USA NETWORK ANNOUNCES 2014 CHARACTERS UNITE AWARD WINNERS
Bright House Networks, Cablevision, Charter, Comcast, Cox Communications, Mediacom, Suddenlink and Time Warner Cable Recognize Local Heroes for Promoting Respect and Acceptance
Honorees to Be Acknowledged at Award Presentations Across the Country with $5,000 Grant; Featured on USA Network On-Air and Online
NEW YORK, NY – July 28, 2014 – As part of its award-winning “Characters Unite” multi-platform public service campaign to address social injustices and bridge cultural divides, USA Network, along with its distributor partners, today announced the 2014 recipients of the Characters Unite Award. Ten winners were selected from hundreds of nominees for their extraordinary efforts in combating hate, intolerance and discrimination, and making significant contributions to promoting greater tolerance, respect and acceptance in their communities.
“We congratulate this year’s Characters Unite Award winners for the incredible work they do in their communities to fight discrimination while championing tolerance and acceptance,” said Mac Budill, President, NBCUniversal TV Networks Distribution. “We are proud to partner with our distributors in recognizing these remarkable leaders and their efforts.”
“We are proud to honor these remarkable individuals who are working tirelessly to enrich our schools and communities, advance civil and human rights and improve lives and laws all across the country,” said Toby Graff, Senior Vice President, Public Affairs, USA Network. “It was challenging to select just ten awardees from such a strong pool of nominations and inspiring to know that there are so many tremendous projects out there that deserve this recognition.”
Honorees will be acknowledged during hometown award ceremonies and will receive $5,000 grants from USA Network and participating distributors to support their projects or related nonprofit organizations. Additionally, honorees will be featured on-air in a public service announcement, online at charactersunite.com and in social media.
The Characters Unite Awards competition kicked off in February during Characters Unite Month with an on-air spot featuring SUIT’S Patrick J. Adams calling for nominations. USA Network received hundreds of nominations from around the country and a judging committee selected the winners based on criteria such as impact, influence and character.
2014 Characters Unite Award Recipients:
Ray Kelley, Daytona Beach, FL (Bright House Networks)
Co-Founder, Daytona Outreach Center
Ray Kelley is the co-founder of the Daytona Outreach Center (DOC), a small grass-roots relief agency that provides resources and support, including residential homes, biblical counseling and life skills training, to people transitioning from homelessness and addiction to sobriety, stability and employment. Addiction and homelessness are issues with which Ray is intimately familiar, having experienced the lifestyle himself. In 2007, Ray and his wife Susan opened the DOC to help others who are struggling and seeking change in their lives. Several hundred men have been a part of this program and moved back into a healthy and productive life. Some have chosen to stay and work alongside Ray throughout his many community ventures, which include a thrift store and a coffeehouse, whose proceeds provide funding for the DOC. Ray’s next projects include a new Veterans house and a transition house for DOC graduates who are ready to pursue jobs in the community. Ray is tenacious in his efforts to assist those in their most desperate times of need, and the positive impact of his work ripples throughout the community.
Mathylde Frontus, Brooklyn, NY (Cablevision)
Founder and Executive Director, Urban Neighborhood Services, Inc.
Mathylde Frontus is the Founder and Executive Director of the Urban Neighborhood Services (UNS), a grassroots non-profit organization providing an array of programs and services to the Coney Island community, including employment and housing search assistance, youth leadership and college prep initiatives, financial literacy, veterans support, health outreach and anti-violence activism. Mathylde, a native of Brooklyn, realized early on that many of the ongoing issues in her community such as underdevelopment, health disparities, incarceration and poverty, were all interrelated. After leaving home for a few years to pursue her academic goals, she decided to return to Coney Island to realize her dream of opening a neighborhood agency which would address various community concerns. In 2004, Mathylde launched UNS, which serves thousands of individuals each year. Her dedication and passion for community improvement has had a meaningful impact in Coney Island. Mathylde, who holds three Master’s degrees from New York University, Columbia and Harvard, is currently completing her Ph.D. in Social Work at Columbia University.
Scott Garman, MN (Charter)
Director and Co-Founder, UnityND
North Dakota native Scott Garman is a co-founder of UnityND, an anti-hate organization formed in response to a white supremacist’s attempt to take over and build an all-white enclave in the town of Leith, ND. When a national white supremacist organization came to town to hold a rally supporting the takeover, Scott and his UnityND co-founders planned a counter-demonstration to show them that their hate was unacceptable. UnityND organized accommodations for and raised funds to support more than 350 people from surrounding communities to attend and show solidarity. As a result of the organization’s efforts and the town’s strength, the supremacists were not able to reach their goal of establishing their all-white community. Scott continues to work relentlessly with UnityND to promote patriotism, citizenship and strong, tolerant communities, while combating prejudice and discrimination. Scott and UnityND want to develop a state-specific curriculum on tolerance and diversity, advocate for comprehensive hate crimes legislation in North Dakota, and one day expand the organization into other states.
