Media Play News for the sixth consecutive year has selected a panel of honorees in the home entertainment industry who are known for their charitable work. From those who serve on boards or participate in direct charitable giving and activities, to those who do hands-on volunteer work in philanthropic endeavors locally, nationally and abroad, these heroes are contributing how and where they can.
Senior Project Manager, DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group
Sturm has found that man’s best friend may need one.
She works for A Purposeful Rescue, a nonprofit dog rescue organization in the Los Angeles area that gives animals in high-kill shelters who are overlooked a new chance at life.
“Often, the animals that come through APR have medical needs or require a little extra work that can put off potential adopters,” she says. “The fosters and volunteers help these animals get their second chance.”
It was through a friend that Sturm learned about the charity.
“I have always loved dogs, and a friend of mine was heavily involved with the rescue, and I helped her with her foster dogs until I was in a place to be able to foster dogs myself,” she says.
She’s helped several dogs find what she calls their “furever home.”
“A few of my fosters needed multiple medical baths or a place to recover from surgery, and I was able to help nurse them to health until they found their perfect families,” she says. “The rescue does adoption events several times a month.”
The need is often dire.
“Most of these dogs are in rough shape and look terrible,” Sturm says. “The shelter workers do the absolute best they can, but have limited resources and are overworked.”
One dog she fostered that particularly affected her was in the shelter for a month after being seized by police, most likely because of some sort of abuse situation.
“He was completely matted to the point of painful dreadlocks,” she recalls. “When the shelter did get to shave him, they found giant hairless spots and callouses from him sitting on concrete for the majority of his life. Now, he has a full coat of fur and the callouses have disappeared. He is with a family that loves him dearly — and he will never sleep on concrete again.”
One of the most gratifying aspects of working with these canines in need is seeing their transformation.
“So many of these dogs are stressed out and scared in the shelter environment,” Sturm says. “Seeing these dogs decompress and let their fun, quirky personalities come to the surface is the best feeling. They are often so loving and sweet, but in the overcrowded shelter, they don’t act that way. Once they realize they are safe, an amazing dog appears. Sometimes, they just need time and space, and being able to offer that place for them to be their best self makes my heart happy.”
That’s why she has a new friend at home. His name is Charlie.
“When we first got Charlie, he was basically hairless,” Sturm says. “We were just supposed to foster him, but we loved him so much, he stayed.”
When not playing groundbreaking historical figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma and one of the first black deputy U.S. marshals west of the Mississippi River in the Paramount+ production “Lawmen: Bass Reeves” (which he executive produces with Taylor Sheridan) Oyelowo — also a co-founder of ad-supported Black content streaming service Mansa — has found time to change the future of Nigerian girls.
“In 2014 when the Chibok girls were kidnapped in northern Nigeria by Boko Haram, it sparked the Bring Back Our Girls campaign,” he recalls. “I felt very strongly that even though it was great that the world was paying attention, that attention would not last for long and these girls would probably be in more danger.”
He felt more should be done, so he teamed with the GEANCO Foundation, already doing great work in Nigeria, to establish a leadership scholarship to help educate girls.
“It was to be an answer to the fact that what was being taken away from those girls who were kidnapped is their ability to be educated,” he says. “The notion that girls should be educated is what was being attacked.”
The David Oyelowo Leadership Scholarship for Girls, first awarded in 2016, is a program to help girls in Nigeria get everything from critical health care to education. Every year, a new class of young women receives full tuition, housing, health care and social support with five partner schools. This year, the cohort numbers 45 girls receiving support thanks to partner GEANCO and Oyelowo.
Oyelowo traveled to Nigeria in 2018 to meet some of the beneficiaries of his scholarship, including some of the first recipients.
“To meet with those initial seven girls and just to see how impactful the scholarship was on their lives was huge,” he says. “Some of them were coming out of truly difficult situations. They had suffered any kind of abuse you could think of, compiled with economic deprivation, and not being educated at the level of their intelligence and ability in relation to what was possible for them in terms of prospects. That trip was incredibly impactful.”
