Heroes in Home Entertainment 2023

Media Play News for the sixth consecutive year has selected a panel of honorees in the home entertainment industry who are known for their charitable work. From those who serve on boards or participate in direct charitable giving and activities, to those who do hands-on volunteer work in philanthropic endeavors locally, nationally and abroad, these heroes are contributing how and where they can.


Bekah Sturm

Senior Project Manager, DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group

Bekah Sturm with foster dogs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The need is often dire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


David Oyelowo

Co-Founder, Mansa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Erica Marie Dionne

SVP, Release Planning and Business Operations, NBCUniversal

Erica Marie Dionne with one of her Girl Scouts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her volunteer work is about unveiling possibilities, she says.

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

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

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


Tracy Kim

VP, Digital Platforms, NBCUniversal

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kim says she saw an extraordinary transformation in her mentee.

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

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

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


Pamela Sivula

VP, Finance, Paramount Home Entertainment International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kirsten Anderson

Publicist, Paramount Home Entertainment

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

Anderson has found ways to volunteer all around her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heroes in Home Entertainment 2022: Helping Hands and Caring Hearts

Charity may begin at home — but it certainly flourishes in home entertainment. Media Play News for the fifth consecutive year has selected a panel of honorees in the home entertainment industry who are known for their charitable work. From those who serve on boards or participate in direct charitable giving and activities, to those who do hands-on volunteer work in philanthropic endeavors locally, nationally and abroad, this group is contributing how and where they can.

Reshelet Phifer

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

Reshelet Phifer

Phifer is a member of the Black@UPHE Internship Taskforce, where she partners with NBCU Campus Recruitment to mentor intern students throughout the calendar year. Over the past two years, she has personally mentored eight interns.

Phifer says she enjoys “helping to shape the next generation of young career professionals by providing inspiration, acceptance, a listening ear, assistance in navigating through day-to-day challenges, and, most importantly, making them feel valued.”

“In addition, by mentoring I’m able to build my leadership and management skills and provide an empowering opportunity to give back,” she adds.

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

Last summer, Phifer volunteered as a moderator for a panel sponsored by NBCU Launch and NBCU Campus Recruitment for the HBCU LA Internship Program. This program provides a select group of diverse student leaders the opportunity to participate in a paid eight- to 10-week immersive internship program in the entertainment industry. This fall, Phifer partnered with NBCU Global Talent Development & Inclusion by volunteering in a roundtable networking discussion designed to give access to underrepresented students seeking a pathway to leadership in the entertainment field by having exposure to diverse executives within the company.

As part of her mentorship, Phifer helps interns with specific job-seeking activities.

“I sit on an Internship Taskforce within NBCU where we partner with HR to provide additional support to our interns by helping them prepare their resumés, supplying them with additional tools and programs to help further their knowledge and skillset within the entertainment industry, and providing valuable networking opportunities with other senior leaders offering their insights developed over years of experience,” she says.

Phifer’s efforts have paid dividends.

“Several of my interns have been asked to return for an additional semester to receive further training and learning in the hopes of providing immeasurable benefits for long-term career growth,” she notes. “I’ve also assisted in getting interns hired to full-time positions within and outside of the company after graduation.”

That’s just a portion of Phifer’s volunteer activities. She partnered with NBCUnites and volunteered her time to do pro bono creative design work for Good Call, a community-centered, nonprofit organization focused on providing early legal intervention for those arrested. Also, as an HBCU graduate, she had the opportunity to partner with the Black Employee Network (one of the Employee Resource Groups within Comcast NBCU) to volunteer as a moderator for a panel honoring current HBCU presidents throughout the United States, including the president from her alma mater, Grambling State University.

Elevating and collaborating with others in her volunteer work is rewarding, Phifer says.

“Having a shared passion allows me to meet other individuals that I can impact, connect, and build meaningful relationships that last a lifetime,” she says.

Joanne Mandatis

Commercial Director, Australia,
Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment

Joanne Mandatis

It is often a personal connection — a family member — that draws someone to help others. For Mandatis, it was her son.

“My son James was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) when he was 18 months old (he’s now 14),” Mandatis recalls. “Finding a school that caters to children with autism specifically is very difficult (if not impossible) in Australia. We heard about the wonderful charity and school through a friend and were fortunate enough to have James accepted as a student at Giant Steps nine years ago. Giant Steps charges no fees to parents and receives approximately 50% funding from the government. The remainder of the funds are raised through fundraising activities organized either by the school, or the majority by the parents.”

