By Val Bisharat
Corporate volunteerism tends to have a singular look: Employees from one company, volunteering together for part or all of one day. That has been—and remains—a valuable and important approach for the benefit of communities throughout the United States. But I’m part of a group of businesses that has been experimenting with another volunteer model for the past decade—an approach we think is more powerful and transformative. It involves multiple companies coming together, each lending employees to volunteer as a group for a week at a time, often in communities far from home—living, eating and working together as a team.
We call the approach In Good Company, an alliance of values-driven businesses that join forces to donate time, energy, tools and materials to communities in need of access to healthy food, adequate housing and a healthy environment. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to organize and several times a year lead In Good Company volunteers on week-long projects that transform lives and communities across the country.
In Good Company was formed from the belief that collaboration among businesses can be a powerful force for positive change, and that we can accomplish more together than alone. With each project, we see our vision coming to life.
For a week in June 2017, 19 volunteers from 13 In Good Company partners gathered in New York to revitalize the Garden of Youth, an 8,000-square foot community garden in the Bronx that except for two small plots was underutilized by the community. Working closely with local nonprofits Bronx Green-Up and the Mary Mitchell Family & Youth Center, and Crotona neighborhood residents, we converted the underused space back into a thriving community garden, featuring 31 garden beds, a greenhouse, planting tables, picnic tables, benches and a composting system. We also built a children’s section with kid-sized raised beds for planting, discovery tables, a sensory garden and a living green tunnel that’s the perfect height for children to play in.
All of the garden’s bounty is maintained by the local community and is theirs to keep or to sell at the nearby La Familia Verde market. Because local community members and nonprofits had an integral role in planning and executing the project, we’re confident this beautiful garden will continue to serve its purpose long into the future.
For the volunteers on any In Good Company project, a week of living, cooking and working together creates a more transformative experience than a single day can do for both the communities and the volunteers themselves. The communities benefit from the work a sizable team can accomplish with 750 or more volunteer hours dedicated to a single project. The volunteers have the time to gain new skills, from learning how to use a power tool to installing a living room window. They meet new people and share best practices. They also gain a better understanding of the local areas they’re serving through guided tours and conversations with community leaders.
What’s more, the volunteers are immersed for a week in an experience—volunteering—that research suggests benefits the people who volunteer—in this case our employees--by enhancing their physical, mental and emotional health.
In Good Company was started by Clif Bar & Company in 2008. Since its inception, In Good Company has engaged 462 employees from 50 companies to volunteer on 26 week-long projects in seven communities, including New Orleans and Louisiana’s Gulf Coast; West Oakland, Calif.; the Hopi Reservation in Arizona; the Stanislaus National Forest; Exeter in California’s Central Valley; and the Bronx, N.Y.
Alone, it would be virtually impossible for any of In Good Company’s participating businesses to send large groups of employees on week-long trips across the country several times a year to volunteer on community projects. Missed work responsibilities and cost would be prohibitive. Partnering together, however, In Good Company makes that possible for a wide array of companies, creating meaningful change in communities and building partnerships and friendships along the way.
Businesses that are part of In Good Company--such as Clif Bar & Company, Annie’s, Amy’s, EILEEN FISHER, King Arthur Flour, Klean Kanteen, Organic Valley, QBP, Seventh Generation, States Logistics, Timberland and UNFI—share a belief in the power of human impact and the ability to change the communities in which we live, work and play.
Business can drive positive change. Through collaboration, In Good Company believes groups of businesses can drive greater positive change than if we act alone or for a few hours at a time.
What do you think? Is In Good Company right for your business?
Val Bisharat is the Community Programs Manager for Clif Bar & Company. She is responsible for managing the In Good Company volunteer program, which is an alliance of values-driven businesses that join together for a shared purpose to volunteer in local communities for a week at a time. Val has been with Clif Bar & Company for nearly 10 years. Prior to her current role, she was a Field Marketing Manager in the Los Angeles market. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she earned a B.A. in French and Multi-media Arts.
Image credit: Ryan Struck