Building Community Is About Engagement

Building Community Is About Engagement

By Diane M. Calabrese / Published October 2014

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Community Involvement

The quiet beauty of fellowship is everywhere. There is the person who shovels the walk or cuts the grass of a neighbor who is ill. There is the regular blood donor, the person who takes the time to patiently listen to a young child struggling with language, and the readers who keep warm words of communication flowing to hospitalized and long-term care residents.

Community involvement takes so many forms that we sometimes overlook how much each effort made to do something on behalf of someone else contributes to the wellbeing of everyone. The members of our industry are involved in their communities through their businesses, which donate time, money, and equipment to help others. They are also involved as individuals sharing their personal time, energy, and resources to coach, tutor, mentor, and so on.

In the true embrace of the message that duty is ours and the results are God’s, however, members of our industry relish the doing as surely as they shun acknowledgment. It took a bit of persistence for us to persuade a few of them to tell us a little about their community involvement—and we are grateful for those who allow us to use them as exemplars of the industry as a whole.

Gary Don Holley, the owner of Cross Cleaning Solutions in Gladewater, TX, expresses the priority we encountered again and again in our calls. “There’s so much you can do,” he says. “Give God the glory.” Sometimes that includes taking the initiative. “We have groups that wash, so if we find a dirty church, we’ll just go and wash it,” says Holley.

There are so many opportunities to be involved in the community that one must just be open to them, explains Holley. “One of the things that we’ve done is to donate cold water washers out to youth groups.” The youth groups use the machines to clean and raise money for mission trips.

“We have done some park cleanup,” says Holley. And some non-profits have been given hot water rigs for their efforts. There are so many ways to help. In certain cases, it can be as simple as donating soap for a group slated to take on cleaning of a building belonging to a non-profit organization.

Setting an Example

Every action we take becomes a model for others—someone is always watching, whether it’s a small child or a colleague. So, in an ideal world, each positive action should bring more of the same.

On a practical level, businesses often have the chance to donate money that will seed good causes in the community. Their visibility—and donation—indicates that they believe in the cause and others should take a look at it and consider contributing. Building links in this way works in communities of all sizes.

“Operating a business in a town of 875 people such as Alcester, SD, means your business and employees are involved in the community,” says Gary Scott, president of Alkota Cleaning Systems, Inc., which is based in the city. “The involvement starts with the financing of projects. Our company was one of the original contributors to the Alcester Community Foundation a number of years ago. That fund has grown to more than $1,000,000 from donations and finances many worthy projects within the Alcester community. Our company also contributes to special projects every year for students in the public schools. It contributes labor and expertise when projects are being completed. The most recent was painting the bookshelves for the combined city/school library prior to classes beginning this fall.”

Scott emphasizes, too, the importance of seizing the opportunities. “Financial support is important, but I think the support of employees who volunteer their time and talents is even more important,” he says. “We have employees who help man the Alcester Volunteer Fire Department and the Alcester Ambulance Service. They are paid for time missed from work when performing these important tasks.

“We have employees who serve on the local telephone cooperative board of directors,” says Scott. “We have employees who serve on the local school board. As mentioned earlier, we have employees who serve on the volunteer fire department and ambulance service. We have employees who have served on the city council. For years, the mayor of Alcester was employed by our company. If there are volunteer projects to be done, our company and its’ employees are involved.”

Looking at the whole of community involvement, Scott expresses the sentiment that is so widely shared. “Our philosophy has been to support our community because we are the community,” he explains.

Privilege of Giving

Those of us who can shovel snow, cut grass, or help clean the exterior of a non-profit building rarely stop to think of what it would be like to not be able to do any of those things. But when we do stop and think, we often realize what a gift it is to be able to do—and then we sometimes give ourselves a little kick because we know we should be doing more. There is a privilege in being able to give.

The carpe diem admonishment exists for a reason. Time passes whether we fill it with meaningful activity or not. Empty hours, like empty hands, are not the stuff that builds strong communities (or lives). So, again, it is our responsibility to get going and keep going. Sometimes our type of remunerative work or our position at a company gives us a unique setting for participation.

“As the owner of HydraMotion and our sister company, ECT, I have the flexibility to make donations that my family and I feel do great work but require our support,” says Bruce Tassone, whose companies are based in Bridgeport, PA. 