James Mandatis learning cooking skills at Giant Steps.

The mission of Giant Steps Sydney (giantsteps.net.au) is to develop intensive therapeutic and educational programs to ensure that each child has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential. Giant Steps also seeks to provide support to families, to improve understanding of autism in the wider community and to develop best practices among caregivers and professionals.

Mandatis jumped in to help the school in it fundraising activities.

“Over the last nine years, I’ve held a Greek Night Gala to raise funds for Giant Steps,” she says. “Through these nine years this event has raised in excess of $190,000, which goes directly to helping children and young adults with autism. My last event was on Friday, Nov. 4, where we raised over $31,000. The funds help in a number of ways — additional support for the students, access to community activities, playground updates, etc. I’ve also had the honor of being the guest speaker at the Giant Steps Annual Ball in 2019. There were 1,200 people in attendance and the event raised over $500,000.”

It’s not just funding that Mandatis is helping to expand. She says she also relishes “growing awareness and acceptance for people on the spectrum.”

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

“I’m truly passionate about Giant Steps and about ASD awareness and acceptance in the community,” she says. “The more people hear and garner an understanding, the more people will be accepting of the differences. #DifferentNotLess.”

The kind of help Giant Steps provides is invaluable, Mandatis says.

“Giant Steps goes above and beyond, not just for the students, but for the families also,” she says. “In 2015 we needed to sell our house and buy a bigger home, as the current house we had was not suitable for James’ needs. I had mentioned this to one of James’ teachers. The next day they called me to say that when we are looking at a property that we like to let them know — I wasn’t sure why. We did find a house we liked, and as suggested I let them know. The next day — after school hours — James’ teacher and his occupational therapist came to see the house. They spent the next two hours reviewing every inch of the property to make sure that it was safe and would meet James’ needs. They documented changes and suggestions and then followed up with picture cards of the new house so that James could become familiar with it before we moved into it.

“This is something that I will never forget as it put my mind at ease about the move, and also prepared James so that he would not be overwhelmed.

“They are also teaching James life skills like showering, cooking and shopping. They take him to the local supermarket once a week and are teaching him how to shop using visual aids and self-checkout. He now loves to go to the supermarket with me.”

Lyle Goff

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

Lyle Goff

Most people don’t often think about how crucial eyesight is to everyday life.

Not Goff, who has lost approximately 15% to 20% of the vision in his left eye due to hemorrhaging in his retina from high blood pressure and who spends his volunteer time on charitable activities to help others see.

“I am reminded daily on how precious one’s sight is and how easily it can be taken for granted,” he says.

Goff is on the board of the Minnesota Lions Vision Foundation (mnlionsvisionfoundation.org), which has been working to help the blind and visually impaired since 1960.

“I have shared my story with others in the hopes that someone will never have to deal with the loss of their sight,” he says.

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

Through its support of Lions Gift of Sight (formerly the Minnesota Lions Eye Bank), its collaboration with the University of Minnesota’s Department of Ophthalmology, and its work collecting and distributing used eyeglasses, the foundation, which is affiliated with Lions Clubs International, helps countless people every day. Founded in 1917, Lions Clubs International is best known for fighting blindness since Helen Keller, while at the Lions’ convention in 1925, asked the organization to become “knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness,” Goff notes.

One of the foundation’s charitable endeavors is its pledge to build an eye institute at the University of Minnesota. The $50 million-plus project will gather the separate parts of the department of ophthalmology under one roof and will incorporate new levels of collaboration and cooperation between the various clinics and researchers. New offerings such as a low-vision clinic and expanded eye surgery facilities will help reach more patients. The first step in the development of the eye institute was the creation of the Minnesota Lions’ Eye Surgery Center in 2015 with a $4 Million contribution, Goff says. The University of Minnesota created two eye surgery bays with state-of-the-art equipment to not only help in patient treatment, but also allow for students training to be eye surgeons to learn on the best equipment available. In the 30 years prior to the creation of this eye surgery center, no eye surgeries were performed at the University of Minnesota, Goff notes, but there were more than 2,000 eye surgeries performed in 2021, with more than 2,500 projected for 2023.

“That one makes me smile every time I think about it,” he says.

The Lions of Minnesota have also collected more than 12 million pairs of glasses that have been sent off as part of mission trips to other countries, he says.

