Volunteering is a magnificent mix of generosity, compassion and hard work. Many of the nation’s most helpful programs and organizations would not be possible if it weren’t for the support of those who volunteer. From firefighting to disaster relief, from youth sports clubs to parent-teacher organizations, from homeless shelters to animal shelters, more than 62 million volunteers around the country have logged more than 7.8 billion hours of time this year alone to provide support to causes they care about.
DSG recognizes that business is never just about business. Instead, good business is about helping people to succeed and communities to thrive. Each year, as part of our Do Something Good program, we provide each employee owner four hours of paid leave to volunteer in his or her community. Of course that’s only a starting point. Most employee owners who volunteer spend much more time than that with the causes they care about most. In addition, our Pay It Forward program provides more than $200,000 in annual donations to charities selected by our employee owners, including the Special Olympics, local children’s hospitals, the Salvation Army, the American Cancer Society and the United Way.
While none of the effort put forth by DSG or our employee owners is self-serving, we thought a little recognition was due to some of the incredible people who give so much. While there were many to choose from, limited space compelled us to choose three stories of DSG employee owners to focus on in this article.
Project Athena Foundation
When Renee Anderson, executive assistant at DSG Fargo, heard Robyn Benincasa speak at a conference in 2015 about her experiences as founder of the Project Athena Foundation, she felt compelled to help. Anderson reached out to fellow employee owner and friend Kaitlin Awe at DSG’s Aberdeen branch to see if she would join her on a new adventure. Both women volunteered, and while it may have seemed impulsive at the time, it is a decision that they have never regretted.
The Project Athena Foundation is a nonprofit aimed at helping those who have experienced a medical or traumatic setback to make a transition from “survivor” to “athlete.” Survivors, or “Athenas” as the foundation calls them, include anyone (primarily women) who has experienced distressing circumstances such as a stroke, cancer, a major surgery or even an abusive relationship. They are offered the chance to go on one of six preplanned adventures (or to embark on one of their choosing) that include treks around the Grand Canyon, kayaking and cycling along the Florida Keys coastline and a multisport trip to Santa Barbara, CA, to name a few. The events, whatever they may be, always provide Athenas with mental and physical challenges in a noncompetitive environment.
“The whole point is to give the survivor a chance to accomplish something bigger than themselves,” says Anderson. “To help them realize that it’s okay to ask for help along the way and that they can accomplish amazing things right now, despite what has happened to them in the past.”
Volunteers either donate or help to raise money to fund the trips for the Athenas, and they oftentimes accompany them on their adventures. Together, DSG’s Anderson and Awe raised more than $5,000 for Athenas. “A lot of the money we raised came from family members and from our coworkers at DSG,” says Awe. “We are so grateful for everyone’s support and generosity.”
The two women also accompanied Athenas on a two-day, 50-mile urban hike along a route from Oceanside to Shelter Island in San Diego, CA, in April 2017. “It was exhausting, but that’s the point,” says Awe. “Having to dig deep and go on when you feel you can’t. That’s what a lot of these women are experiencing in life. When we got to the end, knowing that we finished and that we were a part of their accomplishment was tremendously fulfilling.”
The adventure was one that Anderson and Awe will remember for the rest of their lives, and it has reinforced the value of volunteering. “We’re often told that we have to make something for ourselves, to work hard and be successful for ourselves,” says Awe. “But volunteering, to work hard for someone else and ask nothing in return, is more rewarding than anything.”
You can learn more about the Project Athena Foundation at www.projectathena.org.
Cottage Grove Police Reserves
For 40 hours or more a week, Jeff Rossow sports a DSG polo shirt and is armed with a computer, serving as a purchasing agent at the company’s St. Paul, MN, branch. However, two nights a month, he wears a slightly different outfit that includes a taser, pepper spray and a baton.
Rossow has volunteered as a sergeant for the Cottage Grove Police Reserves since 2000. He used to be part of the local chapter of Patriot Guard Riders, a volunteer group of motorcyclists who accompany fallen military soldiers, first responders and police officers during funeral proceedings. He did this for several years, and after he was put on grand jury duty for a police officer shooting, he realized that he wanted to get even more involved with law enforcement. The Reserves were a perfect fit.