“Our efforts are targeted principally at children’s; animals’; and local, non-denominational groups,” says Tassone. “In our situation, these are community charities that we feel need the most assistance. We provide both financial contributions and man hours depending on the needs of each organization. We do make our donations anonymously to avoid any unnecessary publicity as well as shield the interests of the groups we support. Ultimately, we feel blessed that we are in a position to help and glad we can assist inspired people that share our passion.”

Everyone we talked with—even those we could not persuade to comment on record—expressed a desire to do things for their community with anonymity. Building community is about engagement. The benefits of engagement to the community speak for themselves—for all of us.

Adding—and Multiplying

It’s not always necessary, but it is almost always true that someone is counting. There are government entities that take time to quantify just how involved everyone is. And the results they obtain are interesting —although we suspect a little low, especially in light of the anonymous way in which many prefer to be involved.

According to VolunteeringinAmerica.gov, just over one in four adults volunteered through an organization in 2012. The 64.5 million Americans who volunteered 7.9 billion hours in 2012 provided approximately $175 billion of in-kind service.

Volunteers are equally distributed among all age groups, according to the data provided by VolunteeringinAmerica.gov. And there is a rough equivalence among the top five volunteer activities, which are fundraising, collecting and distributing food, general labor, and tutoring/teaching and mentoring youth. Religious, social service, educational, and health groups record the biggest share of volunteers.

For contractors, manufacturers, and distributors seeking ways to multiply their time spent involved with the community, there are plenty of places to get ideas. NeighborWorks® America, headquartered in Washington, D.C. presents some tiered suggestions (low, medium, high levels of involvement). See the following link: www.nw.org/network/consumers/community.asp.

The “low-level” suggestions are especially intriguing because they include cleaning up after pets and picking up trash on streets during a morning walk. They are intriguing because they are the sorts of efforts—largely unseen—that can really bring harmony to a community, given that no one will find debris or pet waste in their yard. Harmony begins at home—and close to home.

The U.S. Small Business Admin-istration also gives community involvement advice. Tips (www.sba.gov/blogs/socially-responsible-marketing-your-community), which were authored by Rieva Lesonsky, are geared toward doing marketing in a way that is responsible. Even so, there are good ideas for anyone seeking new ways to be involved. Something as simple as providing a bulletin board in a showroom where customers can exchange notices of school and church fundraisers might be a possibility for some distributors.

Community involvement promotes understanding. The more ties a manufacturer, distributor, or contractor has to the community, the more widespread and familiar the knowledge of the company is. Any business that has ever become the focal point of concern because of expansion or other activities that make its presence more obvious will welcome good ties to the community, if only to benefit from the indulgence of residents for noise and traffic during construction.

The Environmental Protection Agency provides recommendations on Superfund Community Involvement (www.epa.gov/superfund/community) that are so useful they can be a guide to businesses that might have to cause a disruption for any reason, be it cleaning or construction. The recommendations include encouraging and making it possible for community members to get involved—express their concerns, taking the time to hear and react to concerns, and explaining why something is happening.

In the day-to-day of community, most things do not have to be explained to neighbors—whether residential, commercial, or industrial. We know the patterns and adapt to the pace. Whenever there will be an abrupt even temporary—change to the tempo, get out ahead of it. For businesses already involved in the community, doing so is easier because there are so many natural contacts in place.

No one can do everything at once. New and young businesses often must focus so intently on getting their endeavor off the ground that they have little time to devote to the community—and they are not in a position to donate money. But their owners do have and take the time to strengthen their neighborhoods by getting to know neighbors, and doing the neighborly thing, such as jumping a dead car battery. It all adds up to community involvement.

Some of the best ideas for community involvement derive from the casual conversations that manufacturers, distributors, and contractors have during their professional meetings. Attending professional meetings and supporting professional organizations, such as CETA, PWNA, UAMCC, and WJTA-IMCA, is another way to be involved in the community. A setting away from home base is a great place to meet competitors from home and discover common interests and goals. Business strategists write of synergy that can derive when competitors get together.

Community derives from the Latin for common. Taking a step in the direction of another person is the surest way to decrease the distance between the two of you.