“Volunteers who have been a part of these trips have told us tales of people walking dozens of miles and standing for hours in the sun just for a chance to get a pair of glasses that will help them see,” Goff notes.

He finds it gratifying that the foundation’s charitable activities stretch across the globe.

“That pair of used eyeglasses dropped off in our local collection pail can end up providing sight to someone in another country, and who may not be able to afford to buy glasses,” he says. “The cornea donated to our local eye bank may help restore sight to someone in your own community, or |someone living in on the other side of the Earth. That research being done at our local university may be something that results in eliminating blindness that affects people on a global scale.”

When he talks to the community about eye donation and the work at the university, he says, he also hopes he has “reached someone who will now think better about protecting their eyesight and about giving the gift of sight to others when the time comes.”

At an annual symposium held by the University of Minnesota’s Department of Ophthalmology and the Minnesota Lions Vision Foundation, attendees hear from transplant recipients and eye donor family members.

“I never come away from this annual event without being instilled with a sense of hope and some pride in what has been accomplished,” he says.

Evie Kelly

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

Evie Kelly

For four years, Kelly has participated in a 16-mile overnight walk to bring suicide prevention “out of the darkness,” organized by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (theovernight.org).

The AFSP Overnight takes place once a year to raise awareness and money to send the message that suicide is preventable, and that no one is alone.

After she finishes each long walk, Kelly notes how meaningful it is“ seeing thousands of luminarias light up the finish line, dedicated and decorated to those lost.”

“You’re exhausted, sore and drained, yet honored that you’ve accomplished something really important to anyone suffering,” she says.

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

Kelly is also on the board of the Charles E. Kubly Foundation in Milwaukee, a public charity devoted to improving the lives of those affected by depression, eliminating stigma, and supporting suicide prevention programs.

It was a personal experience that prompted Kelly to get involved in the cause.

“After a family tragedy, I became very interested in aligning with organizations that raise awareness, focus on stigma reduction, and provide much-needed resources to suicide prevention programs, especially with teens and veterans,” she says. “I wanted to make a difference in the conversation about mental health and suicide prevention.”

With the SPAN Suicide Prevention Action Network (now part of AFSP) legislative conference in Washington D.C., Kelly also worked with her elected congressman and senators in support of suicide prevention bills.

Kelly says she is gratified by “putting action behind and much needed awareness on a disease that’s been in the shadows for too long.”

Indeed, the AFSP Overnight Walks bring to light painful but important experiences.

Kelly feels a sense of community and agency “during those long, late night overnight walks, hearing stories and connecting with so many people whose lives have been affected by depression.”

Michele Fino

Head of Branded Entertainment,
Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment

Michele Fino

Fino takes pleasure in the way her involvement with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (lls.org) has inspired her family.

Indeed, she participates in many of the charity’s events with them.

“My favorite activities with LLS are anything with my kids,” Fino says. “We’ve done two ‘Big Climbs’ together, one during the quarantine in 2020 and an in-person event at the U.S. Open in New York City this past May. My youngest son and I did ‘Light the Night’ together in 2020, and I did a virtual ‘Team in Training’ event with my siblings all over the country in January 2021 for a Resolution Challenge.”

Fino also has another family connection to the mission. Her mother has multiple myeloma.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is dedicated to funding and investing in research to fight blood cancers.

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

During her work with the organization, Fino says, she has found that “meeting pediatric oncologists and blood cancer survivors is incredibly moving.”

Fino consults and advises the charitable organization on branding. In fact, it was her branding expertise that brought her to LLS.

“My work with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society started with a friend reaching out over text at the beginning of COVID because she knew how I could help LLS with their branded content,” she notes.

Fino says she enjoys evangelizing for the charity, “introducing new audiences, like the ones on the Players’ Tribune or on Twitch Crown, to the research and patient and family resources that LLS has to offer, like our scholarship for blood cancer survivors.”

But she says it is how her involvement is introducing her kids to doing good for others that is the ultimate reward.

“Watching my 13-year-old stream while wearing my LLS hat and knowing that the mission of LLS has passed on to my next generation is all a parent can hope for,” she says.

Shavonne Wieder

VP, Global Brand Marketing,
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Shavonne Wieder

Wieder enjoys bringing her job skills and experience as a woman of color to her charity work.

Volunteering with the Hollywood Food Coalition (hofoco.org) through the NBCUniversal Talent Lab Pro-Bono program, she and her team worked to create marketing and communication strategies to grow the nonprofit.

