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

GM, Redbox On Demand, Redbox

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.”

Heroes in Home Entertainment 2019

For the second year, Media Play News honors the home entertainment industry’s givers, a select number of those in the 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 endeavors, to the “actorvist” who helps women see beauty differently, this group is contributing how and where they can.

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Chris Bess

Executive Director, Global Publicity, Disney

Publicists are known for their skill at putting others in the spotlight, and Chris Bess has put that talent to work with foster youth at Kids in the Spotlight.

For the past eight years (mostly under Fox and now as a part of the Disney team), Bess has been volunteering his time for the children’s charity, which serves underprivileged youth living in the Los Angeles area foster care system by introducing them to the art of filmmaking. The program features instruction in screenwriting, acting, casting and editing — all taught by noted industry professionals. It cultivates teamwork, creativity and discipline resulting in a greater self-image, confidence and sense of accomplishment. Kids in the Spotlight provides a positive platform for foster youth to tell their stories.

“It brings together people who are in the entertainment industry — actors and directors — and they come to the various foster homes where kids participate in the program, and these kids are given a chance to write their scripts, to cast their films,” Bess said. “They work with the directors who shoot their films and then they edit them, and through that whole process they learn to communicate, work with others, build self-esteem — which is probably the biggest thing — and then when their films are done, the films are all registered with the Writers Guild, so they all get Writers Guild of America credit, and it just really gives them a chance to share their story.”

Bess supports the charity’s communications as well as playing an integral part in their fundraising and partnership marketing effort, including support for the Kids in the Spotlight film festival and awards presentation each year. This year’s annual awards took place Nov. 2 at Paramount Studios and was hosted by “Modern Family” star Ty Burrell.

“My wife and I foster parented,” Bess said. “We’ve foster parented two kids, and I started even in college just volunteering to help underprivileged youth. It’s something that is kind of near and dear to my heart, and what I love about this program is it kind of marries two things that I’m passionate about, entertainment — movies — and helping foster kids.”

 

David Bishop

Industry Veteran and Leadership Development Expert

Amy Jo Smith

President and CEO, DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group

Fighting hunger has long been a mission in the video industry, and home entertainment veteran David Bishop and the DEG’s Amy Jo Smith are continuing to carry that banner.

Bishop began working on the problem in the 1990s, in concert with star Jeff Bridges’ End Hunger Network. Out of that came the video industry initiative Fast Forward to End Hunger.

“We organized all the video stores around the country to raise money,” Bishop recalls. The program raised $20 million in three years, he said.

Later on, Bishop met a board member for the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank who had learned of his work on hunger. He asked Bishop to join the board for the organization, which serves 300,000 people a month.

“One in seven people in Los Angeles County are what is described as food insecure,” Bishop said. “They have food, but it’s not sufficient. A lot of times people hear the name Food Bank and think it’s for homeless people or it’s a soup kitchen. This is actually a massive distribution center with trucks loaded with food from grocery stores in the area, from Walmart, from Starbucks.”

“It’s an enormous organization,” added Amy Jo Smith, who joined the board at Bishop’s request.

“I became chair of the board about three years ago, and we were looking for more passionate people to add to the board, and Amy Jo was at the top of my list,” Bishop said.

“It’s an enormous umbrella organization that feeds to food pantries, churches, temples and schools throughout L.A. County for people who are not necessarily, and most likely not, living on the streets — but food insecure,” she said. “As you have a good economy like we have right now you have higher rents. People have jobs, but they have higher rents. Toward the end of the month, there isn’t enough money left for food.”

The organization distributes food to different agencies around the county.

“It could be a small church; it can be massive food pantry,” Smith said.

Smith has volunteered in food distribution for the L.A. Regional Food Bank.

“It is done with such dignity,” she said.

In addition to volunteering, offering monetary aid is welcomed as well, noted Bishop.

“Donating money is really efficient in this organization; every dollar that is donated distributes enough food to feed four meals,” he said.

 

Sharon Blynn

Proofreader, Lionsgate

Sharon Blynn is an “actorvist,” writer and founder of Bald Is Beautiful, a women’s wholeness organization dedicated to ovarian cancer awareness and empowering women to define their beauty and femininity on their own terms — in sickness and in health. She has shared her Bald Is Beautiful message via her website baldisbeautiful.org, as an actor and all over the world as a public speaker, garnering honors such as the BraveHeart Courage Award, Revlon Role Model, Lifetime TV “Remarkable Woman” and Lilly Tartikoff/EIF Hope Award.

Blynn was diagnosed with ovarian cancer nearly two decades ago at 28. The disease made her question “what makes me a woman,” she said, especially when she lost her hair during treatments.

“My hair was my trademark,” Blynn recalled. “It was really like a big part of who I was. I was annoyed as a feminist. I was annoyed with myself for being so concerned about my hair.”

She started to question the way we define beauty.

“If you are going through a health thing that is going to alter your body, temporarily or permanently, we don’t have to, on top of that, deal with feeling ugly, frankly,” she said.

In 2002, she started the website to share her story and increase awareness of the disease — and she kept her bald look. She has never let her hair grow.

“I wanted to do something to change the paradigm, create a shift in how we perceive ourselves and how society defines what is a whole woman, what is beauty, what is femininity,” she said. She wanted to counteract the notion that “you’re not a whole woman if you don’t have this long, flowing hair,” she said.

Since then, she and her website have appeared in Glamour, Marie Claire and In Style, among other magazines. She’s also appeared on such TV shows as “Body of Proof,” “Shameless” and “Lie to Me,” and in the film Captain Marvel.

“I’m putting images out there that support women who don’t want to cover up their cancer journey to protect other people from their discomfort,” Blynn said.

Awareness of ovarian cancer and supporting research, via such organizations as the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance, also are key goals.

“We don’t have a screening test even,” she said. “Other cancers have the advantage of early detection. Ovarian cancer, if it’s detected earlier, it’s a 90% survival rate. Only 22,000 women a year are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, so that’s not a huge number compared to breast cancer or lung cancer, but out of those 22,000 women a year, 15,000 die because they don’t have early detection.”

 

Allison Ceppi

Director, Format Marketing, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Allison Ceppi has found a recipe for helping others.

“I have a culinary background,” she said. “I went to culinary school way back in my 20s and had worked in restaurants, and then ultimately decided that I didn’t really enjoy it.”

