Boundless optimism radiates from Fred Maahs, director of national partnerships for Comcast Corporation and vice president of Comcast Foundation. Maahs plays a major role in the strategy behind the company’s community investment efforts. Since 2001, Comcast has invested a $2.5 billion in the local communities it serves in 39 states and Washington, DC.
It doesn’t matter that he’s been in a wheelchair for 32 years as the result of a diving accident – at least not to him anyway. “I don’t know that I’ve had challenges as a person with a disability at Comcast,” said Maahs, who has been with the company since 2007. “From the very beginning, I’ve always been accepted and treated as Fred – not necessarily Fred with a disability or Fred in a wheelchair – which is how it should be.”
Because of that acceptance and his positive attitude, Fred confidently led Comcast Cares Day for several years, which is now a 75,000-volunteer strong initiative – one of the largest of its kind – where employees and their family and friends, as well as community partners, spend one entire day of community service together.
A National Scope
Now, however, Maahs has an even larger role at the company where he is responsible for the strategic leadership of Comcast’s national partnerships that include Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, City Year, Easter Seals, Teach for America, as well as a variety of other partnerships at the corporate and regional levels. His role is to work closely with national partners in addition to Comcast coworkers to focus on three key areas: Empowering tomorrow’s leaders, enhancing digital literacy and promoting community service.
These philanthropic efforts give back to local communities, as well as establish and strengthen ties to the communities where the company’s customers and employees live and work. For example, he might lead a team helping a group of students in an underserved community get access to the Internet to learn digital literacy skills that will help with schoolwork and possibly help them graduate. As a result of his work and the work of his team, Comcast along with Big Brothers Big Sisters, run the nation’s largest workplace mentoring program (Comcast supports half of the nation’s Boys & Girls Clubs).
“That class or community has been lifted up and changed for the better because of our investment in that community,” he explains. “It is things like that that make every day worth it and make it easy to come to work, frankly.”
Maahs’ optimism is contagious and is clear in his work relationships, too. “Fred is a highly valued and integral member of our Community Investment team,” said Charisse R. Lillie, vice president of community investment, Comcast Corporation and President of the Comcast Foundation. “He has established strong relationships with our community partners and works tirelessly to maintain those partnerships that make such a meaningful impact to our communities.”
A History of Helping
The desire to help others goes back to Maahs’ childhood. Even when times were tough, knowing that others were less fortunate, his father took Maahs and his brother with him to buy and hand deliver turkeys and other food to underserved families at Christmas. “We would go into the poorest sections of [Wilmington, Del.], and give that food to people who really needed it,” he adds.
That awareness of others’ needs is a common thread throughout his career even in previous jobs, but especially at Comcast. Not only is it what he does every day in his job, but also as the Executive Champion of the Abilities Alliance, an 85-member employee resource group that aims to foster awareness, respect and inclusion in the workplace through professional development initiatives like networking events and workshops.
While Maahs is an integral part of that group, he says that part of his challenge each day outside of his work responsibilities is to teach people disability sensitivity: To use people-first language and treat and respect others regardless of ability. “Frankly, it’s common courtesy. But I think for me, what’s important is helping people have that comfort level [with people with disabilities],” he says.
And that message can’t be stressed enough, says Maahs, especially with employers. “If you treat [an employee with disability] with respect, courtesy and professionalism, it will be mutual,” he says. “I would ask that employers take that chance on an individual and I will bet more times than not, that individual will prove that given the opportunity, they’re going to exceed the expectations of the employer.”
Finally, Maahs admits he has a challenging job, but in the best way possible. It’s not easy to get so many forces together to make a difference, and continue to make a bigger impact each time, but Maahs makes this his everyday mission.
“Through the work I do, I get to make a difference every day in communities across the county. And at the end of the day – it can be a long day – I know that the work that I’ve done along with my colleagues in some way helped someone,” says Maahs. “It’s the best job I’ve ever had.”