The Cottage Grove Police Reserves are made up of citizen volunteers who assist the police department with a variety of responsibilities, from patrol duties and prisoner transports to community emergencies. Reserve members come from all walks of life – some of them seeking experience for a career in law enforcement, others looking to fulfill a civic duty. “They only accept people who have completed the academy training, passed the interview process and ‘have what it takes,’” says Rossow. “I’m honored and proud to be a part of the Reserves, and I take it very seriously.”
In this role, Rossow typically joins a fellow Reserve officer in a squad car, patrolling streets, neighborhoods and parks for suspicious activity. Sometimes, he accompanies an official police officer. Reserves are on call 24 hours a day and are required to volunteer their time at least one night a month, patrolling on shifts that can last from 6:00 p.m. until 6:30 a.m. the next morning. They also participate in community events and parades.
While Reserves are not allowed to pull anyone over without the supervision of an official police officer or make an arrest (beyond a citizen’s arrest), they face many of the same risks as official law enforcement. “There’s definitely danger involved,” says Rossow. “You never know who or what you’re going to pull up on, and you’re exposed to some horrible sights. But the chance to support the brave men and women in blue is worth it.”
According to Rossow, he’s happy to be able to volunteer his time and give back to his community, and what volunteering has provided to him in return has been incredibly rewarding. “Volunteering is so important,” he says. “I think that if you have the means and the time to do it, you should. It has made a big impact on my own life, and I’m a stronger person because of it.”
You can learn more about the Cottage Grove Police Reserves at www.cottage-grove.org/police.
Companions For Children
At DSG, Tavis Trosen is an account manager known for his great customer service. After hours, he’s known for his prowess as a competitor in international in-line skating competitions. At Companions for Children in Minot, ND, however, he’s known as a mentor and a friend.
Companions for Children pairs children ages 6 through 18 with volunteer mentors. These mentors serve as role models to provide fun and guidance to children during challenging and crucial times in their lives. Oftentimes, the children are from single-parent homes, but sometimes the kids just need a little extra positivity.
Trosen was introduced to Companions for Children when one of DSG’s customers asked DSG to sponsor a table at one of the group’s events. Trosen was intrigued, and once he learned more about the organization, he wanted to get more involved.
Trosen mentors a 17-year-old boy whose father is not in his life. He spends about three to four hours every other week with the young man participating in fun activities, including sports, board games and video games. “It’s about being there for him,” says Trosen. “It doesn’t matter what we do, it just matters that we spend time together. I was fortunate to have an amazing childhood, and I believe that everyone deserves a little of that.”
For Trosen, the best part of volunteering his time is the impact that he’s having on his young friend. “He’s kind of shy and quiet,” says Trosen. “His mom pulled me aside one day, with tears, and said that every time he comes back from our time together, he talks nonstop about what we did. It’s the happiest she has ever seen him. That was amazing to hear.”
For those who are undecided about whether they should volunteer and get involved, Trosen says there’s no reason not to. “It doesn’t take a lot of effort, and the results can be huge,” he says. “You can simply hang out with someone and play games and make a difference in their lives. If everyone just did a little something, imagine how things could be.”
You can learn more about Companions for Children at www.companionsforchildren.org.
Three Reasons To Get Involved
Ask anyone who volunteers, and they’ll tell you that they believe they are making a difference. In fact, volunteering has a positive impact on the lives of both those who need help and those who offer their time. Here’s how:
1. Volunteering can improve your health.
The Corporation for National & Community Service (CNCS) found that community service work leads to lower mortality rates, greater physical capabilities and improved mental health, particularly among baby boomer volunteers.
2. Volunteering can make you feel like you have more time.
According to a study by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, people who helped others felt like they had time to spare, felt more accomplished and felt they could do even more.
3. Volunteering can make your workplace stronger.
The Huffington Post reviewed volunteering through the workplace and found that such opportunities boost employees’ productivity, pride, gratitude and ethics.