Carla Kelley, Salt Lake City, UT (Comcast)
Executive Director and Founder, Human Rights Education Center
Carla Kelley is the Founder and Executive Director of the Human Rights Education Center of Utah (HREC), a nonprofit organization that has been combating prejudice and promoting tolerance in Salt Lake City for nearly 15 years. Carla, who is the mother of three, including an openly gay son and grandson, and has been a foster mother to several teens, has seen first-hand the impact of homophobia, racism and bullying. After her last child left home, she was inspired to finish her degree, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Integral Studies with a focus on anti-bias education and peace building in communities from the California Institute of Integral Learning in San Francisco. Following the brutal deaths of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming and James Byrd Jr. in Jasper Texas, which shared a common thread of intolerance and hatred, she was compelled to establish the HREC in 1999. The organization provides educational programs and resources that address bias, bullying and discrimination in Utah. Through the organization’s trainings, an anti-bullying curriculum and specialized classes in secondary schools and other initiatives, the HREC has reached more than 30,000 people since its inception. Carla is tireless in her effort to advance equality through education, advocacy and dialogue.
Jerald L. White, New Orleans, LA (Cox Communications)
Community Advocate and Founder, Charitable Film Network
Jerald L. White has been a community advocate for more than 20 years, working as a grassroots organizer, environmental justice attorney, and policymaker with the Sierra Club Legal Defense fund, the City of New Orleans, the United States Senate and the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Always a champion for the underdog, with an incredible passion for promoting equality and respect, when Jerald learned about a Louisiana Justice of the Peace refusing to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple, he felt compelled to do something in response and launched the New Orleans Loving Festival, a multicultural community celebration and film festival that challenges racism through outreach and education. Under his leadership, the Loving Festival has become an important community anchor for blended families, and a unique platform for showcasing the efforts of artists and community advocates who are working for racial justice. Jerald has also coordinated multiple programs including art exhibitions, literary events, concerts and other activities focused on increasing the visibility of and overall support for multiracial individuals, families and community development. His efforts are having a positive impact on the New Orleans community and beyond. Jerald, who earned a Bachelor's degree in Public & Environmental Affairs and a Juris Doctorate at Indiana University, as well as a Master of Arts degree in Media Ecology, Film & Communications at New York University, also founded the Charitable Film Network, a non-profit dedicated to connecting media makers to good causes that benefit the community.
Jasmine Babers, Rock Island, IL (Mediacom)
Founder, Love, GIRLS Magazine
Jasmine Babers is the founder and publisher of Love, GIRLS, a quarterly magazine to help teenagers build confidence, become leaders, and pursue their dreams. Jasmine discovered her passion for fostering self-esteem after witnessing her friends being viciously bullied online. At the young age of 15, she decided to utilize her talents in journalism, graphic design, and photography to create and launch Love, GIRLS Magazine. This young entrepreneur worked vigorously for a year to secure magazine volunteers, contributors and advertisers, and, in 2012, the first issue was successfully published. Over the last two years, distribution for the magazine has expanded from Illinois and Iowa Quad Cities, to Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Washington, D.C., reaching more than 5,000 girls. In conjunction with the magazine, Jasmine has also led community-wide events to bring awareness to the impact of bullying and low self-esteem in girls. She has produced Lessons in Love, a theater production led by girls and most recently the second annual Love Awards to honor the struggles and accomplishments of local girls. Jasmine will attend college in the fall of 2014 and major in business, where she hopes to gain valuable insights and knowledge that will contribute to the ongoing development and expansion of the magazine.
Debby Weinstein, Charleston, WV (Suddenlink)
Executive Director, YWCA
Debby Weinstein is the Executive Director of the YWCA in Charleston, W. Va., where she oversees programs that serve thousands of struggling individuals in her community, including homeless women and their families, children of low-income families and victims of domestic violence and elder abuse. Debby’s work with the YWCA began more than 30 years ago, when in 1983 she became the first director of YWCA Sojourner's Shelter for Homeless Women and Families. Over the years her efforts have ranged from answering crisis hotlines and cleaning shelters to creating mission-driven impactful programs and building a high-profile network of supporters for the organization, a task she made top priority when she became Executive Director in 1997. Having worked at the program level for several years, Debby knew the YWCA needed to engage and enlist the support of state and local governments, corporations, benefactors and volunteers. In all of her efforts, Debby places the YWCA mission of eliminating racism and empowering women first and foremost. She works tirelessly to ensure that all of the programs under her direction are fulfilling the mission and assisting program participants in re-claiming independent, productive lives. It is the plight and the subsequent accomplishments of the women, children and families the YWCA serves in Kanawha, Clay and Boone counties that continue to inspire her work.
