#CableInTheCommunity: Doing Well by Doing Good

RELATED: Read Q&As with the cause champions and more online-exclusive #CableInTheCommunity coverage in the new Community blog.

Multichannel News initiated its #CableInTheCommunity coverage to spotlight the TV industry’s myriad public-service initiatives. Often unsung and overlooked in the day-to-day flow of news, these efforts illustrate the industry’s commitment to supporting employee volunteerism, solving community problems and bringing attention to social issues.

The six innovative initiatives selected for the inaugural #CableInTheCommunity spotlight revolve around a mix of causes that reflect ongoing national conversations about kids’ health and education, weather and climate change, food — both where it comes from and who needs it — and corporate social responsibility. In scope and scale, they show how acting locally can drive far-flung change.

#CableInTheCommunity celebrates the causes and cause champions, and demonstrates the true spirit of doing well by doing good.

Rebuilding for a Homecoming

Company: Cablevision Systems

Initiative: “Rebuilding Together, Babylon, N.Y.,” an ad hoc employee volunteer effort organized by Optimum Community, the MSO’s public affairs and corporate social responsibility program, and Scripps Networks Interactive to put finishing touches on a Long Island home destroyed by Hurricane Sandy

Beneficiaries: The homeowners; nonprofit Rebuilding Together Long Island, which provides repairs at no cost

Cause Champion(s): Jennifer Ostrager, VP, public affairs; company champions for Optimum Community’s “signature” initiatives

Employee Participation: 14 volunteers for the Babylon rebuild

Outcome: The family is back in its home of 25 years.

More than two years after Hurricane Sandy cut a wide swath of destruction across the New York area, many houses have yet to be rebuilt and many families are still living in tents, trailers, apartments, with relatives or, in too many cases, are still homeless. So it got Cablevision’s attention when programming partner Scripps pointed to one in the MSO’s own backyard and proposed they partner to get the job done.

John and Kathy (who asked that their last name not be used) had lived in their Babylon home for 25 years when Sandy struck in October 2012. Two years and four apartments later, they were still displaced.

The day of volunteer work — restoring the deck, painting and putting on finishing touches — came together “like any good partnership,” Ostrager said: Scripps’ HGTV learned about John and Kathy via its relationship with Rebuilding Together and contacted Optimum Community. On Oct. 28, the eve of Sandy’s anniversary, community volunteers streamed into John and Kathy’s front yard, including 14 Cablevision employees “from all over our footprint and different types of jobs,” Ostrager said.

“A sales person came from the Bronx just because he felt it was really meaningful,” she said. “I’ve been with the company a long time and when I go to any of these, I always feel like, ‘Wow, this is really terrific.’ This event typified that. It was very moving.”

Change With Impact

Company: Discovery Communications

Initiative: Discovery Impact’s Creating Change, an annual 12-hour, pro bono “Creativethon,” during which company volunteers help nonprofits design logos, websites, marketing materials, communications strategies and more

Beneficiaries: 20-30 nonprofits annually

Cause Champion(s): Impact Ambassadors, team captains in each business unit who get the word out and recruit volunteers

Employee Participation: More than 125 employees annually

Outcome: At the 2014 “Creativethon” last September, Discovery volunteers completed projects for more than 20 nonprofits, donating nearly 2,200 hours in skills-based services, valued at more than $260,000.

Chief communications officer David Leavy likes to describe the Discovery Impact program as “not your father’s corporate social responsibility.”

“This isn’t buying a table at a charity dance,” he said. “You can’t have a relationship with your community through that.”

Instead, as he led a revamp of the program six years ago, he challenged his team to think about what the company does best. “Someone said, ‘We are a creative organization, so let’s donate creativity,’ ” Leavy recalled. “That was a flashbulb. And that was really grassroots.”

That’s when Discovery Impact launched “Creating Change,” now an annual event in which employees donate pro bono marketing, design and communications services to cash-strapped nonprofits. Each year since then, more than 100 employees have helped about 30 groups brainstorm and execute creative strategies.