Fast forward several years and driving to work, she saw a Project Angel Food van and found the charity provides meals to critically ill patients who might not otherwise be able to have access to healthy food. The organization, first started to service those suffering from HIV/AIDS, now cooks and delivers more than 600,000 nutritious meals each year, free of charge, to the homes of those affected by all life-threatening illnesses. Every week, the organization serves 12,000 meals to 1,400 people in need from Metro, South and East L.A., as well as areas as far as Pomona, La Mirada, Long Beach and the Antelope Valley.

She decided to volunteer.

“I thought, ‘Well, this is perfect for me because I have this restaurant background,’” she recalls. “I went in and I found that everyone was super friendly and grateful, and it was just kind of a good time, versus working in an actual restaurant, which is really difficult and there’s a lot of pressure.”

Ceppi has done everything from cooking vats of rice and beans to cooking tofu stir fry for 30 people — all medically tailored to strict

guidelines in terms of fat and salt. She’s also organized a group from Universal to spend a day at Project Angel Food.

“They might just have you chopping onions for a couple of hours. Last time I was there, my job was to wipe the edges of the plastic tray before it goes into the sealer,” she said. “Sometimes it’s not that glamorous, but it doesn’t matter because it’s contributing to a larger mission.”

While she finds working on some of the fancier meals fun, she is happy “to put her pride aside” and use her experience to help others learn to navigate a kitchen.

“I feel a little bit like an elder,” she said.

But that’s not what drives her taste for volunteering.

“I like the idea of volunteering for volunteering’s sake or giving back to the community in a way that’s meaningful, but it doesn’t have to be running the show,” she said.

 

Nicole McLeod Coleman

SVP, Trade Marketing, Retail Planning and Theatrical Catalog, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

Coleman is connected to the charity Autism Speaks via her vice chairmanship of the Southern California chapter, and also through her son, Jack, who was diagnosed with autism shortly before his 2nd birthday. She and her partner, Geri Bluerock, SVP at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (a Hero in Home Entertainment last year), have been working with the organization ever since.

“Rather than believing in a limitless future for our child, we prayed that he would be able to grow up to live independently,” Coleman wrote in a

recent letter to potential donors. “We felt helpless, sad and scared, but of course we didn’t sit idle. We began researching and networking, and as a result came across the Autism Speaks website, which provides a wealth of resources for those impacted by autism throughout the lifespan.”

In addition to the annual walk in Southern California, Coleman via the local chapter supports the national organization raising funds and giving grants to local agencies.

“The earlier days of the organization were focused on the diagnosis piece, the diagnosis at an early age because the outcomes are much better for kids the earlier they are diagnosed, and now that that seems to be much improved, it’s focusing on those that are reaching adulthood and developing resources and support in that area,” she said.

Warner recently co-hosted an event with KPMG where they brought in a number of companies that are employing people on the spectrum, and brought in those on the spectrum who are employed to help those like them looking for work.

Coleman in her donation letter wrote about Jack’s play with his twin sister, Alex, and how he is developing his skills in baseball.

“Jack is an avid Dodgers fan and plays baseball for Sherman Oaks Little League,” she wrote. “He is working with a private coach once a week and is developing into a pretty big hitter. He likes to pitch, dreams of playing in the major leagues, and plans to be an umpire when he retires. And while Jack still has a long road ahead of him, we remain very optimistic for his future.”

 

Garson Foos

Founder and CEO, Shout! Factory

Garson Foos has been working in the nonprofit world for much of his life, often mentoring and supporting kids in need. For the past seven years he has been volunteering his time and expertise to C5LA, an organization that works with under-resourced, inner-city L.A. youth to help them graduate from high school and go to college. The organization, with the motto “college in five years,” was founded by John Alm, former president and CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises. Foos has served on the board, as board chairman and on the leadership committee.

Starting in the summer after middle school, 72 kids, chosen from about 800 applicants, go through their journey to college with C5LA.

“The summer after eighth grade they go to this camp in Wyoming for a month and have this incredible experience in the middle of nowhere,” Foos said. “It’s the first time most of them have gotten out of the city and have been in remote nature like that.”

In the following years, the kids do a 12-day wilderness backpacking trip after ninth grade, go on a college tour after 10th grade, go to live on a college campus after 11th grade, and live on a college campus again after 12th grade. During the process C5LA helps the kids with college applications and essays and instructs them on the basics of living in college.

“Most of them have to get jobs to support themselves while they’re in school, so they do mock job interviews,” Foos said. “This year I participated in that.”

Foos has also been to the Wyoming camp.

But C5LA is also more than a college-prep organization, he said.

“They become community for the kids who are often in troubled situations,” Foos said. “They can help them find resources. Some of them have been homeless. Most members of the staff are bilingual so that they can help the parents find resources that they need if they’re having issues with basic needs. It’s a point of expertise and community and stability in these people’s lives.”

The changes spearheaded by C5LA, which welcomes both individual and company involvement, are inspiring, Foos said. At events, the kids are encouraged to tell their stories.

“One girl in particular was from a family with a sibling who was a gang member and was from a really difficult home situation and talked about how this program really kind of saved her life,” Foos said. “She felt like if she wasn’t in the program, she’d probably be in a gang. There are just so many amazing stories. You hear these kids talk, and you’re in tears thinking about what they had to deal with and how they’re overcoming this adversity.”

 

Kristen Hermanson

Manager, Sales Administration, Paramount Home Entertainment

Kristen Hermanson supports a variety of causes by donating her time and energy. She has raised thousands of dollars for pediatric cancer research at Children’s Hospital L.A. through her participation in the Malibu triathlon for more than four years.

Hermanson also volunteered for a week to support the AIDS/LifeCycle event, which raises money for HIV services. She served a critical role by camping alongside the riders and rising at 4 a.m. each day to prepare breakfast for all staff and participants, then resetting to feed everyone again come dinner time from 4 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Finally, Hermanson has served faithfully during Viacommunity Day, Viacom’s companywide effort to serve the communities in which it operates. This past year, she was a task captain at the Paramount Ranch where she supervised a team of 10 to brighten up the Ranger Station. Always willing to roll up her sleeves, she and her team cleaned, painted and decorated to make the space more pleasant for the rangers.

