We were introduced to Patrick Gaston, the new president of Verizon Foundation, at the recent Ebony Women in Marketing and Communications Awards luncheon event. Mr. Gaston had just been named president of the foundation, which leverages good work with $70 million in contributions annually.
It was not until early June that we spoke by phone with Mr. Gaston. In that time his wife Sheryle had given birth to their first child Daniel, instantly re-centering the household. “Now I have two jobs, one is being a father and good husband,” Gaston said delightedly. The day job, the Verizon Foundation, has the saving grace of being a passion. Through its mission and intent, Mr. Gaston is able to express the drive that brought him from Haiti, through high school in Montreal and up through the Verizon ranks to grab what has to be one of the more fun and challenging jobs you can have.
“I’ve had 12 jobs in 20 years at Verizon,” said the MBA graduate who credits his management and organizational abilities with his success. “I looked across the company to see where I can live my interest and passion and build on my skills.” Safely navigating his way across corporate terrain for two decades must have taken very good “people skills” as well, which would make Mr. Gaston an effective public persona for Verizon in his previous position as the executive director for strategic alliances in Washington, D.C.
Speaking of how it prepared him for his new position, “it gave me a good feel as to who was out there.”
Saying he did not have a plan to become president of the foundation, he found that the position allows him to make social responsibility a part of the company, to “heighten the level of awareness of the importance of being socially responsible.” In fact, company volunteers are the “foundation of the Foundation,” says Gaston. “We match time and we match dollars.”
Working through a network of community managers, the Verizon Foundation partners with local community groups, a list of which can be seen online at www.verizon.com/foundation.
Mr. Gaston had said that the work of the foundation is targeted at communities in which they do business and suggested we visit the site and check out our area, which we did. Looking at grants made in Brooklyn, we saw the Brooklyn Academy of Music,$25,000.00; the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, $10,000.00; Brooklyn Information & Culture, Inc., $5,000; and Brooklyn Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, Inc., $5,000.
Looking at how phone use is in the African- American and Caribbean communities in Brooklyn, this listing did not reflect organizations controlled by those communities, so we checked with Kevin Mahoney, director, Community Affairs for Brooklyn and Staten Island. Mr. Mahoney sent us a more complete listing of agencies that, as Mr. Mahoney said, “have a significant percentage of African American constituents.” Among those agencies, those that not only have African-American constituents, but African-American operational control, include Brownsville Community Center, Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration and The Society for the Preservation of Weeksville and Bedford-Stuyvesant History.
Agencies in Central Brooklyn controlled and operated by people of African descent should visit the foundation’s Web site, determine which elements of their program fits the Verizon Foundation mission, and submit their application.
Mr. Gaston says the goal of the foundation is to find partners who are fulfilling a social need, and give grants and or assistance based on how the community group’s goals mesh with the mission of the Foundation. A part of that mission is social responsibility. “We will reinforce this by investing in innovative programs that have a direct impact on society and the communities in which we operate.”