He continues to be gratified by “the joy that it brings these girls to feel seen, to feel supported, and to be given a future that is indisputably more full of potential than what they were staring down the barrel of without the scholarship.”
The scholarships are a vital component in “encouraging them into the best version of themselves in terms of possibility and prospect,” he says.
One of the most gratifying things for Oyelowo is that previous beneficiaries are giving back. “Girls who are now cycling out of the scholarship are now going back to help educate and support the new girls being accepted into the program,” he says. “That’s how you know it’s working.”
Erica Marie Dionne
SVP, Release Planning and Business Operations, NBCUniversal
Dionne says that “as a media and technology Latinx female executive, I often find myself in rooms where I am the ‘only’ or ‘one of a few.’”
That’s what has prompted her to help others populate those rooms through her work with the Girl Scouts and with America On Tech, which has a mission “to prepare the next generation of technology leaders from underestimated communities” by creating career pathways into degrees and/or careers in technology.
“Having grown up in the inner city and being a first-generation college student, my passion to support America On Tech’s mission stems from my belief that we can collectively break down barriers and make universal opportunity a reality for future generations, envisioning a world where everyone, regardless of background, can reach for and attain their aspirations in the tech industry,” she says.
Dionne on the weekends spends time with her Girl Scout troop.
“I became involved with the Girl Scouts with the aim of fostering a sense of community among students at my local school and providing girls with opportunities to develop confidence in various areas they might not otherwise encounter,” she says.
With America On Tech, Dionne is both an executive who spearheads fundraising and a hands-on volunteer. Over the past two years, she’s served as the chair of the local regional advisory board, and this year she took on the role of co-chair for the Innovators & Disruptors Awards in Los Angeles, which raised more than $138,000. She also directly engages with students in such signature programs as the Tech360 Summer Bootcamp, a three-week program where students learn how to code through web design and web development.
“Hosting 330 students and parents on the NBCUniversal DreamWorks Campus for the Tech360 program’s graduation was a personal highlight this summer,” she says. “Witnessing the pride of parents, the hugs, and the hope in the room underscored the transformative impact of early exposure to technology — an impact that is truly rewarding to witness as each graduate becomes a potential game-changer in the tech landscape.”
With Girl Scouts, she sees a similar impact, albeit, because they are 7 and 8 year olds, on a “smaller” scale.
“During one of our initial meetings this year, as the girls embarked on their Brownie Journey, we delved into their unique qualities and talents,” she says. “Each girl crafted a personal collage reflecting aspects of themselves, and it was truly heartening to witness them describe themselves as kind, happy, bold, courageous, and more. In that same troop meeting, the troop members had the opportunity to uncover potential new talents with music. They experimented with singing, guitars, drums, piano, banjos, and other string instruments. The sheer expression of joy was remarkable. Witnessing the girls radiate pride and confidently engage with their parents about their newfound musical talent was gratifying. It’s in these seemingly modest moments that courage and confidence take root and flourish. It’s in the exploration of ‘yes, you can’ that we begin to raise the leaders of tomorrow.”
Her volunteer work is about unveiling possibilities, she says.
“I often think about how I grew-up, how we were exposed to few or no options,” she says. “I question what different choices my peers would have made in an alternative universe where they could have been introduced to a world of possibilities earlier in life. Perhaps more would have graduated high school, gone on to college, or pursued a career in a field that could have led to significant generational economic change.”
She says America On Tech students have expressed that they never thought about pursuing a career in cybersecurity or were unaware of digital marketing analytics before attending a company-sponsored fellowship session.
“The Girl Scouts troop members’ exclamations of ‘wow’ when they hear from individuals who care for farms, or from professionals in our field, is the verbal expression of a mind growing and a world widening,” Dionne says.
VP, Digital Platforms, NBCUniversal
Applying to college is daunting for most teenagers, but it can be particularly intimidating when that teenager is the first in their family to do so.
Kim has found a way to help one of those teenagers through Minds Matter Southern California.