“For me, to be able to give of my time and effort volunteering allows me to connect to a greater purpose, meet some amazing people and share in the success of knowing that I have helped to make life for someone else better,” she said.

 

Alan Meier

Publicist, Paramount Home Entertainment

Meier combines his love of outdoor activities with fundraising for causes he cares deeply about. In 2016 he began training for the AIDS/LifeCycle event, which raises funds for HIV services for the Los Angeles LGBT Center and San Francisco AIDS Foundation. In 2017 he completed the 545-mile, week-long bike ride and followed it up that same summer with a fundraising hike in Buckskin Gulch, Utah, to raise funds for The Trevor Project.

In 2018, Meier raised funds for Bike Zambia, which donates money to Zambian charities that support HIV treatment and prevention, as well as economic and social support for women and girls. He rode 325 miles through the heart of Zambia, meeting with representatives from the charities along the way, as well as local citizens.

In 2019, Meier once again took on the AIDS/LifeCycle event and plans to continue his efforts in the years ahead as well as the Best Buddies Hearst Castle Challenge this year with a 62-mile bike ride to support individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“I feel lucky to have been involved with fundraisers that foster a strong sense of community among the volunteers while the funds raised make such a demonstrable difference in people’s lives,” Meier said. “It’s made for some great experiences.”

 

Seda Melkoni

Production Planner, NBC Universal

It was an experience on a shoot in Armenia that would lead Seda Melkoni years later to raise donations for kids.

“One of the locations we were filming at was a very ancient temple, and in the morning after we finished our actual shooting day, it opened up to the public and a bunch of school field trips were pulling up,” she recalled. “I noticed one or two groups of schoolchildren came up to the entrance with their teachers and it looked like they were pretty much going to leave, and I asked what was going on. I guess it was new information to these schools that these tourist sites were now charging an entrance fee. These teachers couldn’t afford to pay for their entire class, and even these individual students, their families can’t afford to pay for field trips.”

Knowing they were from rural areas several hours drive away, and that they would go back disappointed, Melkoni asked and was allowed to pay for their tickets.

“It really wasn’t much at all in U.S. dollars,” she said. “It sorta got me thinking.”

Years later, at Universal she met a co-worker

who, like Melkoni was of Armenian descent and would send school supplies to a school she used to attend in the country where a friend was a teacher.

Melkoni looked at pictures of the school of about 500 students.

“There were leaky roofs, broken windows, and this is an area where it snows, so kids usually will make a circle around the heating unit in the classroom so they can stay warm in class during the winter,” she said.

She did some research and found help in the Paros Foundation, a nonprofit founded to help people in Armenia. She is now raising funds through Paros to help fix that school. All of the donations go to the projects, as the founder pays administrative expenses for the charity.

“It’s something we take for granted here,” she said. “We send our kids to school and don’t worry about them ever being cold or not having windows that shut.”

As co-chair for the studio’s Women’s Network SuperMoms group, Melkoni also helps kids at home, creating donation bins for the Baby2Baby organization at the group’s events.

“Being a parent myself and having kids in schools, I think we’re fortunate here,” she said. “Just by dedicating a little bit of time and resources, we could kind of spread those resources to places that need it most.”

 

Rema Morgan-Aluko

Director, Software Engineering, Fandango

With more than 15 years of experience in technology, engineering leadership and software development, Rema Morgan-Aluko heads up the technology group for Fandango’s transactional VOD service, FandangoNow.

In pursuit of her goal to improve diversity and inclusion across the technology industry, she co-founded Fandango’s TECHWomen chapter, which aims to advance opportunities for female technologists within the company and beyond. In her spare time, Morgan-Aluko mentors in the community and hosts additional workshops to inspire young women to pursue technical career paths. Morgan-Aluko hosted two all-day tech workshops with the Girls Academic Leadership Academy (GALA), an all-girls, STEM-focused school in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and Girls Build, an initiative of L.A. Promise Fund, for young women in public middle and high schools. At Girls Build, girls learn the principles of the software development lifecycle, receive one-on-one mentoring with employees from all technical disciplines and engage in hands-on activities to put in practice what they have learned.

She also participated in the City of STEM event, helping create a simple programming logic game for more than 100 kids ages 5-12 and providing hands-on coaching to help the girls during the course of the game.

Morgan-Aluko partnered with the Los Angeles chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority’s Delta Academy group, facilitating and teaching a six-month intro to STEM careers course to girls ages 8-14 on Saturdays.

“When I was starting out, I was struggling to find a mentor, someone who I could not only lean on for guidance, but someone with a story and a background I could personally resonate with,” she recalled. “Now that I’m further along in my career, I have responsibility to be an example and mentor for those who come after me. I believe that sentiment is shared by other leaders I work with. That’s why we started Fandango’s TECHWomen chapter, to help women navigate barriers and build a community where they can thrive. It’s gratifying to see many talented women, entry level and senior execs, working together for the same goal, the same vibe. It’s also rewarding to pay it forward, beyond the company, and help foster a passion in STEM for young girls.”

 

Lori Nakama

Director, Creative Services, Paramount Home Entertainment

Nakama’s volunteer work includes a wide range of organizations and programs benefiting children, animals and people of color. Within Paramount, she has devoted hundreds of hours of her time to the studio’s Kindergarten to Cap & Gown mentoring program, offering encouragement to students over the past four years, one of whom will graduate from Woodbury University this spring with a degree in graphic design.

She has also been highly active in Viacommunity Day as a site leader, taking special needs students to the California Science Center, hosting third graders for a screening and afternoon of arts and crafts, and taking high school students on tours of UCLA and USC.

Nakama additionally co-chairs the Asian Media Professionals employee resource group, which organizes events at Viacom Hollywood, Nickelodeon and Paramount.

Outside of Paramount, she has volunteered and raised funds for the APEX Wolf Sanctuary, the Stray Cat Alliance and the Westside German Shepard Rescue. She also volunteered at the Asian American Pacific Islander Film Festival and the East West Players, a theater company for people of color.

Finally, Nakama has participated in the AIDS Walk for four years, as well as the 2016 Triathlon, which raised money for Children’s Hospital L.A.

“My grandmother used to say you show your happiness by smiling — so if doing something can make someone else smile, I’m in and hope to spread some happiness,” Nakama said. “Lucky to work for a company that supports it and have family and friends who feel the same way.”

