A Passion for Giving

Even as companies are restructuring their operations to better manage products and services, they are still committed to charitable giving, but with a slight spin. In fact, the Council on Foundations (www.cof.org, a membership association of more than 2,100 grant making corporations and foundations, defines the “new philanthropy” as much more than a tax deductible check, but a strategic business imperative.

Corporations now understand that there can be a direct link between engaging in social responsibility and the company’s bottom line. More and more companies are learning that time is money, as they are encouraging—and in some cases mandating—their employees to volunteer in areas that strengthen communities and improve the human condition. Benefits are huge for the recipients, but they are also considerable for the corporation.

Here are some findings:

83% of Americans have a more positive image of companies that support a cause they care about.

65% of Americans would switch to a brand associated with a good cause, price, and quality being equal.

87% of employees at companies with cause marketing programs feel a stronger sense of loyalty to their employers.

This month, black enterprise has identified four professionals who are pursuing social passions outside of their work. Humanitarian efforts range from building affordable houses and mentoring young people in the disciplines of science and technology to using sports as a way to develop awareness and build character. Their stories affirm the importance of their work and the benefit they provide to society. These individuals have recruited the support of their respective companies and, together, are making strides to impact the world.

Hattie Matthews

Providing a foundation for success
“I’ve always felt it’s an absolute honor and privilege to be able to participate in helping to build someone’s dream,” beams Hattie Matthews, store manager for the home improvement company Lowe’s in Buckeye, Arizona. Four years ago, Matthews, who prior to her retail employment was a finish carpenter and licensed builder (a trade she learned in her family’s construction business starting at age 5), volunteered as an instructor with Habitat for Humanity’s Women Build program, a faction of the shelter relief organization that helps women develop the skills needed to participate on a Habitat worksite. It was an opening she pursued through Lowe’s corporate partnership with the charitable group. Since then she has participated in building 20 homes in Phoenix; Detroit; and Benton Harbor, Michigan.

Matthews often teaches basic construction skills at weekly Women Build clinics to help women overcome feelings of intimidation on the worksite. She believes what women learn from the clinics is not only beneficial for completing tasks on Habitat worksites, but also helpful as they manage challenges in their lives. For instance, one single mother wanted to learn construction skills to repair her home. When the project was finished, the young woman, overwhelmed with emotion, looked at Matthews and cried; she never thought she would be able to complete a task like building a house. “You don’t realize what an impact [this] has on someone’s life,” says Matthews.

This  year, the mother of six will participate in Habitat’s 2nd Annual National Women Build Week taking place May 2-10, a nationwide celebration of more than 6,000 women volunteers. Matthews continues to marvel at how a project that begins with nothing more than slab can transform a life seven days later. She explains, “When you participate with Habitat, you always get back way more than you give and people are often surprised by that.”

Bennie Fowler
Ford Motor Co.

Keeping students competitive on and off the court
Be prepared, have discipline, stay focused, and be dexterous in handling life situations. These are strategies Bennie Fowler  has applied to his 30-year career in the automobile industry––and has shared with more than 4,000 children. Nine years ago, the group vice president of Global Quality at Ford Motor Co., founded the Powerstroke Athletic Club, which evolved from an instructional program with elementary school kids to an after-school youth organization based in Southfield, Michigan, for participants aged 7 to 17.

A former student and semiprofessional athlete, Fowler feels sports are critical to children’s development, which motivated him to open the club. The club is supported by fundraisers held twice a year, a minimum fee, and sponsors for children who are unable to pay the fee.

Its mission is to develop positive characteristics and values in youth through hard work, discipline, education, and relationships.  Fowler has a busy schedule, but still devotes 10 hours a week to teaching track and basketball at the club, relating the lessons of competitive sports to real world challenges and enforcing the importance of balancing athletics and academics.

There are currently several high school sophomores who participate in the club and play on a top-ranked basketball team for the Detroit Country Day School. Fowler predicts one or more of the sophomores will be among the top 10 players in the country within the next two years. “They’ve demonstrated that they can learn, apply, and be successful at what they’re doing and it’s carrying over into their lives,” he says.

The club has won three national championships in basketball and is rated as one of the top teams in Michigan. Moreover, the outstanding athletes receive scholarships for college.

Donya Douglas

Designing the equation for how to reach the stars
Donya Douglas has enjoyed a rewarding 18-year career of space flight work, primarily focused on technology development in spacecraft design. Currently, the Instrument Systems branch associate head at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, Douglas has been involved in several development projects that have helped NASA’s mission for space exploration, such as her assignment to the Space Technology 8 Project Thermal Loop Technology, a program designed to fly four new technologies into space. She led the concept development, design, integration, and testing of an advanced thermal management system for the spacecrafts.

As she works to further the goals of her organization, she is also keenly focused on improving opportunity and awareness for black students in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. Douglas, who loved math and science as a child and by high school decided she would one day work for NASA, also wants to dispel the stigma that these disciplines are difficult and boring. Just over a million blacks were employed as scientists and engineers in 2006, compared with 14,472,000 whites, according to the National Science Foundation. Douglas believes the reason blacks are so underrepresented in these areas is connected to the lack of engagement students experience in the classroom.

The Technology All-Star Award recipient (an honor she was given in September 2008 by the Career Communications Group, a company which aides organizations in finding and retaining minority technologists) spends countless hours speaking to and mentoring children and young adults. She is also a volunteer with Goddard SISTER, a summer program created for middle school girls to explore opportunities in nontraditional career fields.

“Being able to motivate young women and enabling them to see another professional woman makes me feel pretty good,” says Douglas. “I [want] to inspire and empower people so they can be the best that they can be.” She recalls a girl who was able to complete a science puzzle in a workshop almost immediately. “I looked at her and I saw this interest and drive,” says Douglas. “I said, ‘You know what? I think you would make an awesome engineer.’”
Douglas also develops and teaches technology workshops with SisterMentors, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., that strives to increase the number of Ph.D.’s among women of color.

Jimmie Lee Solomon
Major League Baseball

Pitching the virtues of baseball
As a child in a poor community of Sugar Land, Texas, Jimmie Lee Solomon enjoyed watching baseball on television and listening to the games on broadcast radio, but he was only able to play in a handful of little league games because the closest facility was 15 miles away. Instead, he took up football and track at school.

After working as a lawyer for 10 years, Solomon finally reconnected with baseball in 1991, but on a completely different level––he was offered the dream position of director of minor league operations with Major League Baseball. Realizing that there were probably many children and teens who might not have the opportunity to even be exposed to the joys of his favorite sport, in 2006 at El Camino College Compton Center in Compton, California, he initiated the opening of the MLB Urban Youth Academy. The academy became a bricks-and-motar extension of MLB’s Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program and as such, is able to bring a first-rate baseball facility right into a neighborhood where underserved minority youth reside.

Every year for three to six weeks a minimum of 2,500 elementary to high school-aged youths learn to play baseball and softball while being introduced to career opportunities off the field. Boys and girls can participate in free seminars on umpiring, athletic turf management, statistics, and sports and broadcast journalism.

Now executive vice president of baseball operations for MLB, Solomon is proud of their success: 51 students have been drafted from the academy by major league organizations, six have been signed as free agents, and more than 65 are participating in college baseball and softball. Furthermore, four are umpires and three have internships with major or minor league teams. Plans to open academies in Hialeah, Florida, and Houston have been confirmed, while there are discussions to expand to Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., New Orleans, Cleveland, and possibly Milwaukee. Solomon says, “It becomes a very smart, pragmatic thing to do because now the academy is paying for itself.”

This article originally appeared in the May 2009 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.