This article originally appeared in the October 2020 issue of WQP as "Waters for Hope"
I am always amazed how each day can have bad aspects to it as well as good aspects. This virus has certainly proven this to be so. As I have matured in my business life as well as my personal life, I have gone through all the emotions and feeling that all of us have or will go though. In business, as in life, we all think that the younger generations are not as good as we were. This is just human nature, an old notion many were raised on. Yet, I have found we are often surprised by what life brings to us. Living in a multi-generational world certainly creates a life full of challenges but also rewards. Case in point is the following experience.
As a former owner/partner and sales manager for a wholesale distributor named May Supply in Harrisonburg, Virginia, I found out what happiness and support those younger employees can bring to an organization. The ideas, joys, work ethic and desire to do good is strong. Let me share with you what happened at May Supply. This is important not because it brings recognition to my former company and its employees but because it shows that you too can do something similar.
Waters for Hope is Born
Two years ago, May Supply had a new employee named Rebecca Plecker, who had a neighbor. May Supply hired Plecker to be the water treatment lab person and to be the lead on inside water treatment sales. Plecker came to work one day and told Lindsay Kazerick, our marketing director, and myself that her neighbor had a son with cancer. They believed part of the problem was their drinking water. What they found out was that the son had Burkitt’s Lymphoma. He would be undergoing treatment and would be in a weakened condition. Plecker asked if there was a way May Supply could help.
About this time, May Supply was going to conduct a water treatment training, and the manufacturer represented overheard discussion of the situation. The representative said that his company would help donate water treatment equipment. A dealer offered to install the equipment at no charge, and the idea of Waters for Hope was born.
Waters for Hope is a program that was designed to become a nonprofit with the goal of assisting local families with children who have cancer and could not return home after treatment or during treatment because their immune systems were compromised. The water quality and or dependability was a concern. Being in the water business, the younger employees of May Supply knew “we could help.” Kazerick developed a detailed marketing brochure to outline the goals, objectives, opportunities and solutions to a wide selection of interested people. The response was so great we had to turn offers away. No one was concerned that we were not yet a nonprofit. Everyone just wanted to help in some way and to be a part of a program that helped young children with cancer in our community. This is the idea that seemed to appeal to so many. It was a local business helping local people in a local community.
After helping the first young man, he made a request to May Supply. He knew of another young man he met at the hospital that needed more help. What does this tell you about the character of this young man? His mom put us in touch with the other boy’s family and a visit was set up to meet this family at the home. After this meeting, I told the group they need more than just a new well and water treatment. The house was in sad shape. Kazerick and Plecker said, “No problem, we can find a way to help.” I told them I was not sure they were ready for this large of a challenge. I was wrong. They worked hard talking to suppliers and contractors to line up the possibility of completing two-bathroom remodels, a new kitchen, window replacement, new flooring plus the well and water treatment work. Not only was this a daunting task but it needed to be completed in a week before Christmas. This is when the son was to be allowed home from the hospital for a short stay at home.
Just in Time for the Holidays
Contractors were lined up with permits acquired and materials delivered. People volunteered food, a local bed and breakfast put up the father, brother and sister for the week so the work could be done in time for Christmas. Employees gave their time and skills, as well as covering for others while they took their turn.
Our counter man, Jamie, who has three children of his own said, “I know we did this for the family and the child who has cancer and that is great, but what about the parents and the brother and sister?“
So, a list was prepared of needs for the other family members, and more than 50 presents as well as cash were presented to them as gifts. I was to play Santa Claus and make the delivery, but conditions just did not allow for that to happen.
Why is all this important? Because not only does it show the good in these employees, but it shows that we should never not believe in the capability of our younger employees to step up and succeed. Employees do not want to just be good at work, they want to do good as well. When May Supply had this program rolling, I have never seen more optimistic, hard-working folks in my life. We all knew we were working for far more than a paycheck.
A Local Business Helping Local People
Two more families were also helped with the program. In total, I estimate that close to $90,000 in value, work and hundreds of man hours were donated. This is at actual cost with no tax breaks, simply because everyone involved believed it was the right thing to do. I also believe that it brought business to May Supply. Companies who normally did not do a lot of business with May Supply wanted to know how they could get involved and came in to the store more. Vendors wanted to help in ways they never had before, and employee morale was through the roof. Employees shared with me that they were glad to come to work. They were proud to be a part of May Supply. All it took was doing good for others. In turn it did good for us.
Unfortunately, not all good stories have a happy ending. The family with the whole house remodel lost their son this past year to cancer. It was heartbreaking and many tears were shed at the loss of our little friend. However, the other families are doing well, and the first young man we helped threw out the pitch that changed the losing streak direction the Washington Nationals were headed and again threw out the first pitch in game three of the playoffs. It is believed that he helped boost team spirit and the Nationals went on to the win the world series. You never know the outcome of what you start, but it will never be good if you never start.
Create Change in Your Community
My challenge to you is to find a way to do good in your local business and in your community. Look to your younger employees and give them the chance to brainstorm ideas, tackle challenges and make a difference in their lives and yours. Just give them the tools then get out of their way.