 

Glenn Ross

EVP and GM, Universal 1440 Entertainment

Home entertainment veteran Glenn Ross has found a way to pay forward some of the knowledge he’s garnered over his many decades in the industry — and draw on his artistic talents.

A graduate of the Philadelphia College of Art (now called the University of the Arts) before embarking on his career, Ross has found an artistic connection with those he helps both young and old.

Through NBC Universal initiatives “Young Story Tellers” and “Story to Stage” he mentors elementary kids on how to bring their ideas to life.

“Young Story Tellers” is a one-day session with fifth or sixth graders in which he helps them create a poster and logline for a story of their own and present it. “Story to Stage” is an eight-week program to help the mentee write a five-page script.

“We are basically taking down their ideas,” he said. “They’re writing it. We’re not writing it. We talk to them about the structure of a script.”

The process culminates in a performance for fellow schoolmates and parents.

“After the script is written, we bring in actors and the kids cast,” he said. “The actors immediately after that will perform the script with the scripts in their hands.”

Ross relishes bringing out the creative spark in these kids.

“It’s a lot of fun and it’s very gratifying to them to see their ideas come to life,” he said. “I’ve had kids that don’t want to talk, but after a week or two the stuff that comes out of them is phenomenal.”

Meanwhile, at Temple Israel of Hollywood, he’s found a way to connect with the older generation through the Sages program.

“They will match us up with somebody who is older, maybe they’re not as mobile, maybe they don’t have as big a social network,” he said. “And once a month, I meet this woman, and I’m not sure who gets more out of it, me or her, but we go to lunch together, and we talk about all kinds of things. It turns out, she used to run an art gallery. I still paint and I brought her some of my artwork to look at, and she’s commenting on it and it’s something that I enjoy a lot.”

Ross is also involved in another mentorship program, “Minds Matter,” for those just starting their careers.

“I’ve been really lucky in my life and in my career and a few years ago, I just decided I need to do more to say thank you to the world for this,” Ross said. “You get so caught up in achieving that sometimes you forget there’s a whole world out there that you have the skill set to help, and I think that’s what it’s really all about.”

 

Kurt Schroeder

SVP, Distributive Retail and Rental for Home Entertainment Packaged Goods, Lionsgate

Anyone who has ever talked to Kurt Schroeder knows he’s a jovial, kind guy, but it was an unintentional unkindness that pushed him to take a plunge.

“This is not something I’m very proud of. I used the ‘R’ word in front of a friend of mine, and it offended her,” he recalls. “She has a special needs child.

“In a conversation to someone else who said they were challenged about getting something done, I said, ‘What are you, retarded?’ And she looked at me and she was offended, and I could see that she was, and it hurt me because I try to think of myself as being better than that. And I apologized, but I really didn’t think that covered it, and I wanted to do something to suggest that I understood.”

Thus, began Schroeder’s plunge into the icy cold waters of Lake Michigan in support of the Chicago chapter of the Special Olympics, which puts on a sports competition for those with intellectual disabilities. Over five years, wearing various costumes, including a polar bear head, he’s raised about $25,000.

“My friends were very generous toward my fundraising efforts,” he said. “The colder it was going to be the morning of the plunge, the larger the donation. Friends enjoy watching friends suffer — if just for a moment.”

Even with single-digit temps with wind chill, Schroeder took it in stride.

“I was not really challenged by the cold water as much as other people,” he said. “I have a face for radio and a body for cold water.”

Dipping into the freezing water, he wore the names of two kids who participate in the Special Olympics, Maddy and Lila, children of his friends.

“They’re part of the support,” he said. “I’m carrying them into the water.”

It’s a cause that means more to the kids than just a sports competition.

“Special Olympics to me gives children the opportunity to participate in sports in a setting that they can develop confidence and learn about sportsmanship and physical health, and it improves their quality of life and it helps them believe in themselves,” he said.

Schroeder has also previously volunteered for the Starlight Foundation, which grants wishes to ill kids — of course, dressing up again, as Santa Claus.

“I don’t [have kids], but a challenged child to me … I’ve been unbelievably lucky in every aspect of life and when I see a challenged kid, it makes me thankful for what I have, and it creates a desire to share it, to do something for somebody else,” he said.

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Netflix Employees Volunteer for Children’s Hospital Group

In a time of giving, Netflix employees in November raised money for Extra Life, a nonprofit that empowers video game enthusiasts to support Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

The group raises funds and awareness for 170 member hospitals that provide 32 million treatments each year to kids across the U.S. and Canada. Donations stay local to fund critical treatments and healthcare services, pediatric medical equipment and charitable care.

Brian Moyles, who has worked for eight years as a software engineer at Netflix in Los Gatos, Calif., organized the first Netflix Extra Life event in 2016. Moyles was inspired by his family’s own health scare in 2015 when his then 7-month-old daughter was unexpectedly diagnosed with a heart rhythm disorder and had to be sedated and placed on a heart bypass machine.

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The girl remained hospitalized in the ICU at Stanford Children’s Hospital for the next two months, during which time her vocal chords were inadvertently paralyzed and she had to be fed via a gastric feeding tube. It took several months for her to recover fully.

“We’re now four years down the road and everything has been clear since,” Moyles said in a company blog post.

Moyles said the ordeal changed him and his family’s outlook on the impact medical emergencies can have on children and their families.

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“Netflix, more so than any organization I’ve worked for, provides an incredible amount of freedom and autonomy in exchange for trust and responsibility,” he said.

Extra Life has become an annual event at Netflix. Last year, it raised more than $25,000. It reached $32,000 in 2019, involving about 100 employees, friends and family members across multiple office locations.

“This is real important work that’s going on here — the kind that changes people’s lives forever,” research analyst Austin Smith said. “It’s our hope that in some way, our event and our contribution will be used to ease someone’s pain on the most difficult day of their life.”

Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City reportedly used its Extra Life donations to purchase an Xbox One X for every patient room.

“Having a company like Netflix contribute to CMN Hospitals is absolutely invaluable to our mission’s success,” said Julia Saxton, Children’s Miracle Network Program Director at Primary Children’s Hospital.

Saxton said that in addition to funding, Netflix sent a message of support to the children and families.

Moyles says the Extra Life has helped him connect with employees in other departments and offices.

