Volunteers Place Community Center Stage

By Aaron Blevins, 4/25/2012

Paramount Pictures Holds Day of Service in Hollywood


Front and center stage, approximately 700 volunteers from Paramount Pictures flocked to several sites in Hollywood on Friday, performing bit parts to assist various community organizations.

Emily McGatlin (right), of Paramount Pictures’ Post Finance Department, decorated a fence at Frances Blend Special Education Center. (photo by Aaron Blevins)

With so many volunteers, the company called for action at 10 different locations, including the Los Angeles Zoo, Project Angel Food, the Frances Blend Special Education Center and Melrose Avenue Elementary School. The groups also helped organizations such as Heal the Bay and Project New Hope.

Coined “Viacommunity Day” after Paramount’s parent company, Viacom, the event is in its 17th year. Of those 17, Paramount Pictures has spent two years at Project Angel Food, a nonprofit organization that prepares nutritious meals for clients with life-threatening illnesses such as cancer or HIV/AIDS.

“Paramount is a really important partner of ours,” Project Angel Food chief executive officer Margaret Steele said. “We’ve just been ecstatic with how deep the partnership has developed.”

The organization dishes out approximately 700,000 meals each year to about 2,200 people. Project Angel Food has an operating budget of $5 million per year, 8 percent of which comes from government funding, Steele said. Therefore, the nonprofit relies on its 1,500 active volunteers, whose 55,000 annual hours amount to 28 full-time staff members, she said.

“Volunteers are the backbone of Project Angel Food’s mission,” Steele said. “Volunteers touch basically every aspect of our work.”

During Viacommunity Day, Paramount employees prepared and packed meals. They also made $5 “Feed Bead” bracelets that are sold to raise money for Project Angel Food. Steele said the organization strives to create an atmosphere in which the community — through volunteers — takes pride in nourishing its own ill.

“It means so much to (the clients),” she said. “It’s a really beautiful thing.”

Meanwhile, at Melrose Avenue Elementary School, many volunteers assembled outdoor furniture, painted a large chess board on the school playground and gave the school’s garden, which was created by some parents, a little extra attention. While some volunteers provided labor, others painted faces and read to children.

“This is honestly one of the best days out of the year for us every year,” said site leader Christina Derenthal, Paramount’s manager of real estate and government relations. “(The students) are so jazzed about this chess board.”

Principal Bernadette Lucas said the volunteer help was “unbelievable” and “invaluable,” especially since funding is slim for such improvements.

“The energy the Paramount Pictures team has brought here today has had such a positive impact on students, teachers, staff and parents,” Lucas said. “We’re just so thankful to them.”

At Frances Blend, volunteers provided a petting zoo while painting furniture and sprucing up the property. The petting zoo consisted of rabbits, goats, chickens, pigs and ducks.

“They have been a tremendous supporter and partner with our school,” Principal Nancy Cohen said. “What a pleasure to have them. They’re so supportive, and we love working with them.”

Site leader Rani Wijedasa, Paramount’s director of credits administration, said the volunteers were putting in 110 percent for a vital organization in the community.

“I feel so good about helping them,” Wijedasa said. “It makes us feel good.”

According to a press release, Paramount mobilized 1,800 employees in 18 countries, including Great Britain, Brazil and Australia, for Viacommunity Day. Locally, volunteers also assisted at the Santa Monica Boulevard Community Charter School, the Venice Beach Clean-Up, Van Ness Avenue Elementary School, Helen Bernstein High School and Le Conte Middle School.

“Paramount is proud to participate in Viacommunity Day every year,” Paramount chairman and chief executive officer Brad Grey said in a statement. “As cities around the world continue to wrestle with economic challenges, the need for service initiatives such as this has never been greater. We are committed to giving back to the communities where we live and work.”



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