Sofia Shield, Los Angeles, CA (Time Warner Cable)
Human Rights Advocate, SURVIVORS SPEAK
Sofia Shield is dedicated to creating positive change and raising awareness of injustices around the world. Inspired by her Holocaust survivor grandparents, Sofia believes that it is her personal responsibility to advocate for human rights and ensure that no one ever has to experience the hate and brutality her family endured. Sofia has created and participated in several initiatives to promote justice and equality. She was the co-chair of Tufts Against Genocide at her university, and innovated the annual panel “Survivors Speak,” which brings together survivors from around the world to teach and raise awareness of genocide. She interned with both the Anne Frank Center USA and The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, where she helped educate children and young adults about human rights violations, genocide prevention, and the importance of tolerance. She also participated in Humans Rights Workshops for teens in Russia, Ireland and the Czech Republic. Whilst studying abroad she also led a project on the memorialization of the history of slavery in Amsterdam. Sofia is a recent graduate of Tufts University with a double major in International Studies and Peace and Justice Studies. Sofia has been inspired by her grandparents’ story since she was a child, and feels that as the generation of Holocaust Survivors passes on, it is her personal responsibility to move forward, bear witness, and make a difference in the world.
Richard Boeshore, Roslyn Heights, NY
Founder, Pine Crest Farm Camp
Richard Boeshore realized the true gift of life in early adulthood after losing his sister who had suffered from bone cancer for nine years. The untimely loss pushed Richard to seek ways of bringing comfort to other families dealing with cancer. After years of feeling helpless about how to be a resource to people in need, Richard decided to do something that would impact families for generations to come – he created Pine Crest Farm Camp. Launching next summer, the camp will work as a safe haven for children with cancer and their families. Richard envisioned the camp as a place where kids could feel comfort, acceptance and respect, and parents could network with other parents, while discussing medications, treatments, side effects, and general concerns; all the while developing lifelong bonds of friendship and support. The camp holds a special place for Richard because it is built on the property that housed his family resort in upstate New York. With the main camp lodge building near completion, and the acquisition of his nonprofit 501(c) 3 status, Richard is well on his way to not only honoring his sister’s legacy, but also bringing lifelong support and respect to those affected by cancer.
Tashmica Torok, Lansing, MI
Founder and Executive Director, The Firecracker Foundation
Tashmica “Firecracker” Torok is a survivor of child sexual abuse. As a result of her experience, she is determined to empower and encourage other survivors who are healing from the devastating effects of sexual trauma. In 2013, Tashmica founded The Firecracker Foundation, which honors the bravery of children who have survived sexual trauma by providing support and resources and building a community invested in their healing. The foundation has contracted therapists in the community to provide consistent, quality therapy to children and their families who have experienced abuse. Programs included weekly individual therapy sessions, trauma-focused therapeutic groups for children, and play therapy for children ages 3 to 18. Tashmica’s determination, passion and spirit have not only helped her survive her own trauma, but have served as the catalyst to help guide children down a positive, healing life path. Tashmica, also a proud mother of three boys and an avid roller derby athlete, is an inspiration to women everywhere.
Learn more about the 2014 Characters Unite Award Recipients at charactersunite.com
About Characters Unite
Characters Unite, USA Network's award-winning public service program, was created to address the social injustices and cultural divides still prevalent in our society. Inspired by USA Network's iconic "Characters Welcome" brand and with the support of leading national nonprofit organizations, the ongoing campaign is dedicated to supporting activities and messaging that combat prejudice and intolerance while promoting understanding and acceptance -- on-air, online, and in communities across the country. www.charactersunite.com
About USA Network
The #1 network in all of basic cable for an unprecedented eight straight years, USA Network is seen in over 102 million U.S. homes. USA is a leader in scripted programming with a powerful stable of originals, spectacular live television and is home to the best in blockbuster theatrical films, a broad portfolio of acquired series and entertainment events. A trailblazer in digital innovation and storytelling, USA is defining, driving and setting the industry standard for Social TV. USA is a program service of NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment, a division of NBCUniversal. The award-winning website is located at www.usanetwork.com. Characters Welcome.