Companies embrace workers’ passion for volunteering
Social media feeds are peppered with images of construction industry workers going above and beyond their daily work to help build community. Co-workers come together to participate in food drives, toy drives, blood drives. They host career events for kids, help beautify city neighborhoods, organize charity golf tournaments and the list goes on.
A growing number of companies have expanded and formalized their charitable efforts to produce bigger impact. In the process, they have seen those efforts boost employee recruitment, retention and teamwork.
In 2021, employees at GWWO Architects with a collective passion for giving back came together to create GWWOrks.
“I absolutely love what we do and, in three years, we have learned quite a bit about how to funnel our passions into creating the maximum impact for the community,” said Dave Ritter, who leads the committee.
Through monthly meetings, GWWOrks has organized efforts supporting the Maryland Food Bank, the Baltimore Family Alliance, the American Red Cross and others. Some involve collecting resources for nonprofits. Others require architects to roll up their sleeves.
“As architects, we spend most of our time designing with others in the office and at our desks. Sometimes, we want to get out and get our hands dirty,” Ritter said.
GWWO allots each employee 16 hours of paid time to spend volunteering and the GWWOrks committee creates opportunities to use that time, including planting trees and gardens in Baltimore neighborhoods through the Civic Works’ Community Lot Team, walking dogs at BARCS, and enhancing spaces within Towson’s Adelaide Bentley Park.
Last year, the team spent a day of service at Irvine Nature Center. To prepare for the project, GWWO staff conducted a “mini design charrette” to determine the best improvements they could make to the organization’s outdoor classroom. The team designed and installed a four-sided, outdoor music station made from common items like kitchen pots and bicycle tires. They built two-sided, plexiglass art stations, “and we built a mud kitchen, which I wish I had as a child,” Ritter said. “When it’s rainy and messy, kids can go out and play in this little kitchenette and make mud pies.”
In 2023, GWWO’s 70-person firm donated over 550 hours of time through GWWOrks.
From its beginning more than a century ago, Gray & Son has volunteered for and donated to local nonprofits and provided longstanding support to several organizations. Those include Turn Around Inc., which provides wraparound services for survivors of human trafficking, sexual and intimate partner violence, and the Cool Kids Campaign, which provides academic, social and emotional support to families impacted by pediatric cancer.
The company polls workers to gain suggestions of nonprofits to support and arranges numerous opportunities for workers to volunteer their time or resources, said Katie McInnes, Vice President. In recent months alone, those activities have included hosting the annual golf tournament for Turn Around Inc., collecting and packing food for Baltimore Hunger Project, co-hosting the 1st Crusher Run for the Baltimore Hunger Project, placing wreaths on the graves of veterans for Wreaths Across America, and crafting the “Construction Barbie” tree for the Kennedy Krieger Festival of Trees.
Supporting nonprofits in the community has been a core part of Plano-Coudon Construction’s culture for decades. The company formed a 501c3 to support their philanthropic efforts, including its annual charity golf tournament. It established a policy of providing workers with eight hours of paid time to volunteer with a nonprofit and it matches up to $100 of donations that each employee makes to a charity.
And when the company planned its 25th anniversary celebrations last year, they included a monthly, volunteer activity “to live our values,” said Lisa Tenley, Vice President.
Those included serving meals at Our Daily Bread, filling backpacks for United Way’s Young Men United initiative, working with school children through the Ravens’ Caw to Action, painting pots and planting flowers with residents of Pickersgill Retirement Community, and caring for dogs at BARCS.
“We are so fortunate to work for a company that actually pays us to go do community service,” Tenley said. “The volunteer activities are a lovely way for the team to bond and to be able to live our values as an organization. I think we attract and retain people who are interested in being positive members of the community. That’s one reason we spotlight it so often in our social media. We know these community service activities are a terrific engagement strategy, which is a wonderful secondary benefit to the impact we can have volunteering.”
Heather LoPiano, Marketing Specialist with Harkins Builders, said her company’s charitable work influenced her career choice. “I really love the philanthropic culture and it was one of the reasons I knew Harkins would be the best fit for me.”
Harkins formalized its charitable efforts at the end of 2022 by establishing the 501c3 Harkins Foundation.
“The foundation elevated our efforts,” LoPiano said.
The foundation, which responds to employee-owner suggestions of nonprofits to support, organized a charity golf tournament that raised $10,000 each for four nonprofits. It organized other fundraising activities, including a clay disc target shooting tournament last fall to support Patriots Point. In total, the Harkins Foundation donated over $200,000 to about 40 organizations in 2023.
“We are also working with our construction project teams to make our community initiatives even greater,” LoPiano said.
Harkins makes it a priority for all its project teams and internal teams to give back to the communities in which they work. One project team helped refurbish the bocce ball courts in Little Italy and planned a charitable bocce ball tournament to raise funds for St. Leo’s church. At the end of last year, internal teams refurbished bikes for Free Bikes for Kids in Jessup.
Foundation leaders have discovered that a key to advancing their charitable work is to “identify a champion” within Harkins for each effort and help them advance that project, LoPiano said.