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Ongoing Impact: ESPN Celebrates Its Volunteers Of The Year

Building wells and playgrounds, developing fitness plans and recycling at the ESPYS, employees are honored for the creative ways they give back

The 2019 Volunteer of the Year Awards celebrated the incredible impact ESPN employees have had on communities globally over the past year.

The event on ESPN’s Bristol, Conn., campus last week highlighted some amazing programs and key volunteers who are self-directed in their service and committed to supporting causes and their communities all throughout the year.

While ESPN accounts for about six percent of Walt Disney Co. employees, it contributes more than 12 percent of all volunteer engagement, Matching Gifts and volunteer grants at Disney. In 2018, ESPN employees logged more than 36,000 volunteer hours, along with personal donations, matching gifts and VoluntEAR Grants, resulting in over $3 million in value and money to nonprofits.

Here are the 2019 Team ESPN Volunteer of the Year Award winners:


Team ESPN VoluntEAR of the Year: Emmanuel Omokaro

A project coordinator in ESPN Corporate Citizenship, Omokaro helped raise nearly $40,000 to build a school in Senegal and oversaw its construction. He also traveled to Chad to build water pumps so the local community could receive clean water. In Danbury, Conn., Omokaro founded a family scholarship fund which supports three college-bound students, who are first or second generation Americans. He also spearheaded the creation of a new outdoor basketball court in memory of a friend.

Emmanuel Omokaro (L) and ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro during the 2019 Volunteer of the Year Presentation. (Melissa Rawlins/ ESPN Images)

Team ESPN Volunteer Team of the Year: Finance

The Finance team developed a departmental volunteer challenge last August, and split into three teams. Collectively, they logged over 400 volunteer hours and packed 7,500 meals for Rise Against Hunger, served 840 meals at the soup kitchen, sorted 60 toys for Toys for Tots and filled 50 backpacks with school supplies.

ESPN Finance Team with ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro during the 2019 Volunteer of the Year Presentation. (Melissa Rawlins/ ESPN Images)

ESPN Commentator of the Year: Michele Steele

Chicago-based ESPN correspondent Steele, an advocate for inclusion, helped the Special Olympics UNICEF Kid Powerbands program, where athletes and their partners wore fitness bands tracking their activities. Their activity was rewarded by unlocking nutrition packets for under-served children around the world, saving the lives of more than 20 youth. Steele also works closely with Unified Sports, a program that has helped lower the rates of bullying in schools by placing athletes with and without intellectual disabilities on the same sports teams.

(L-R) Senior Vice President, Marketing, Laura Gentile, SportsCenter Anchor, reporter Michele Steele and ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro during the 2019 Volunteer of the Year Presentation. (Melissa Rawlins/ ESPN Images)

International Team ESPN Team of the Year: ESPN Mexico

ESPN, Disney volunteers and sports development organizations worked together with local residents in Mexico City to build a new multi-functional sports space for the community which was still rebuilding after a devastating earthquake. The court and surrounding area now support ongoing programs for young people where they learn sports and job skills, while being empowered to fulfill their potential through the power of sports.


Team ESPN V Spirit Award: Kate Leonard

One of the longest-tenured members for the V Week Committee, Leonard is the lead production integrator. She oversaw the rebranding of all ESPN graphic elements to match the new V Foundation brand and message, while ensuring all key internal stakeholders were organized and fully equipped to inform and encourage viewers to donate.

(L-R) Senior VP Affiliate Partnership Development and Operations, Lori LeBas, Kate Leonard and ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro during the 2019 Volunteer of the Year Presentation. (Melissa Rawlins/ ESPN Images)

Environmental Champion Award: ESPYS Production

The ESPYS reused a red carpet made of 50,000 recycled water bottles and diverted nearly 70 percent of the event’s waste from a landfill in 2018. The leftover catering — nearly 400 meals — was donated to people in need, while 59 pounds of cable used in the production of last year’s show was recycled.

The 2019 Environmental Champion Award presented to the ESPYS Production Team at the 2019 Volunteer of the Year Presentation. (Melissa Rawlins/ ESPN Images)
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