PRAISE UNTO CAESARS: With diverse charitable initiatives, Caesars Entertainment Corp. makes 2019 list of ‘Best Corporate Citizens’

She does it because it’s who she is … even though it’s a bit personal.

“I’m a survivor, a year and a half now,” says Caesars Entertainment Corp. employee Aisha Collins — human resources director at Paris Las Vegas — at the recent American Cancer Society’s “Relay for Life” fund-raiser event at the Rio.

“I came out here before I was ever diagnosed and the first year I missed was when I was going through my treatment, so it is a different insight to do the Survivor Walk now. It’s a bigger appreciation I have. It’s triumphant.”

He does it because it’s who he is … even though it’s not at all personal. “It’s just a sense of giving back to the community,” says Caesars Corp. employee Kyle Kennedy — food runner at Mesa Grill at Caesars Palace — at a recent lunch-packing event to feed the hungry at Three Square Food Bank.

“We’ve been coming twice a month, the whole team, there’s usually about 15 of us on the line at any given time. It feels good to see everybody working together like such a well-oiled machine.”

They all do it because it’s who they are … period. “It’s really embedded into our values,” says Gwen Migita, social impact and inclusion vice president for Caesars Corp. “It goes down into our DNA. Volunteerism is expected.”

And with it come kudos: On May 15, Caesars made the 2019 list of “100 Best Corporate Citizens” as ranked by Corporate Responsibility (CR) Magazine. Coming in at No. 72 overall, its inclusion was based on its performance and initiatives in seven categories: environment, climate change, employee relations, human rights, governance, finance and stakeholders, and society. Notable among the Caesars rankings were its placements as 15th on environment and fourth place on climate change, largely attributable to its ambitious goals to cut high levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

By creating a framework called “People, Planet, Play,” Caesars deploys 11 corporate responsibility programs that comprise its grand plan. “We’re doing so much through each of these pillars,” Migita says. “It’s literally dozens of programs and strategies.”

Note that first among those pillars is “People,” defined by Caesars as “supporting the well-being of our employees, guests and local communities.” That last part got some first-class attention recently … 

Spread out among teams from fellow companies, an estimated 100-plus employees clad in red “HERO” shirts — their identification as Caesars volunteers — mingled at the company booth at the vast outdoor lot behind the Rio that hosted the “Relay for Life.”

Despite “Relay” in the title, there is zero sprinting or handing off of batons, but simply a pledge — backed up by monetary donations and sponsorships — that every team must field at least one member walking laps around the makeshift “track” at all times during the 12-hour event.

It’s a fun, leisurely, even festival-like Saturday afternoon.

“I do this because everyone in Las Vegas is family to me,” says Jason Rinta, chairman for the Las Vegas region of the Caesars HERO program, as well as service leader for Bally’s, Paris Las Vegas and Planet Hollywood hotel-casinos, as he strolls the track. Music— some of it canned, some of it by on-site performers — kicks the mood up several notches.

“The American Cancer Society is one of our (volunteer program) pillars — and my mother is a thyroid cancer survivor, so I try to be out front and give and give and give, whether it’s through donations or volunteerism. Our program empowers all team members for Caesars, which is 30,000 strong in the city and 180,000 across the country,” Rinta says, stressing Caesars’ attention to matters beyond profit.

“Everyone knows Vegas is built on gaming, there’s no getting around that. We drive tourism. But we’re only as strong as our community can be. It makes us bigger and stronger when we can give back thousands of hours in volunteerism.”

That gets a hearty amen from “Relay” co-lead Dawn Malone, Caesars’ senior manager of IT hotel/hospitality products. “We want people to know that we’re not here just to take their money (from gaming),” she says at the company booth, where volunteers are helping browsers stuff bags of fruits and vegetables they can purchase with a minimum donation.

“We’re part of their community, we want them to know we’re here for them,” she adds, noting that employees have flocked to the event from all nine of Caesars’ Las Vegas properties — the Rio, Flamingo, Harrah’s, Planet Hollywood, the Cromwell, the Linq, Bally’s, Paris and Caesars Palace.

“We have everyone from housekeeping all the way up through management staff here,” Malone says.

Such corporate commitment is appreciated. “Caesars makes up one third of the money that comes in for this event and that’s a huge impact,” says Shannon Moore, community development manager for the American Cancer Society Las Vegas. “They’re able to put back so much in terms of research and programs and services that go directly to people that are suffering with cancer.”

Casting a wide charitable net over dozens of nonprofits, Caesars employees fan out across Southern Nevada at sites such as Three Square Food Bank, where they spent a recent morning packing lunches for distribution to community organizations to help quell hunger across the valley.

“We’re helping out underprivileged children who don’t have three square meals a day,” says Yessinia Maggio, a cocktail server at Mesa Grill, as she steps away briefly from her assembly line duties of carefully packaging chicken nuggets, oranges, carrots, ranch dressing, cookies, beverages and dessert loaf cakes. “It’s nice to be able to do something for them, and it’s only a few hours a day, twice a month.”