Creating Change, one of seven Discovery Impact initiatives, has become so popular that it now has a volunteer waiting list, Leavy said, adding that often, employees continue relationships with nonprofits on their own.

He cited one volunteer who created a brand message for a comfort dog training organization, then went out two weeks later to clean kennels. “They didn’t tell me about it,” he said. “They weren’t trying to get credit with Leavy — they just did it on their own.”

Good to the Last Drop

Company: Suddenlink Communications

Initiative: “Do Your Part: Drop by Drop” water-conservation campaign, Midland, Texas; partners include Keep Midland Beautiful and Midland College

Beneficiaries: Midland residents

Cause Champion(s): Doreen Womack, market manager, and Monica Kincer, director of area operations Employee Participation: 90-100% of employees have been involved in educating the public and distributing home water-conservation kits

Outcome: Since 2010, Suddenlink has conducted 225 community presentations on water conservation, provided 10,700 free indoor and outdoor conservation kits to local residents, aired PSAs and created school programs, contributing to a 15 million gallon-per-day reduction in water usage to 20 million gallons per day from 2010 to 2014.

Midland, Texas, situated in West Texas’s Southern Plains, looked in 2011 like a community that had it made in the shade: Experiencing an oil boom, its unemployment rate was the lowest in the state, new housing permits were at a 10-year high and money was rolling in.

But Greater Midland, located in the semi-arid Permian Basin, was running out of water. Amid the third-worst drought in state history, its three local reservoirs were projected to go dry by December 2012.

Midland had been a town of well-manicured lawns; despite the warnings and city-imposed usage restrictions, getting residents to cut back was no easy task.

Enter Suddenlink: The St. Louis-based MSO passes 38,000 subscribers in the greater Midland- Odessa area, and its employees were grappling with the shortage, too. It launched the Drop by Drop campaign with Keep Midland Beautiful in 2010.

Five years later, Midland’s water-usage reduction is impressive. But with the city having grown 15% in the interim, the campaign continues, Womack said. Last year the team distributed more than 2,000 kits that include items like garden hose repair parts and a lawn-sprinkler gauge. “We have new people moving into town from other climates that need the water conservation message,” she said. “So the effort is ongoing.”

Ball Is in Its DNA

Company: SNY

Initiative: Play Ball, a local community outreach program targeting underserved kids via youth sports

Beneficiary: Leagues across greater New York apply to receive cash grants and equipment donations, a_ end “Dream Day” events, and participate in sports clinics and community events held with the New York Mets, New York Jets and Harlem Globetrotters

Cause Champion(s): Marie DeParis, SVP, marketing & business development; and Danny Perez, senior marketing manager

Employee Participation: 40-50 employees for each event

Outcome: Since launching in 2011, the program has provided more than $140,000 in grants and donations, reaching more than 70,000 kids across 200-plus communities.

For Bergenfield (N.J.) Little League, founded in 1950, Opening Day isn’t just the start of play — it’s the year’s biggest fundraiser. About 1,000 people come out to support the 275 players. Missing the April opener would mean a significant decrease in funds.

By the late winter of 2013, Opening Day prospects were looking dim. The league’s two fields, already in need of repairs, had been rendered unplayable by Hurricane Sandy and the subsequent snowy winter. That’s when then-president Juan Valdez got the call from SNY. A $5,000 grant, along with elbow grease from volunteers, ensured an on-schedule start.

“That grant gave us more baseball and a longer season,” Valdez said. It was used for repairs and a two-week mentoring workshop for players.

Leagues like Bergenfield’s are at the core of Play Ball, which last year expanded from baseball to include football and basketball. It has also grown from a cash-grant program to a multipronged one, Marie DeParis, SVP of marketing & business development, said. “We realized that with our resources … that we could follow our brand position into all New York sports and help even more kids.”

