Black, White & Read – Community Support By Verizon

A s the old riddle goes, it would be the newspaper. However, with their black, white and red logo and a strong commitment to literacy and diversity issues, our answer is: Verizon.

Many companies talk about a commitment to diversity. Some take the time to write it into their policies and procedures, but few actually use diversity issues as a yardstick to measure success. “Diversity has been a part of the fabric of the company in terms of how we allocate resources, manage the business and where we set our priorities. The whole issue of serving people with disabilities is a part of that. It’s a part of our diversity mix; it’s not just about race, but also about people with disabilities. I can’t stress how critical this role is to the corporation,” explains Dennis Bone, President of Verizon New Jersey and recipient of D.A.R.E.’s 2002 “Future of New Jersey” award. “One of the examples I use to explain our commitment to diversity is that our corporation’s officer’s bonuses are directly tied to our objectives in this area. So if we miss our diversity goals-whether it be through our employee mix or whether it be through our subcontracting or the other things we actually measure each year-then the bonuses are decreased. It’s a way of getting attention and taking something and turning it from words to actionable items.”

While many companies strive to understand the minority groups that constitute a large percentage of their employee base, few have successfully tapped into the wealth of information that can come from teaming with these groups. To help them focus and improve in certain areas, Verizon created resource groups. “For example, there is a resource group that deals with African Ameri can employees and their issues, causes and concerns. As the President of Verizon New Jersey, I’m supportive of these groups because they are very constructive in their focus and mission,” said Bone.

Another one of these resource groups is DIAL which stands for Disability Issues Awareness Leaders of Verizon. Mike Lione, Director of External Affairs, is also the president of the nationwide DIAL organization and has a long history of advocacy in this area. “Even before the introduction of the ADA, Verizon has made diversity and accessibility issues a focus. Naturally, since the ADA there has been a greater focus towards accessibility. DIAL was then created as an internal and external resource to help explain some of the issues that people with disabilities encounter, whether it pertains to employment, products or daily living. Our members often called upon to help critique how products best serve our customer base.

check this out

Lione continues, “DIAL is open to any and all employees, but tends to attract those with a special interest such as people who have a disability themselves or who have friends or family members with a disability. We are very active with the diversity consortium. Members of DIAL also serve informally as mentors to other members. As a part of our national outreach, we work with the National Council on Disability and the World Institute on Disability (WID). We attend national conferences and trade show exhibitions such as the Abilities Expo.

“When we are confronted with an issue surrounding a disability,” Bone adds, “whether it’s with an employee, or perhaps regarding career development, accommodation or accessibility issues, the first place I’ll turn to is the DIAL organization for leadership and coaching. My impression is that at the very highest level-at Ivan Seidenberg’s level, our senior vice president, or our executive vice president of HR-that they rely on these resources tremendously. We all do because it’s a tremendous organization that focuses on issues. It is very constructive.”

Verizon has not stopped at inclusion and diversity issues and is actually in full swing with a number of other programs. In fact, in 2002 an estimated $75 million from the Verizon foundation will be funneled into local communities, making it one of the ten largest corporate foundations in the United States. One such topic that has received widespread support from Verizon is literacy. When Verizon was launched following a merger with GTE, they adopted literacy as their signature corporate program-prior to the merger, it had been a signature program for GTE.

Verizon now has a national program called “Verizon Reads.” Verizon Reads is the umbrella organization for Verizon’s national literacy platform. Established in 1999, Verizon Reads is dedicated to the fight for a more literate America through meaningful programs that create awareness, raise funds, and encourage collaboration among literacy providers. “It’s not that we’re re-creating the providers of literacy. What we are doing is providing additional resources to help existing literacy organizations succeed,” explains Bone. “We create literacy champions to promote it, like Erik Weihenmayer who is a national literacy champion. We focus on all areas of literacy but specifically, adult literacy. It is our belief that society’s success is, in many ways, tied to literacy issues.

“Some of the most moving examples that I personally get involved with, and I’ve been involved with several. are those examples where an adult has just come to this country, is learning to read to their children or is learning to read in order to get a job. Some of those trans forming examples really provide motivation to us all. Most of them, from my point of view, have been on the adult side.”

check this out

Andrew Brown. Executive Director of Public Affairs Programs for Verizon comments, “Millions of Americans today do not have the required tools to reach their goals they can’t read. Verizon’s commitment to literacy is about ensuring that everyone, sighted or not, has the tools to reach the top and attain their goals.”

Not alone in their campaign, Governor and Mrs. Mc Greevey have made literacy one of their fundamental goals. “I would like to think that because our efforts are very compatible with the Governor’s, combined we’re moving the ball forward,” said Bone.

While much of Verizon’s focus is towards adults, the Governor’s programs focus on Kindergarten through the third grade. “He wants every third grader to be able to read at grade level. While there’s always the exceptions, statistics show those not reading at grade level at third grade are often way behind at sixth and seventh grade and strong candidates for dropping out. Your correlation to succeed in life is going to be very low,” added Bone. “The point there is that if you’re reading at grade level, then your probability of success is much greater.”

Verizon is also doing their part toward economic development. A recent press conference detailed the work they are doing alongside the McGreevey administration to make New Jersey more attractive for businesses. As Bone explains, “Verizon is trying to unlock the real value of the state under the philosophy that in tough economic times we need to do more to create our own future.” The result is a major initiative called Access New Jersey (ANJ). “It’s a major initiative that we started in 1998 and recently made a huge commitment to spend $11 million a year for five years.” ANJ, the acceleration of Verizon’s Opportunity New Jersey network modernization program is composed of three major elements: Deployment of a $55 million statewide Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) high-speed network for voice, video and data, a $25 million equipment fund for schools and libraries that subscribe to ANJ to acquire the equipment needed to connect to the high-speed net work, and a series of discounts ranging from 31 percent to 72 percent for high speed access to the Internet and voice, video and data services for schools and libraries.

The Life Line service is a deeply discounted telephone service for low-income consumers. Up until now, this service has been available on an election basis and you are eligible if you meet any of eight requirements, such as qualifying for energy assistance, getting food stamps, or PAAD (Pharmaceutical assistance). “What we’ve done with Governor McGreevey is to turn this around and say that we will automatically enroll you if you are in any of these areas. Right now we are working with the state on the privacy issues. It is a very clearly conscientious objective on our part to be a leader, and it’s an area where we try to separate ourselves from the pack. This is something we believe in and we’ve made remarkable strides,” concludes Bone.

sharing is caring

we did our part - now do yours and share

like a good neighbor, share

Related Articles: