What Community Engagement Means to Me at Christmas and All Year Round
“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” — Winston S. Churchill
I’m Jane Gray Boland, the Director of Marketing & Communications for A M King. I’m also a daughter, a wife, a mother, an aunt…and a cancer survivor. So, I look at community engagement from a different perspective than most. It is a true blessing that I am here among the living. I seek out ways to give back every day, whether it is a simple act of kindness, organizing an event, employing a young mother out of work to perform a service for our family, or feeding a family that has stumbled across misfortune. And, it doesn’t take a great amount of effort to find charitable opportunities when you work for a generous company who believes in supporting our communities.
My personal philanthropy commences each January in planning for the March Colon Cancer Coalition 5k Walk/Run known as “Get Your Rear in Gear.” My team is now 85 strong and growing, many of whom are family members and fellow construction industry veterans. Then in July we move to the 24 Hours of Booty, where Team A M King sponsors and celebrates cyclists riding for cancer research and patient programs (some of which benefit me personally). After we catch our breath for a few days, it is time to fill the trucks with school supplies and uniforms for students at a local elementary school during Open House night in August. And last but not least, the Grand Finale— the Salvation Army Angel Tree Program, where A M King employees have the opportunity to get involved on a more personal level.
The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree Program
A M King graciously gives each employee $150 to purchase gifts for a child who would otherwise not receive Christmas. After the crowds have been braved and purchases made, we fill approximately 150 bags containing toys, clothing, games, scooters, bikes and more. Each bag is personally labeled for a specific child, and the bags are loaded into the Salvation Army truck. In a few days, these children will experience the magic of Christmas.
This event brings me perhaps the greatest joy of the year. My assigned children in 2018 are Eliazar (11) and Yareth (5). I can only dream of what they look like, and I cannot imagine the daily challenges their families must face. The accompanying video captured my family (husband, Mark, and 21-year old daughter, Kathryn) winding through aisles in search of toys, clothing, and treats on Black Friday. We shopped thoughtfully and diligently in hopes of fulfilling the children’s Christmas wishes with just the right items. We imagined their faces as they tear through each gift and, at the same time, hopefully renewing their beliefs in God, Santa, and the kindness of the human spirit.
Community Engagement is Catching
I watched our daughter as she took pride in the deliberate gift choices she made and the joy that emanated from within her.She sat on the store floor with legs crossed and pondered aloud, “What can I do back at college to make an impact? How can I spread joy to those who know none of this?” Although Kathryn considered many worthy options, she settled on providing a Christmas meal to a needy and deserving Western North Carolina family that barely has enough money to keep their home warm—let alone feed six hungry mouths on any given night. Including Christmas. In an instant, I observed the spirit of generosity that is so close to my heart pass down from one generation to the next.
Kathryn, Mark and I were but three volunteers shopping for our Angels, yet we are part of a larger effort that included not only the entire A M King family, but more than 2,000 Salvation Army volunteers last year who contributed in excess of 7,000 hours during the holiday season. That doesn’t even count thousands of people who adopted Angels, purchased gifts, donated toys and rang the bell at the iconic Red Kettle. I am proud to be part of the effort that netted so much for many people to make their holidays just a little bit easier.
Collectively, the Salvation Army of Greater Charlotte gave Christmas assistance to more than 6,000 families last year. This represents more than 10,700 children who wouldn’t have Christmas help without the Salvation Army and the generosity of the Charlotte community. The advantages for the recipients of the Christmas largesse is obvious. What isn’t always evident are the good vibrations that transcend from our shopping trip throughout my family, the community, and the companies we work for.
Corporate benefits blossom as a result of these single acts of kindness. Studies have shown that there is a tangible link between employee volunteerism and engagement. The Top 50 community-minded companies in the United States exemplify one of the core tenets of corporate citizenship: “doing well by doing good,” according to Points of Light, a world-wide organization that has named The Civic 50 each year since 2011. The 2018 honorees are using community engagement to drive key business functions, including employee engagement (86 percent); marketing/PR (78 percent); diversity and inclusion (74 percent); skill development (74 percent) and stakeholder relations (56 percent). Their efforts have also resulted in deeper connections between shareholders, customers and employees.
The spirit of giving IS contagious, whether it begins in your company, your community or in your own family. Though the impact we have on others may never be completely known, caring gestures and acts of kindness are felt by not only those in need, but also by those who are blessed to give.