“I discovered Minds Matter as a nonprofit partner through NBCUnites, a division of Comcast NBCUniversal that provides employees with local volunteer opportunities,” she says. “After participating in several one-off programs, I sought a long-term opportunity to serve and establish a mentorship relationship over time. With a focus on educational equity, the mission of Minds Matter, as a college access program for high-achieving high school students from underserved communities, resonated with me.”
Through Minds Matter, Kim — along with a co-mentor — has helped a teenager realize her dream of getting into college.
“Assisting with the application process for several college summer programs and witnessing my mentee’s admission to her first choice was a rewarding milestone,” Kim says. “I love that Minds Matter encourages students to think of what’s possible and to dream big. Watching my mentee set ambitious goals and successfully achieve them, only to set her sights even higher each time, has been truly gratifying.”
Kim says she saw an extraordinary transformation in her mentee.
“In just two short years of the program, I’ve observed my mentee’s remarkable personal growth and transformation — from a shy 15-year-old to a quietly ambitious and confident college-bound senior,” she says. “As the first in her family to attend college, she is not only paving the way for herself but also setting an inspiring example as a role model for her siblings, family and community. I am excited to see what more she accomplishes for herself and how she pays it forward.”
The relationship that developed over time among the “triad” (two mentors paired with one student) “has been unexpectedly enriching,” she says.
“I’ve found that I’ve learned as much, if not more, from my mentee and co-mentor through this experience,” Kim says. “The program has also allowed me to establish connections with fellow volunteers and students from various backgrounds whom I may not have otherwise had the chance to meet in my day-to-day life. It serves as a reminder of how fortunate we are to live in a diverse city like Los Angeles.”
VP, Finance, Paramount Home Entertainment International
We learn to protect nature best through hands- (and feet)-on experiences, Sivula has found.
“If people love the wilderness, they will also help protect and conserve those wild spaces for future generations,” she says.
Indeed, it was a Sierra Club course in backpacking and camping that spawned her interest in wilderness preservation and in helping others to appreciate the great outdoors.
“I took the 10-week Wilderness Travel Course in 2010 and loved it,” she says. “The course teaches participants how to go off trail to backpack to and camp in stunning locations while being prepared, remaining safe, and respectful of the land, the resources, and the wildlife. Through the course, I discovered that I love rock scrambling and snow camping, two activities I would never even have tried if the course hadn’t included them. That summer, as encouraged by the course, I went on an off-trail backpacking trip with other classmates. The trip was led by outings leaders of the Sierra Club and was to the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness in the Sierra National Forest. The views and crystal-clear lakes were so stunning — and we had the place all to ourselves. The experience was so different than lakeside camping in drive-up camps that I’d experienced before. The deep connection I felt with the serenity and stunning beauty of the wilderness inspired me to get involved with the course, so that I could help others discover this.”
Sivula volunteers with the Wilderness Travel Course of the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club. The course is designed to teach avid day hikers the skills necessary to go safety and responsibly on back-country backpacking trips, skills such as compass-and-map navigation, leave no trace, and gear selection.
“We introduce so many participants each year to the outdoors and ways to enjoy it and protect it,” she says. “Many of our participants go on to lead outings for the Sierra Club or get involved in local or national conservation efforts. It’s rewarding to see that sharing my love of the outdoors can have follow-on effects.”
The course, which because of the volunteers is significantly less costly than commercially operated programs, has 10 classroom sessions and four outings, including a snow backpacking trip in the eastern Sierra Nevada. As the program chairperson, Sivula leads the planning for the course and spearheads the management and direction of the more than 150 volunteer instructors and support personnel, as they offer the course each year to more than 250 participants in Los Angeles and Orange County. Sivula has also obtained certification as a Wilderness EMT to enhance her ability to handle an emergency.
“My favorite thing about the course itself is getting to see participants discover a passion for the outdoors and activities they may not have considered before — when the navigation and terrain recognition clicks, usually on our navigation day in Joshua Tree National Park, and they realize they can visualize the terrain from the squiggly lines on the map and find their way with the compass, or when they have childlike wonder at snow camp and the surrounding beauty of frosted trees and sparkling white landscapes,” she says.
