On one of July’s hottest days in Birmingham, Alabama, a team of Protective Life Corporation employees converged at the Joe Rush Center for Urban Ministry and quickly battled a mass of overgrown shrubbery and trees, giving a fresh look to the mission camp. What they left behind was a lasting impression.
“I can honestly say that I didn’t think 50 people could do so much in two hours, but it is remarkable what they did,” said Hill Carmichael, Urban Ministry Executive Director.
The mission camp serves as a meeting facility and dormitory for volunteer groups that paint houses and provide minor construction repairs for low-income homeowners throughout Jefferson County. But, the site was in need of maintenance itself. A tree line on the property had become a nuisance, encroaching into an area where the nonprofit hoped to plant a garden. Carmichael asked Protective Life for volunteers to help cut back the trees. He didn’t expect it to be done in a day, much less a couple of hours.
“The amount of work that they did was significant,” he said. “And, in the high heat of Alabama, that’s something.”
Protective Life Week of Service
Urban Ministry was one of five nonprofits in Birmingham that benefited from Protective Life’s “Week of Service”, an annual volunteer work week for employees. Each day, 50 employees were transported to a different organization where they were put to work doing whatever was requested. This year, Protective Life employees braved July’s relentless heat and humidity to beat back shrubbery, trim hedges, spread pine straw, and plant flowers at Urban Ministry’s Joe Rush Center, King’s Home, the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, and the Birmingham Zoo.
Zach Palamara, Associate Senior Mortgage Loan Analyst at Protective Life, was part of the team working at the Joe Rush Center. “I’m in commercial real estate for Protective Life, so I know how incredibly important the appearance of a property is,” he said.
Nonprofit organizations focus their efforts on their missions, leaving few resources for maintaining their grounds. The efforts of volunteers are not only appreciated, but they provide far-reaching benefits.
“A well maintained environment makes a significant difference in how donors, social workers, intakes and other guests visit King’s Home for the first time. If the grounds are maintained and well cared for, it gives our residents a sense of comfort and peace,” said Trinda Gage, development administrator for King’s Home, a safe place for hundreds of women and children who have been abused, neglected, abandoned, or left homeless. “Protective Life essentially sacrificed the company’s productivity for that day in order to serve others. It reminds us that we are all in this together.”
At the Birmingham Zoo, grounds upkeep is vital to the animals, but some jobs are just too big for a small handful of zoo employees to manage. For years, the zoo had been trying to tackle an overgrown area in the employees-only section to create a shelter for petting zoo animals that needed a break from human interaction.
At the Botanical Gardens, volunteers thinned the bamboo-viewing pathway in the Japanese Gardens and defined walkways in the Woodlands. Botanical Gardens staff and volunteers work regularly to maintain the gardens, but having a large crew concentrate on these specific areas was a tremendous help, offered Alice Moore, the garden’s volunteer coordinator.
“The savings that Protective Life associates provided us averages out to about 60 hours for one of our gardeners,” she said. “This frees our gardeners up to focus on another project that may need their expertise. That’s a great savings for us.”
The YMCA of Greater Birmingham’s summer day camp’s Thingamajig Invention Convention at the Bill Harris Arena offered the only reprieve from the heat that week. The festival combines active fitness and play, creative eco-art, and team challenges for nearly 2,000 Birmingham-area campers, and 50 volunteers led activity booths such as teaching kids how to fold origami frogs and helping them string beads.
Protective Life’s headquarters in Birmingham isn’t the only location that participates in the “Week of Service”. Employees in other offices throughout the country volunteered their time at the Ronald McDonald House in St. Louis, Jacob’s Shoes in Pompano Beach, Operation Backpack in Cincinnati, and a school in Greenville.
Participation in the program is optional, but the response from employees is overwhelming. Those who participate say the personal reward of helping others is worth every bit of effort.
“The organizations are always very appreciative, and we can see the impact we’re having by the look on their faces. It’s personally gratifying,” Palamara said. “I think a lot of programs that week are geared toward empowering employees and introducing us to different organizations so that we could get a better understanding of what they do. That’s one of the nice things about this week.”