“It’s a lot of work but it ends up being a lot of fun,” he said. “I’ve gotten to meet and work with amazing people throughout the company I likely would not have otherwise, and it feels good to be able to help those in need and affect change.”

This report is based on a post from Kate Stanhope with the Netflix communications team.

Heroes in Home Entertainment 2018

With this special section Media Play News is honoring the home entertainment industry’s givers, a select number of home entertainment industry members who are known for their charitable work. From an assistant who gathers the team to help families during the holidays, to executives who have transformed their personal struggles into charity involvement, these heroes are making a difference.

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Geri Bluerock

SVP, U.S. Sales, Planning and Reporting, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

(L-R): Geri Bluerock and son Jack with friends at the Autism Speaks Walk.

In 2011, Geri Bluerock’s son, Jack, was diagnosed with autism, shortly before his second birthday. “So much has happened over the past seven years, but it still feels like yesterday,” says Bluerock. “I recall feeling numb, then sad and scared, but I also remember immediately researching online and coming across the Autism Speaks website and accessing the 100 Day Kit. Having a guidebook as we embarked on this journey gave us direction and hope during a very difficult period in our lives. The journey has been filled with trials and tribulations, hard work and dedication, but most of all joy, pride and wonder.”

To help others with their journeys, Bluerock and her family are actively involved with Autism Speaks, an autism advocacy organization that sponsors autism research and conducts awareness and outreach activities aimed at families, governments and the public. “Autism Speaks helped us navigate a critical part of this experience,” Bluerock says. “And, as such, we’ve been committed to doing our part to raise funds and awareness by supporting their annual walk and fundraisers — with an ongoing commitment to supporting the families and improving the lives of those on the spectrum.

“Jack is an example of what amazing progress can be made with early intervention and consistent therapy from school to home. Many lack the resources and wherewithal to advocate for and support their child.  Autism Speaks strives to provide tools and resources to enable everyone impacted by Autism to reach their maximum potential.

“I want every child and parent to feel as blessed as we do as we look back at Jack’s progress and the optimism we feel for his future.”

 

Evan Fitzgerald

Finance Team, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Back home in Indiana, Evan Fitzgerald — for the past three years a member of the finance team at Universal Pictures Home Entertainment — was a cheerful volunteer at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. It started when he was an undergraduate at Indiana University, and through a student philanthropic group was invited to participate in a 36-hour dance marathon fundraiser. “What really made it special was the families and children coming to the event and telling everyone their stories,” he says. Many of the children were coming in for surgery, or suffering from cancer and undergoing chemotherapy or other treatments, he says, “and what they strive for most is a sense of normalcy, a sense of just being a child.”

Evan Fitzgerald (left) with a fellow volunteer.

After moving to Los Angeles in 2015, Fitzgerald says, he was looking for similar volunteer opportunities and soon joined a program at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, a nonprofit, pediatric academic medical center in East Hollywood. There, he routinely pops in to visit the hospital’s young patients, just to bring them a stack of coloring books and crayons — “or maybe some pizza and music for a makeshift dance party, or face-painting; anything to take them away from the idea of being in a hospital,” he says.

Fitzgerald remembers one young girl, about 5, “the same age as my niece,” who was about to undergo surgery for a tumor. She was shy and withdrawn — “you could tell being in the hospital was really weighing on her mind,” he says — but gradually she began to open up. “I still remember sitting with her while she was drawing in her coloring book, just holding my hand,” he says. “It was just a super-special moment. It’s important to remember that despite what they may be going through, at the end of the day these are children, and all they want to do is play and laugh and be silly and explore and do all the things every child wants to do. And to walk out of there and know you’ve provided them with a bright spot, it’s just an incredibly rewarding experience.”

 

Tyler Halstead

Senior Manager of Global Business Development, Sony Pictures Entertainment

Tyler Halstead with his grandmother, who was one of the people who inspired him to launch the Melanoma Angel Network.

Tyler Halstead launched a global nonprofit called “The Melanoma Angel Network,” a group focused on supporting the friends, families, caregivers and loved ones of cancer patients.

Halstead’s inspiration for the nonprofit stems from the loss of his mother as well as the desire to create a community of support for the next generation of teenagers going through the loss of a loved one or parent with cancer.

“I spent most of my childhood and teenage life trying to live normally, all while knowing my mom was dying of cancer,” Halstead says. “Rather than deny the inevitable, my family chose to rally together to battle her cancer collectively.”

In creating his foundation, Halstead quickly learned that cancer is more than just a “patient” struggle, with family members, friends, caregivers and loved ones drawn together to help and seek comfort in simply being together.

While his mother was dying of cancer, Halstead says he didn’t want to be viewed as a victim or different. Instead, his close-knit community of well-wishers intervened in daily life with a warm plate, a hug, and most importantly, an understanding ear.

“We understood each other, we trusted one another, and collectively we were strong in the face of cancer,” Halstead says. “For me, this group would come to be known as the ‘Angel network,’ and the goal of my charity is to reimagine and recreate this sense of community — on a global scale, so that everyone can feel as blessed and supported as I was.”

 

Mark Horak

Founder, Los Angeles Entertainment Summit

In 2011, while an executive at Warner Home Video, Mark Horak had an idea to develop an event that would have a meaningful business purpose while raising funds for charity. He took that idea to the Entertainment Merchants Association, and the Los Angeles Entertainment Summit was born in July 2011, with business meetings, a golf tournament and a Warner lot party. That annual event continues, benefiting the Southern California Chapter, Los Angeles, of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, for which Horak serves as chairman of the advisory board. In addition to providing the leading forum for the industry, under Horak’s leadership the LAES has raised, directly and indirectly, almost $2 million for the Southern California chapter of the CFF (cff.org/LosAngeles). The proceeds fund drug development and treatments, as well as other assistance to those with the disease.

“It’s a cause that’s near and dear to my heart,” says Horak.

(L-R): Melissa, Michelle and Mark Horak speak at the 2017 Los Angeles Entertainment Summit.

Two of his three daughters have CF, and, in part thanks to new advances expanding life expectancy, Melissa, 31, and Michelle, 29, are thriving. But they, like many others, face new challenges. In the late 1980s those with CF were only expected to live into their teen years. With new drugs that reduce the severity of colds, which can turn into pneumonia, and that improve lung and digestive functions, life expectancy has expanded into the mid-40s, opening up a new set of problems for those with CF.

