Originally published on Comcast.com
The raging Northern California wildfire of October 2017 burned more than 36,000 acres, killing 22 people and destroying upward of 5,000 homes. At the time, what became known as the Tubbs Fire earned the dubious distinction as the most destructive wildfire in the state’s history.
The community of Santa Rosa was hit especially hard. Of the 16,000 students in Santa Rosa City Schools — the largest school district in Sonoma County — approximately 800 lost their homes. Eighty staff members lost their homes as well, although, as Superintendent Diann Kitamura is quick to point out, virtually every student and staff member felt the fire’s impact in some way.
When classes resumed following a three-week closure, it was instantly clear that many students and their families needed counseling and support. And not just in the immediate aftermath of the fires, but for many months — and potentially years — to come. Kitamura and her team envisioned a “one-stop-shop” that could provide crisis support, basic nursing services, and academic assistance, all under one roof.
When word of Kitamura’s idea spread, leaders from Comcast’s California regional offices came to her with a two-pronged offer: a $300,000 grant to help develop such a facility and an army of volunteers to provide some of the necessary labor.
In April 2018, as part of our 17th Annual Comcast Cares Day, more than 500 Comcast NBCUniversal employees, family members, and friends descended upon a once-vacant school administration building with the goal of transforming it into an Integrated Wellness Center — a “hub of healing,” in the words of Kitamura.
Comcast Cares Day, which originated with 200 employees participating in the City of Philadelphia’s day of service in 1996, has expanded significantly, attracting more than 120,000 volunteers in 2019 at 1,450 project sites in 23 countries. Today, Comcast Cares Day is one of the largest corporate commitments to volunteerism in America — but it also celebrates and exemplifies the commitments to service and caring that our employees bring to life each and every day of the year. In 2018, we celebrated an historic milestone with our 1 millionth Comcast Cares Day volunteer.
“When we were told that we would get volunteers for a Comcast Cares Day event, we didn’t know what to expect,” says Kitamura. “But, oh my goodness, it was unbelievable! So many people came out to paint and clean and put furniture together. It made us realize just how committed the community was to getting this project off the ground.”
Following the deadly fire, John Gauder, Senior Vice President for Comcast’s California region, witnessed just how much our employees want to help. “We work at a company where leaders encourage us to do whatever we can to help others,” says Gauder, who spearheaded the relief efforts for the Santa Rosa Integrated Wellness Center. “I’m never surprised when our employees step up to help, but I’m always amazed by it.”
A commitment to community — and a belief in the power of service — is what Comcast Cares Day is all about. Volunteerism is in our DNA, dating back to founder Ralph Roberts, an entrepreneur and philanthropist who was deeply involved in civic activities. In 2018, People magazine and Great Place to Work ranked us No. 4 in the country on their “Companies that Care” list, in part due to our ongoing commitment to our communities.
In early 2019, we reinforced that commitment by launching a new volunteering and social impact program called Comcast NBCUnites. Through extensive research, we heard loud and clear that Comcast NBCUniversal employees are very passionate about working for a company that gives back to its communities and that they wanted to be involved in a broader range of volunteer activities throughout the year. Through Comcast NBCUnites, we forged new partnerships and expanded existing relationships with 15 nonprofit organizations concentrated in six NBCUniversal locations. We also held volunteer fairs to introduce our employees to an extensive network of local organizations and nonprofit partners that offered year-round volunteer opportunities.
All of our Comcast NBCUnites partners were present, including Step Up, which encourages girls living in under-resourced communities to go to college and join the next generation of professional women; and Story Pirates Changemakers, which celebrates the words, ideas, and stories of young people. NBCU employees across the country have read hundreds of stories from elementary students and offered personalized feedback and encouragement to help nurture the next generation of storytellers. Another Comcast NBCUnites partner is Minds Matter, a college access program for high-achieving high school students from low-income families. Employee volunteers were recruited at the fairs for our inaugural Minds Matter Media Fellows program, a week-long mentorship program for Minds Matter students during which NBCUniversal employees mentored teams that worked on business case studies around current priorities in the company.
Our commitment to service and caring goes well beyond Comcast Cares Day. All year round, our company and our employees work with a variety of organizations to address needs within our communities nationwide, from performing technology assessments with the Boys & Girls Clubs to mentoring young people through Big Brothers Big Sisters to serving on the national and local boards of City Year, the National Urban League, UnidosUS, and Easterseals. Our employees also support communities in the wake of natural disasters and make meaningful financial contributions to United Way and other worthy causes.
“We know that our employees are passionate about giving back and want to be personally involved. Our new volunteering and social impact program deepens and expands the culture of service across the company,” says Hilary Smith, Executive Vice President of Corporate Communications and Social Impact for NBCUniversal.
Public–Private Partnerships in Detroit
In 2016, Comcast partnered with the City of Detroit on its new public safety initiative dubbed Project Green Light — a crime-fighting program that also involved local businesses and the Detroit Police Department. Through this program, gas stations, convenience stores, and other establishments that are open during the evening hours could install real-time indoor and outdoor cameras with video connections to police headquarters, as part of an effort to catch perpetrators, reduce crime, and improve overall neighborhood safety. Comcast’s reliable service, ubiquitous network, and local presence made us a prime candidate to install the cameras and provide the internet connection between the businesses and the Detroit Police Department’s Real Time Crime Center.
Trouble was, the upfront cost to install the high-definition cameras was very high, putting them out of reach of the businesses they were intended to help. Comcast stepped in to provide the camera installations at a reduced price.
“Since its launch, violent crime at or near Green Light businesses has gone down 29% compared to 2015, and the program has directly impacted a 40% reduction in carjackings,” says Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. “As we just celebrated a significant milestone of our 500th Green Light business, we’re so appreciative of Comcast, which collaborated with us early on to make the program more affordable.”
Throughout 2018, in conjunction with Cities of Service, we used the power of hundreds of our employees and other Detroit residents and organizations to clean up neighborhoods near Project Green Light establishments.
“We’re not only using our technology and our network to benefit communities; we’re also using our people resources to clean up our neighborhoods,” says Craig D’Agostini, Comcast Cable’s Vice President of External Affairs, who is based in Plymouth, Michigan.
A large-scale Comcast Cares Day event in April 2018, with our partners at Cities of Service and the City of Detroit, led to several more employee clean-up efforts during the remainder of the year. Comcast also provided grant funding to Cities of Service, a nonprofit that is focused on building a more vibrant Detroit through neighborhood revitalization projects.
“Detroit is in the midst of a resurgence, and it’s great to be a part of a company that wants to contribute to the city’s recovery,” D’Agostini says. “To work for a company where I can be in the middle of it and make a difference is pretty cool.”