The outings can truly spark a change in hikers, she says.
“One participant started off somewhat quiet and shy, and she carried herself like she didn’t have much self-confidence,” Sivula recalls. “During our Joshua Tree outing, when we began to introduce and practice rock scrambling skills, she really came alive. The concentration and confidence she showed on rock was really cool to see. She turned out to have a knack for it and did extremely well on rock for a first time. After that day, she walked with much more general self-confidence with the course and appeared to have that connection and care for the Mars-like landscape of Joshua Tree’s rocks. I knew that from then on, she would always be a great supporter of wilderness conservation efforts because of the impact the outdoors had had on her personally.”
Publicist, Paramount Home Entertainment
Anderson has found ways to volunteer all around her.
She got involved with Camp Erin after listening to a segment of “This American Life.” Every year, Our House Grief Support Center hosts the weekend-long camp for children ages 6 to 17 who’ve lost loved ones. The camp combines traditional camp activities such as swimming and tie-dyeing shirts with grief support, remembrance projects and ceremonies to encourage and promote healing. Anderson’s role at Camp Erin is to co-lead a group of campers for the weekend as a Cabin Big Buddy, encouraging and supporting campers as they engage in activities to ensure a fun, supportive and nurturing experience.
“It’s amazing how much these kids grow within just 48 hours,” she says. “When kids make friends because they’ve both experienced the death of someone close, they don’t feel so alone — and that makes all the difference.”
She says her thoughts, worries and concerns melt away that weekend as she is moved by the strength and resilience of these campers.
She was introduced to the Motion Picture & Television Fund — which supports working and retired members of the entertainment community with a safety net of health and social services, including temporary financial assistance, case management, and residential living — as an assistant at DreamWorks, where employees were encouraged to help serve at holiday banquets. She was hooked at a Valentine’s Day banquet, serving punch and cookies and hearing residents’ Hollywood stories. Now, Anderson’s time with the MPTF is spent making weekly calls for the Daily Call Sheet, providing a friendly social call to people who might otherwise be lonely and isolated.
“It just takes a few minutes a day or two a week to make a positive impact,” she says.
She has made calls to five Daily Call Sheet buddies over the years. From discovering new places to visit, such as Bloom Ranch or the Kilcoyne Lilac Farm, to getting the behind-the-scenes scoop from those who have spent their whole career in the industry, she says she “also reaps the benefits from making these calls.”
Inspired by one of her mother’s music student’s mission trip to Kenya, Anderson got involved with the Grain of Rice Project (GORP), a nonprofit organization that empowers Kenyans through education and training initiatives. Based in a village outside of Nanyuki, there’s an artisan program, volunteer housing, vegetable gardens and the Grain of Rice Academy for the Child Advocate Program. The program provides uniforms, books, materials, education and meals for a child who would normally struggle to attend school. In addition to making beautiful, handcrafted products, the artisans learn essential skills to improve their standard of living, including budgeting, savings, goal setting, resumé writing, leadership, parenting and healthy living.
“I have supported the same student for seven years in their Child Advocate Program,” Anderson says. “It’s amazing how much a small consistent donation can really make a strong impact. We’ve been exchanging pictures and letters over the years and it’s always exciting to see the progress they’ve made. Also, I usually receive compliments whenever wearing jewelry made by the GORP artisans.”
Anderson also participates in several activities she’s found through Paramount, including Paramount Community Day, a day that deploys thousands of volunteers each year to serve in communities where Paramount Global has operations. She has planted flowers and pulled weeds, created cards for soldiers, prepared food at Project Angel Food and recently participated in virtual mock interviews with high school students. She also spent time at the Assistance League of Los Angeles helping young women get ready for Prom Day 2023 and joined thousands at Big Sunday for their 11th annual MLK Day clothing drive and community breakfast.
“It’s a great way to reach out to the community and meet some colleagues with whom you might not otherwise have crossed paths,” she says.