“Our emphasis has shifted somewhat from raising money for drug development to providing advocacy for people with the disease who are living longer,” Horak says. “Now they face new challenges, like jobs, health care expenses and family counseling.”

Horak is working on encouraging more in the industry to join the cause — and join events such as a golf tournament.

“We’re trying to attract a new group of young professionals in the entertainment business who can bring their talents in helping us with these issues of advocacy and fundraising,” he says.

The benefits go not only to the charity, but to those who give as well, he notes.

“Everyone has someone that they know who has a cause or needs help, and to contribute your time and talent can be very rewarding emotionally, spiritually and intellectually,” Horak says.

 

Omaira Jesus

Coordinator, Sales Development, Sony Pictures Entertainment

With the evolution of life-saving drugs and greater public awareness, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) have disappeared from the headlines.

At the 2016 AIDS Walk in Los Angeles, (L-R) friend Milly Bigay, Omaira Jesus, sister Candy Jesus and nephew Marley Jesus.

But to Omaira Jesus, the disease is personal. Her cousin Elvira “Bibi” Cuevas lost her battle with AIDS 15 years ago — at the age of 19. Cuevas was infected through a blood transfusion when she was just an infant in the early ’80s.

“One of my most important accomplishments is being co-captain of AIDS Walk team ‘Bibi Juice,’” Jesus says. “Our team, made up of family and friends, was founded back in 2003 and continues to be about promoting HIV/AIDS awareness and education.”

In 2013, the 10th anniversary of Cuevas’ passing, Jesus and extended family participated in all three AIDS walks that year — New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, raising about $5,200.

“I had promised my Godparents (Bibi’s parents) that her journey would never be forgotten, and on Dec. 1, 2013, (World AIDS Day) that promise came true when Bibi’s name was added to The Wall La Memorias AIDS Monument in Lincoln Heights,” Jesus says. “This journey has taught me the true meaning of being a team player, making great allies, giving back and giving a voice to those who need it the most.”

Indeed, speaking for the voiceless has become an ongoing passion for Jesus. As current president of VOZ, an employment business resource group at Sony Pictures, Jesus has represented the under-served Latino community in Hollywood.

“As the VOZ president, I’ve had the pleasure to speak to students from local schools, participate in toy drives for local organizations and DVD drives for our troops. I have truly enjoyed helping and giving back,” she says.

 

Jason Kassin

CEO, FilmTrack

Several years ago, Jason Kassin’s 8-year-old son Conrad seemed to be wasting away, but finally he and his wife, Sasha, had an answer: Crohn’s disease, an autoimmune disorder associated with inflammation of the digestive tract.

“We knew so little about it,” he says. “We were lost, really lost, so we got involved.”

(L-R): Conrad, Sasha, Thea and Jason Kassin.

Kassin and his wife, whose son is now going on 17, hooked up with the Greater Los Angeles Chapter of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation in 2011. Since then, Kassin and his family have been active volunteers for the foundation, raising more than $150,000. Kassin joined the foundation’s Los Angeles Board in 2016.

In addition to offering education and funding for research, the foundation supports Camp Oasis, a summer camp that helps kids deal with their medical issues — which may involve colostomy bags and other difficulties — while enjoying the usual camp experience.

“It’s a disease that a lot of people don’t want to talk about,” Kassin says. His son has had to have part of his colon removed. Sufferers “know what it feels like to be in real pain,” he says.

Funding provides full-time medical staff to assist the campers should they have an issue. In addition to considerations such as colostomy bags, many have special dietary needs.

“It’s a space that understands the particulars of what they’re dealing with,” he says.

The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation underwrites more than 60% of expenses to send each child to camp. Families who are able to do so pay a fee of either $400 to $200 to defray the cost of the camp experience.

For those who cannot afford the camp, the foundation offers a scholarship program. It is the policy of the foundation that no child ever be turned away because they cannot afford the fee.

Kassin, whose family ran a camp in the Catskills in New York when he was growing up, is happy his son has been able to enjoy that camp experience.

“He’s made lifelong friends there,” Kassin says.

Kassin recently was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease himself, cardiac sarcoidosis. His experience with his son has helped him be more “emotionally mature” about his own problems, he says.

“They always say the best way to be helped is to help others,” he says. “I’m actually magically helping myself.”

 

Joy Moh

Director of Worldwide Publicity, Sony Pictures Entertainment

Joy Moh gives something more valuable than money to charity: her time.

Moh (left) and a fellow volunteer at the annual Make-a-Wish Walk for Wishes at the L.A. Coliseum.

Moh has extensive volunteer experience with local community outreach, including leading the Los Angeles Chapter of Philanthro Productions, a national organization focusing on young professional giving. She was on the board of the former Los Angeles Junior Chamber of Commerce before starting business school at the UCLA Anderson School of Management.

Moh has been a wish granter and Mandarin translator with Make-a-Wish Foundation Los Angeles for the past eight years. She also volunteers with CAPE, the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment, to help champion Asian-Americans in entertainment.

“As a Gold Award Girl Scout, volunteer leadership has always been in my blood,” Moh says. “When I graduated from college, I was just starting in the entertainment industry and didn’t have many funds to donate, but I did have a lot of time.”

Moh quickly noticed a lack of general awareness about which nonprofits are efficient, transparent, sustainable and worthy of the donation of time and effort.

“Philanthro was my first endeavor in volunteer leadership, as the organization focused on throwing events partnering incredible nonprofits, such as 826LA, Fisher House and Chrysalis L.A., with young professionals,” she says.

Regardless, talk is cheap to Moh, who considers the impact a charity has on its mission goal a priority to her giving — which is why Make-a-Wish makes the grade.

“The immediate and tangible results are you can see a child’s life change with every wish granted,” she says. “At Make-a-Wish, I have been able to witness the life-changing work the organization does for each family. I have been told many times that a child has gone through treatment knowing they would see their wish granters later that day. Although it may not seem like a big deal, each wish has the ability to impact a family forever.”

 

Socorro Oseguera

Senior Analyst, Sales, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

Socorro Oseguera has worked with nonprofit organizations in a variety of capacities for nearly three decades.