“Our team helped this rising local nonprofit to organize and outline their marketing and communications plans both internally and externally for the coming year,” Wieder says. “Being able to take my knowledge of strategic planning to help this nonprofit prioritize and continue to grow within our community was really exciting. We got a chance to learn about the past and what they hope to accomplish in the coming year — but it can’t be done without help. So we were able to help outline a way for them to get more visibility through their social media efforts with their plans for focusing their efforts that help bring food, hygiene care and dignity to our community with fundraising, volunteering and collaborative donations with other local organizations.”

Additionally, Wieder has been working with Women of Color Filmmakers (womenofcolorfilmmakers.org), a nonprofit that helps to educate and develop the skills of female filmmakers. She has been a speaker at the group’s meetings, volunteered as a mentor and worked on connecting group members with teams at Universal.

“The Women of Color Filmmakers hold an annual gala to honor the work their members have done all year,” Wieder says. “To be able to judge the shorts these women put so much work into was an honor, but honestly watching all of them come to life, to have been completed and be so personal in their storytelling, was great. Seeing the joy the winners experienced sharing with their families and other members of the group really inspired me to continue working with them and trying to spread awareness both of their organization and others that they can connect with and learn from. Seeing people’s dreams come into being is magical, and inspiring them to keep trying, to remember their audience is always bigger than they imagine and that their words and stories matter – that’s what keeps me going.”

Wieder has also been an advocate for voter registration and worked with When We All Vote, sending postcards to battleground states encouraging people to vote.

Why does she get involved in so many volunteer organizations?

“I’ve always wanted the chance to help people in a bigger way,” she says. “I’ve worked with several organizations, and the biggest thing I’ve learned is that people just need a chance and often another pair of hands or eyes to help bring an idea to life.”

She also feels empowered and driven to help by her position as a woman of color in the industry.

“As a woman of color in entertainment I often am the ‘only’ in meeting rooms, and I want to help change that, so when a friend introduced me to Laudi Maduro (President of WOCF) I immediately wanted to help her and the inspiring women who were also trying to learn and improve their skills as filmmakers,” Wieder says. “I saw some of the short films these filmmakers had created together, and they were fantastic! Women of color are rare in the filmmaker business, but it’s something I’m excited to see change. Being able to open doors and keep them open is important to me, and finding organizations that want to inspire and lift women to be more recognized is very fulfilling.”

Ultimately, it’s the people she helps that gratify her in her volunteer work.

“It’s getting to know the people who I’ve been working with, seeing the vision of what they want to create and having it come to fruition,” she says.

“The way people’s faces light up when something they are so passionate about gets to come to life is amazing and continuously inspiring. I really love that I can help organizations that truly want to make the world a more equal and open place for all.”

Durriya Gunja

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

Durriya Gunja

Gunja is involved in numerous charities, helping the battered and sick, young and old.

“My journey started with the exposure of a 40-hour domestic violence training certification I completed. The training was needed for me to volunteer at Apna Ghar, a domestic violence shelter in Chicago,” she says. “It gave me the exposure and understanding of what women go through and the everyday mistakes made in ignoring the signs of abusive behavior — most of the time due to the lack of awareness.

“I’ve since participated in volunteering my time with different organizations in varying capacities. Although all my work has some thread of personal connection, the one that is closest to home is the KDO. I am a founding board member of KDO, the Kisat Diabetes Organization (kisatdiabetes.org), which my siblings and I started after we lost our dad to the complications of diabetes. We host an annual 5K and generate funds to help spread awareness and education to support diabetes prevention.”

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

The KDO, where Gunja also acts as head of marketing, offers donations to the American Diabetes Association, free diabetes testing, nutritionist evaluations, community education seminars and yoga, among other assistance.

Gunja also volunteers at the AARA (American Association of Retired Asians), an organization that helps connect the elderly in various suburbs of Illinois and offers subsidized lunch outings, activities and entertainment for them (retiredasians.org); and at Aavegh (aavegh.org), an artistic and humanitarian organization with the mission of creating a dialogue on important societal issues through artistic expression. For Redbox’s Employee Resource Groups, she has volunteered at a food pantry and has acted as the lead for Women Empowered, which collected $1,000 and purses, accessories, make-up and toiletries for Love Purse (lovepurse.org) to donate to domestic violence shelters.

Her volunteer activities extend globally with the Human Development Foundation (hdf.com), where she is a board member for the Chicago Network. She recently helped coordinate and set up an annual fundraising gala that collected more than $300,000 for HDF. Through the foundation, she has contributed and raised funds for women and children in rural areas of Karachi, Pakistan.

