the movies and movie theaters — is one of the world’s biggest movie fans, so it’s a real thrill that she’ll be our host for this event. Let’s have some fun watching some classic movies together at home while celebrating moviegoing!”

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“Throughout the 125-year history of the cinema, this is the first time that movie theaters have been shut down across the country,” said John Fithian, president and CEO, National Association of Theatre Owners, in a statement. “Whether it was the Depression, wars, disasters, or local calamities, movie theaters have always been a gathering place where audiences can come together to laugh and be moved, reacting as one, to put their troubles behind them or forget about their hard week at work, and just get lost in the amazing stories on the big screen. Until we can gather again in our nation’s theaters, we’re grateful to Lionsgate for honoring the theatrical moviegoing experience and we are thrilled to join together with them over these next four Fridays, not only to see four classic movies for free, but also to allow fans and celebrities to share their own moviegoing memories. We love that so many people will be talking about what makes going to the movies so unique and memorable.”