She has spent the past 17 years working with the Burbank Coordinating Council on their annual Holiday Basket Project, the latest incarnation of an all-volunteer program that has served the Burbank community for more than 80 years.

Since 1996, the Holiday Basket Project has provided food and gifts to low-income, at-risk and homeless families. More than 2,500 volunteers provide assistance to more than 2,400 recipients, making it the largest service project in the city of Burbank.

Oseguera has served on the project’s steering committee and is in charge of storing, sorting and bagging food collected from three citywide food drives each year. She helped implement a computer program to match donors with recipients throughout the city.

She also works year-round to sort and label all clothing and toy donations. On delivery day in December she coordinates with drivers to deliver the food and gifts directly to their intended families.

In addition to her efforts with the Holiday Basket Project, Oseguera handles logistics and coordination for the annual luncheon fundraiser that raises money for the Burbank Coordinating Council and their “Coins for Camp” program that allows underprivileged children to attend summer camp every year.

Previously, Oseguera spent 12 years volunteering for charitable endeavors while also serving in the Navy. As a Navy veteran, she works with Fundraising for Veterans to organize their silent auction.

She also works with Family Promise, organizing community relations with daycare centers, churches and the YMCA for families in need.

In her spare time, Oseguera volunteers as a consultant for her son’s Boy Scout troop, advising on fundraising strategies.

 

Sue Procko

President, The Procko Group Inc.

Veteran publicist Sue Procko has been involved with industry charities for more than two decades. From 1992 through 2017, Procko worked in various capacities with the Video Industry AIDS Action Committee (later called the Entertainment AIDS Alliance and this year renamed the Entertainment Aid Alliance), serving on the board and as president. She was inspired to join the AIDS charity when a friend passed away, she says.

“We had to take up a collection to bury him because his parents wouldn’t have anything to do with him,” she recalls.

The charity has helped countless people with hospice, living expenses and other assistance. Procko’s brother contracted the disease in 1995 and is alive today thanks to new drugs.

Sue Procko (left) with Tina Grimmie, mother of Christina Grimmie.

Her latest mission is as secretary and board member of the Christina Grimmie Foundation, named after “The Voice” star tragically shot and killed at age 22 while signing autographs in 2016. Procko got to know “and fell in love with” the Grimmie family, who founded the charity, having worked on Stadium Media’s romantic comedy The Matchmaker, starring the singer.

The organization has a dual mission, to provide aid to families of gun violence victims and to support breast cancer patients and their families. Grimmie’s mother died of the disease this past September.

In addition to helping victims of the Las Vegas Route 91 shooting in 2017, the foundation assisted six of the 12 victims of the Borderline Bar and Grill shooting in Thousand Oaks, Calif., last month, offering help with travel and funeral expenses within the first 10 days. Government and other grants to shooting victims are often restricted and slow in coming, but the foundation’s funds are unrestricted, allowing for a quick response all the more remarkable as a massive wildfire plagued the area shortly afterward.

“We literally can cut a check in 48 hours,” Procko says.

The foundation (christinagrimmiefoundation.org) raises funds in part through two annual events: an annual gala in Hollywood in September and an East Coast event, taking place next year on March 9 in New Jersey.

Procko encourages others to give of their time and money.

“It doesn’t have to be with a large organization,” she says. “Everybody needs a little help now and again, to know that somebody else is there.”

 

Galen Smith

CEO, Redbox

When top executives get involved in charities, their involvement generally consists of sitting on the board of one or two nonprofits. They attend fundraising dinners, shake a lot of hands and pose for pictures.

That description most certainly does not fit Galen Smith, the CEO of Redbox, the No. 1 disc-rental company and one of the Big Eight digital retailers. Based in Seattle, Smith — and his family — are actively involved in more than half a dozen charities, including the Make-a-Wish Foundation of Alaska and Washington, which grants wishes to children with critical illnesses; Operation Nightwatch, which fights poverty and homelessness; WACAP, one of the largest international nonprofit adoption and child assistance agencies; and The Exodus Road, a nonprofit that specializes in staging rescues from alleged human trafficking.

“For Make-a-Wish and WACAP we purchase tables to their gala auctions and we invite our friends to expose them to the great work that these organizations are doing and hopefully help them catch a vision for how they might have an impact through being involved themselves,” Smith says. “We set up a number of endowed scholarships at several of the schools we went to. And each year we volunteer at Northwest Harvest to package food that will be given away during the holidays.” (Northwest Harvest distributes food to a network of more than 370 food banks, meal programs, and high-need schools throughout Washington state.)

For the CEO of one of the home entertainment industry’s top companies, that’s a lot on the proverbial plate. But Smith, a native of Olympia, Wash., insists it’s just what he does — and who he is.

“I spent the first nine years of my professional career working as a fundraiser for two organizations: the YMCA of Greater Seattle and Wheaton College,” Smith says. “It really helped shape my view of the world and the opportunity to give back and help those in need.”

Giving back is a responsibility his family takes very seriously “in light of all we have been given,” he says. “We center our giving and support where we feel we can make the most impact — at our church and through nonprofits that support women, children, education and the homeless.”

 

Nantalie Song

Senior Director of Marketing, FandangoNow

(L-R): Nantalie, Emi, Young and Micah Song at the October 2018 Together is Better Walkathon.

Nantalie Song and her husband, Young, director of business development and digital distribution at NBCUniversal, were vacationing in Hawaii when they got the news that their 1-year-old daughter Emi — who had been genetically tested after experiencing some developmental delays — has Down syndrome, a chromosomal condition occurring once in every 691 babies born.

“We were in disbelief,” Nan Song says.

Emi, now 4, has the rare mosaic form, affecting only 2% of people with Down syndrome. While people with Down syndrome have an extra copy (three) of chromosome 21 in all their cells, people with mosaic Down syndrome have a mixture of cells, some with two copies of chromosome 21, and some with three.

“The news rocked our world,” she recalls. “We didn’t know what it meant, and only imagined the scary possibilities of what would be our new normal.”