Collectively, the Caesars time contribution goes far deeper than that. “You see those red T-shirts here day in and day out,” says Alexis Merz, Three Square’s marketing/communications specialist.

“Mesa Grill, they are no stranger to rolling up their sleeves and volunteering. They really make sure that people are dining out for a good cause. And I just overheard one of Caesars’ employees speaking about Three Square and she was well-informed and passionate about what we’re doing. We’re looking for people who believe in our mission enough to share it.”

Both Three Square and “Relay for Life” are representative of the philanthropic “People” portion of Caesars’ 3-P’s initiative, with “Play” defined as maximizing gaming experiences (rewards programs) and instituting “responsible” gaming practices. And the ambitious “Planet” section aims for no less than “caring for our environment to preserve the quality of life on Earth,” anchored by its “Code Green” program of minimizing the company’s impact on the environment.

Supplementing these efforts is the Caesars Foundation, which is funded by revenue from Caesars-owned properties and has, over its 17-year history, donated more than $74 million to nonprofit organizations.

 At the core of it all is the Hero volunteer program, which has encouraged and incentivized employees to give back to the community for more than two decades in dozens of ways. That reaches into the executive ranks, as 75 percent of the company’s senior vice presidents serve on nonprofit boards.

“Virtually all of our volunteer initiatives have a Hero component and there is an expected 16 hours of volunteer time as a challenge, but we do have a number who do over 100 hours a year,” Migita says about Caesars employees. Emphasized in Southern Nevada, she says, are independent living causes, pointing to partnerships with organizations such as Foundation for an Independent Tomorrow, the Public Education Foundation, Legal Aid and Second Wind Dreams.

A sampling of Caesars projects:

Second Wind Dreams: Aiding its mission to spotlight the positive aspects of aging, Caesars volunteers have taken seniors on the High Roller at the Linq; accompanied them to Nevada Ballet Theatre performances; and cheered them by creating silk flower corsages for nursing home residents on Mother’s Day, as well as Mother’s Day/Father’s Day cards, distributed with Meals on Wheels deliveries.

Clean the World Foundation: As a partner in this initiative, Caesars volunteers help the foundation collect, sterilize and distribute soap and other hygiene products to families at risk of contracting preventable diseases, as well as supporting its Las Vegas Recycling Operations Center.

“There is a whole operational program where we look at the opportunity of pickups for the housekeepers of soaps and shampoos,” Migita says. “We count the pounds per property and there is an employee Clean the World contest where we identify employees who have gone above and beyond for soap distribution. They go on trips abroad to over 100 countries, to a lot of domestic shelters to distribute hygiene kits.”

Million Women Mentors: Jan Jones Blackhurst, the former Las Vegas mayor and current Caesars executive vice president of public policy and corporate responsibility, leads the Nevada State Steering Committee for this project. Its aim is to spark interest in women to pursue careers in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) through mentoring.

Junior Achievement: Caesars team members teach financial literacy to local students.

Combatting human trafficking and sexual exploitation: Among its efforts to battle this scourge was Caesars becoming the first global-gaming entertainment company to sign the “International Child-Protection Code of Conduct,” a set of principles for travel-related companies to prevent human trafficking and exploitation. Caesars also launched the Shared Future Fund, an investment program to create long-term change for both child and adult victims of human trafficking.

LGBTQ community support: Hailed by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation for its inclusionary practices (https://www.lasvegasnewswire.com/rainbow-perfection-trio-of-las-vegas-companies-get-top-scores-for-lgbtq-inclusion/), Caesars has long offered wedding/honeymoon packages and PRIDE events at its properties, and is recognized for its non-discriminatory hiring policies. “I am a lesbian and I hear people in the community say, ‘I want to come work for Caesars because it’s what you stand for,’ having a very strong LGBTQ program,” Migita says.

“That’s the signal of the workplace inclusion culture. It’s a matter of educating employees and managers and recruiters of what inclusive hiring looks like.  It’s also about support for and partnerships with LGBTQ-owned businesses.”

Back at the cancer “Relay,” the red shirts multiply as the event barrels on, with shift employees turning up at the registration desk after they’ve clocked out at Caesars properties.

“This is my first year volunteering in ‘Relay for Life’ and for me, it’s personal,” says Jessie Reed, a human resources performance and culture advisor at Caesars Palace. “One of my former roommates had blood cancer. Luckily, she is in remission and I wanted to support things that benefit cancer research and just be a part of the community.”

Ditto for Maria Primm. “I wanted to be involved because two of my sisters are survivors, one from ovarian and one from breast cancer,” says Primm, a graphic arts employee who also volunteers at Three Square, as well as participating in the March of Dimes Walk.  “It hits a little bit to my heart.”

Perhaps it’s Jason Rinta’s aforementioned explanation that best underscores the spirit of this massive charity network and echoes in the hearts beating beneath those bright red shirts:

“Everyone in Las Vegas is family to me.”

To offer feedback on this story or suggestions for future stories on Las Vegas Newswire, contact Managing Editor Steve Bornfeld at SBornfeld@lvcva.com.

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