“When I visited the HDF site in Karachi, Pakistan, in 2018, it was a learning experience to see the living conditions and how little they had to get by,” she says. “Upon asking the children what they felt was missing in their school, the majority mentioned backpack and uniform. That was so they could feel the same dignity at school as other children they saw. Many children connected having uniforms with having a sense of belonging and motivation. These kids were not dreaming of vacations, toys or video games — all they wanted was to have a backpack to hold their book like the other kids they saw. Although we couldn’t do uniforms at the time, I was glad we were able to arrange for backpacks for the HDF school of 250 children. This experience is close to my heart. I think about it often to remind myself to not take things or people for granted.”

Allie Talbott

VP, Digital Distribution,
Sony Pictures Entertainment

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

Allie Talbot at a National Charity League event.

“My good friends and neighbors in Manhattan Beach, Robin Terry and Hilary Mahan, have been part of the National Charity League for a few years,” she says. “They’ve both had great experiences volunteering with various organizations and nurturing their relationships with their daughters at the same time. When asked if I wanted to join, I jumped at the opportunity.”

Thus, Talbott and her daughter got involved with the National Charity League, often volunteering at the Richstone Family Center, preparing food baskets from grocery donations for local families in need. NCL Inc., Manhattan-Hermosa Chapter, is a group of mothers and daughters who have come together in a commitment to community service, leadership development and cultural experiences. NCL aims to foster the mother-daughter relationship by serving communities together.

Established in 2009, the Manhattan-Hermosa Chapter is the area’s oldest NCL Chapter, with nearly 550 members who volunteer at philanthropic organizations throughout Southern California. From 2021 through 2022, volunteers have contributed nearly 8,000 hours across various philanthropies such as Heal the Bay, Ballona Wetlands, Love Joy and Operation Gratitude (operationgratitude.com/volunteer/anywhere/letters). Founded in 1974, The Richstone Family Center (richstonefamily.org) works to prevent child abuse and trauma by providing families therapy care, incorporating educational programming in schools and volunteering parental assistance.

“As part of NCL, we (mom and daughter) commit to dedicating our time to philanthropic activities throughout the South Bay,” Talbott says. “My most memorable time thus far has been supporting the Richstone Family Center food pantry and Operation Gratitude, Any Soldier Letter Writing. Both organizations support families and loved ones who need extra care and attention, not just during the holidays, but throughout the year. At Richstone, I help prepare grocery boxes for local residents who rely on the weekly distribution to help support their families. In addition to the food pantry for their clients, the Richstone Family Center has been dedicated to treating and preventing child abuse and trauma; strengthening and educating families; and preventing violence in families, schools and communities.”

As a busy working mom of three, Talbott likes that NCL makes giving back easily fit into her schedule.

“It’s a priority of mine, when I’m not working or taking care of my three kids, to do something positive and impactful for the community,” she says. “NCL gives me the tools and support to do that. They partner with so many diverse charities, allowing me to find windows of opportunity to give back to the community that has given me so much in the past seven years of living here.”

It has also provided her with unforgettable moments.

“While volunteering at the P.S. I Love You Foundation beach day event I met so many young girls who had never been to the beach before, let alone in the ocean,” she recalls. “They only live a few miles from the beach, but for many, this day allowed them, for the first time ever, to put their feet in the sand and just be kids for the day. There was face-painting, T-shirt cutting, dress-up booths, hat decorating, etc. — everything to make for a great day at the beach. I was happy to have been part of this day, and that I played a role in supporting the charity’s goal of instilling love for self, others and the surrounding world.”

Heroes in Home Entertainment 2021

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

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Mike Aaronson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sherry Brennan

GM and EVP,
Whip Media

Sherry Brennan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brennan is passionate about continued support for that program.

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

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

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


Richard Foos

Executive Chairman and Co-Founder,
Shout! Factory

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

Richard Foos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Judy Guevara

VP, Global Brand Marketing,
Sony Pictures Entertainment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Hilary Hoffman

EVP, Global Marketing,
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

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

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

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

Hilary Hoffman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Savannah Kattan

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

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

Helping youngsters is about giving back for Kattan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her desire to help also extends to her community.

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


Dina Wiggins

SVP, Legal Affairs,
Sony Pictures Entertainment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing one young life particularly affected Wiggins.

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

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

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.”

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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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.