Luckily, they found Club 21 (clubtwentyone.org) and were welcomed by the open arms of its “amazing” executive director Nancy Litteken, she says. Club 21 is a learning and resources center for individuals with Down syndrome and their families that coincidentally is located in Pasadena, Calif., where the Songs live, but draws families from all over Southern California. From first diagnosis onward, Club 21 empowers families to identify the needs of their child with Down syndrome and teaches them how to navigate the terrain of the medical, educational, and Regional Center systems to maximize their child’s potential. Through its educational pathway, Club 21 is changing the narrative of Down syndrome and opening doors so that individuals with Down syndrome can be fully included and live healthy, self-determined and fulfilling lives.

“It’s not a death sentence nor a disease,” Song says. “It doesn’t mean a poor quality of life. Emi will achieve typical milestones at her own pace, and in her unique way. She’s 4, and she still needs some assistance walking, but the point is, she’ll get there.”

In fact, this year in October Emi showed off her walking skills at Club 21’s biggest fundraiser: the annual Together is Better Walkathon. She was able to the walk the circuit herself, with the force of “Team Emi” fans around her, walking in solidarity to raise awareness of Down syndrome. Team Emi has helped raise more than $35,000 to keep Club 21 programs running for families in need.

“The desire to give back and to be inclusive is the essence of our community,” Song says. “I feel grateful to Club 21 because a lot of people go through it feeling alone.”

Of their daughter Emi, the Songs say, “She teaches us patience; she’s a game changer. We live our life more appreciative of the little everyday things.”

 

Brittany Williams

Senior Manager, Trade Marketing, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment’s Brittany Williams (right) volunteering at a recent community outreach event.

Brittany Williams has spent seven years working with Treasures, an organization that seeks to reach, restore and equip women and girls in the sex industry and victims of sex trafficking to live healthy, flourishing lives, and to train others across the globe to do the same in their communities.

She became invested in fighting human trafficking after discovering 70% of female sex workers have been trafficked into the commercial sex industry. According to statistics posted on the Treasures website, 89% of women in the sex industry want out but see no other means of survival. Treasures offers a way out, plus aftercare in the Los Angeles area.

Williams serves on Treasures’ leadership team, and offers her skills and resources to provide oversight on marketing, branding, communications and event planning. She leads the annual fundraising gala and charity auction, obtaining corporate and celebrity endorsements, while managing a team of more than 50 volunteers.

 

Teresa Woodberry

Administrative Assistant, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Teresa Woodberry has been an administrative assistant at what is now called Universal Pictures Home Entertainment for 33 years. She joined when the division was run by Louis Feola and Andrew Kairey, remained on board during the Craig Kornblau years and now assists three executives in the team headed by Eddie Cunningham.

Teresa Woodberry organizes charitable activities at Universal.

But as committed as she is to her daily responsibilities at UPHE, Woodberry has also long been committed to the notion of “giving back.” For more than 15 years, she’s inspired and motivated her teammates to adopt needy families through A Place Called Home, which on its website describes itself as “a safe haven in South Central Los Angeles where under-served youth are empowered to take ownership of the quality and direction of their lives through programs in education, arts, and well-being.” Woodberry and crew make sure the family is well taken-care of; one year, she recalls, they even provided a family of seven with bunk beds, “because while they had a home, they had no place to sleep.”

This year, A Place Called Home had no family for Woodberry and her team to adopt, so “Momma Tess” — that’s what her colleagues call her — reached out to Children’s Hospital and is mounting a toy drive. Woodberry also volunteers her time each week as an usher at the Harmony Mission Baptist Church in South Central Los Angeles, despite the long drive from her home in Santa Clarita.

“I’ve always enjoyed helping the less fortunate,” says Woodberry, who grew up in South Central Los Angeles after moving out west from Michigan when she was 6. “I’m just drawn to helping people, I think because I was raised in a single-parent home. I lost my dad when I was 8, so it was just my mom, who had to raise three kids herself — so I know how tough life can be sometimes and want to do what I can to help.”

 

Yolanda Wu

Executive Assistant, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

Yolanda Wu helps fundraising activities at St. Robert Church, where her son serves as an altar boy. She also helps out in fundraising at her son’s school, where she’s a booster member.

Outside of church, she works with Family Promise to spearhead efforts to plan, coordinate and distribute meals to homeless families.

Wu galvanized the support of Warner Bros. Consumer Products during the holidays, using donations to assemble gift packages for needy families.

She is also involved in the Burbank recycling community, where she finds ways to recycle, reduce and cut costs. Wu has become a “master recycler,” earning the right to select specific community projects.

This year, she is responsible for implementing a food share program that allows children to “recycle” any food that they have not consumed during their lunch or breakfast hour. The idea is to gather the clean, unopened food and reduce food waste in schools. The program launched at various Burbank-area elementary schools and will expand to middle schools next year.

Dish to Give $1 per Dish Anywhere App Download in December to Toys for Tots

Dish has launched a holiday-giving initiative called “Dollars for Downloads” to benefit the Marine Toys for Tots Program. For every Dish Anywhere app that customers download to compatible devices this December, DISH will donate $1 to Toys for Tots, helping the organization in its mission of delivering toys and books to underserved children, according to the company.

“We’re excited to partner with Toys for Tots and give back to the communities Dish customers know and love,” said Jay Roth, Dish chief marketing officer, in a statement. “By simply downloading the free Dish Anywhere app, our customers can join us in supporting the holiday dreams of thousands of children this season.”

Dish Anywhere is a free app that gives customers the ability to watch their live and recorded content, as well as thousands of on-demand titles, from any location on internet-connected mobile devices, including smart phones, tablets and computers, and televisions via Amazon Fire TV and Android TV, according to Dish.

“Some folks may not realize that when you sign up for Dish, it’s like you’re getting two different subscriptions — the most reliable TV experience from the comfort of your living room, as well as the ability to watch your live and recorded programs and stream on-demand content via our DISH Anywhere app,” said Roth in a statement. “Downloading our free app this holiday season helps to spread joy to thousands of Toys for Tots kids, with the added benefit of access to TV while on-the-go at places like malls and airports.”

Toys for Tots has been delivering toys, books and other gifts to disadvantaged children since 1947. The program distributes an average of 18 million gifts annually and has given to more than 251 million children across 800 communities nationwide in its 71-year history.

“Dollars for Downloads” is a DISH Cares initiative, supporting the program’s focus on military support and youth empowerment, according to Dish. Dish employees participate in holiday toy drives at its Denver headquarters and nationwide satellite offices through Dish Cares, donating thousands of gifts to children and seniors each year, according to the company.