No Walk in the Park

Company: Time Warner Cable

Initiative: Day at Carowinds Park Event, Charlotte, N.C., one in a series of field trips the local TWC system sponsors for Project Scientist, a local group for girls interested in science and tech; part of TWC’s nationwide Connect a Million Minds campaign to engage kids in hands-on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)

Beneficiaries: About 1,500 local community organizations involved with STEM education and their constituents across TWC’s footprint; past beneficiaries have included large organizations like the YMCA and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and smaller ones like Project Scientist

Cause Champion(s): Tessie Topol, VP of corporate social responsibility, handles the overall initiative and its national partnerships; Milinda Martin, VP of community investment, works with local cause champions at the systems level

Employee Participation: About 25% of local system employees

Outcome: In 2014, the CAMM initiative reached 926,000 kids with hands-on STEM events; overall, the $100 million program has exceeded its initial five-year goal and continues to expand.

Imagine you’re a kid, and you’re standing in an amusement park construction zone underneath a behemoth 325-foot-tall roller coaster with cars traveling as fast as 95 miles per hour.

That’s the kind of activity the local champions of Time Warner Cable’s Connect a Million Minds initiative organize to engage kids in hands-on STEM projects.

In January, 15 TWC Charlotte volunteers took more than 50 girls from Project Scientist to Carowinds, home to the brand new Fury325, said to be the world’s tallest, fastest “giga coaster” — that’s one with a height or drop of 300 to 399 feet that completes a full circuit.

And that’s the kind of information the girls learned, straight from the engineers who have developed and built the new ride. It was no mere walk in the park.

“The girls got the VIP tour; they got to talk to the engineers and sit in the seats and get up close to the engineering behind the construction,” said Sandy Marshall, executive director of Project Scientist.

Their questions veered toward the career-oriented and practical: What kind of degree do you need for your job? Do you get into the park for free?

The event typifies the imaginative and varied ways TWC’s local systems have found to further the CAMM mission: “Create a spark for kids to follow that path into STEM education and careers,” said Milinda Martin, VP of community investment.

“We wanted to launch a national initiative that would be core to our business and what we do every day,” Tessie Topol, VP of corporate social responsibility, said of the initiative’s roots. “And without STEM, there’s no cable industry.”

Happy Hunting

Company: Sportsman Channel

Initiative: Hunt.Fish.Feed., a nationwide initiative driven by local events to feed the homeless, veterans, military families and others in need with food donated by hunters and fishers

Beneficiaries: Selected local non-profits and their constituents in the communities where Sportsman hosts meals; past beneficiaries include the Denver Rescue Mission, the Star of Hope Mission in Houston; and the Salvation Army in Las Vegas

Cause Champion(s): A three-person team including Ben Lines, VP, marketing; Lisa Swan, director, partnership marketing; and executive chef Scott Leysath, host of Dead Meat and The Sporting Chef

Employee Participation: The core team; local employee volunteers; volunteers from local MSO partners

Outcome: Roughly 25,000 meals have been served at 50 events nationwide since the initiative’s 2007 launch.

It draws a certain amount of attention when the local soup kitchen serves pork chile verde prepared by an executive chef from a wild hog slain and donated by a local hunter and ladled out by celebrity volunteers.

And that’s largely the point of Hunt.Fish.Feed. As important as the meals is the conversation they generate about homelessness, poverty and families in need. And for Sportsman, about food and food sources.

“It’s a natural fit for what we are trying to accomplish,” said Jim Liberatore, CEO of Sportsman Channel and Outdoor Channel. “The true mission is to feed people and give them a great, healthy meal. … This is a great way for us to do that and shed a positive light on the hunting community while we partner with clients and do a good thing for people.”

The food prepared for each event is donated by local hunters and fishers, from the venison for the chili served to Denver families in transition to the wild boar Sarah Palin (and many others) dished out to 1,000 Salvation Army clients in Las Vegas. That hits Sportsman’s core audience, one that can also use the good PR, Liberatore noted. “This [game and fish] is a natural, organic food source, and a natural progression into using the food — many times extra food — for the homeless.”

The events also give the network opportunities to partner with local systems, Lisa Swan, director of partnership marketing, said. Comcast, for example, partnered on several last year.

Swan said her experience at each of the events reinforces her motivation to expand the initiative this year. “Shelters and the people they serve are so thankful for the meal we provide,” she said, “and they find out that venison tastes pretty darn good.”