Viacom Volunteers Mentor “Grace” Women Preparing to Reenter Workforce

Posted on May 25, 2016 by Catholic Charities Admin  |  Share

Real World Warm Up

Successful Viacom female leaders mentor Grace Institute's women reentering the workforce

By Karen Daly

As a writer and Catholic Charities volunteer blogger it was amazing to watch last Friday, May 20, as successful corporate women from the media company, Viacom, mentored struggling women preparing to reenter the workforce thanks to Grace Institute, an affiliate of Catholic Charities.

Some women served by Grace Institute had been raising children; some had hard luck or limited opportunity or skills to find good jobs. No matter their background or circumstances, I could feel the students’ gratitude for the opportunity Grace Institute provides in each encounter.

Now at the midpoint of Grace Institute’s intensive five-month course preparing them to enter or re-enter the workforce, the Grace women are thinking about their career plans. Many of them came to Grace with difficult family or financial circumstances and they appreciate that the Catholic Charities-affiliated program is tuition-free. With the top-notch training they are receiving, the Grace students may look optimistically to the future.Volunteers learn about Grace

Jessica James, Director of Development gave the volunteers an overview of Grace Institute before the students joined the meeting. Grace has been helping women for more than 100 years. She described the current program, which teaches office technology, business communication and personal development skills. Grace offers employment services for graduates and alumnae, so the new connection with Viacom is an important one.

The Viacom team, headed by Sarah Nix, of Viacom Media Networks, consisted of twenty women from different divisions of the media giant. They were participating in an annual companywide day of service known as “Viacommunity Day.”


Students learn about volunteer team’s careers

After a “get-acquainted” warm-up, the group separated into four teams. In the smaller sessions, the volunteers answered questions about their careers, education and how they balance work and family lives. Sharing lessons they learned along the way, the Viacom women offered practical advice for finding and succeeding at work.

I had the pleasure of seeing all the teams in action and gleaning bits of wisdom from each one. One team had a frank conversation about communications styles, especially in e-mail, where some people are terse and others are chatty. It made me think about my e-mail style, which is often “to-the-point.”

In reply to a question about on-the-job learning, Cristen Spivey, who works for Catalyst/Viacom, offered one memorable lesson that many Grace students could relate to. Ms. Spivey told her group that as a teenager she worked in a hardware store. There she learned many skills needed to succeed in business: multi-tasking and dealing with a variety of personalities, who often had problems or emergencies. Another volunteer echoed this sentiment when she talked about her experience as a waitress and reminded the group to “Treat everyone the same.”

Viacom’s premier entertainment brands reach audiences through compelling content across television, motion picture, online and mobile platforms in over 160 countries and territories.

Volunteers were equally interested in hearing about the students’ goals and what brought them to Grace. Of course, the answers were as varied as the students, who have a range of ages and backgrounds.


The fun begins with team-building challenge

After these candid exchanges, the fun began with a terrific team-building exercise that brought out the women’s varied and perhaps previously untapped talents.

Let’s just say the challenge involved creating a brand new product, complete with packaging and marketing strategy. One hint: it involved a raw egg. Teams were supplied with identical kits of random arts and crafts materials. They were asked   to create a concept, design the product and packaging, a marketing poster, write and perform an advertising jingle – all within a strict one hour time limit. Oh, and  to be sure not to break the egg.


The teams swing into action

Charged with this challenge and knowing they would be competing, the four teams got to work. I saw the dynamics in each room change remarkably during that hour. Women who had been sitting formally at tables re-arranged into functional units to work on different aspects of the task.  Some gravitated toward the concept, product building, graphics, word play. Some went to a corner to tap out the jingle. Soon the teams were humming and productive, exchanging ideas and learning from each other. Said Grace student Victoria Mellon of her team, “We laughed and clapped the entire time.”


The competition

At the deadline hour, the four teams assembled for the final presentations. They delivered their work to enthusiastic whoops and cheers from the whole room. Each one was imaginative, fun and unique from the others. Judged by members of Grace staff, there was definite winner to the good-natured competition. The great news was that none of the eggs broke! So each group succeeded in its task, collaborating with new people, working on deadline, presenting to an audience, tapping on all their talents and ingenuity.


Appreciation all-around

The afternoon ended with Grace students offering their appreciation to the Viacom crew for giving their time, their insights and their accessibility. One student summed it by saying that she might have been shy about meeting executive women, but that the Viacom volunteers were “real, warm-hearted and encouraging.”

The Viacom volunteers left with an appreciation for the great work and the motivated students at Grace Institute and a promise to return.

For more about Grace Institute and how you can help, go to

Find out more about Catholic Charities job readiness and placement programs.

Catholic Charities is responding to the needs of our neighbors during the 
COVID-19 pandemic.

For Help Call 888-744-7900