Stepping up: How the Philly area’s top volunteers make a difference
Philanthropy Conference award winners have a passion and commitment for the charitable organizations they support. And they use their people skills and creativity to raise funds and recruit other volunteers to help out.
Samuel Christie isn't your typical philanthropist. Just a few years out of college, he's a young guy from Upper Darby who loves baseball and hanging out with his girlfriend and buddies. But two Saturday mornings a month he heads to the Ronald McDonald House on Chestnut Street to help make meals and drive residents to and from Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
"I've been always impressed with his commitment to the Ronald McDonald House, trying to raise awareness and funds," said Cynthia St. Pierre, vice president of marketing at the MassMutual Greater Philadelphia office in Bala Cynwyd, where Christie works as a financial planner. She nominated Christie, 26, for the Next Generation of Givers Award, part of the Inquirer Corporate Philanthropy Conference and Awards event Monday at the Crystal Tea Room in Philadelphia. He was the winner in his category.
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Like Christie, other Philanthropy Conference award winners have a passion and commitment for the charitable organizations they support. And they use their people skills and creativity to raise funds and recruit other volunteers to help out. As one Citizen Award winner, Dawn Chavous of South Philadelphia, explained, "We all have a responsibility to serve those in need. We can do more working together."
"It is getting more difficult to recruit volunteers. Everyone's lives are so busy," said Dale Westwood, another Citizen Award winner. "I have found the most successful way to recruit is by telling the organization's story and why you are passionate about it."
Chavous agrees. "The greatest challenge is time. So it's important to give people multiple options and make it easy and fun. Giving people options instead of just one way to support a cause increases their likelihood of participation. … Having people see or know the impact of their volunteerism is extremely helpful as well," she said.
Chavous and Westwood both network at work and in social situations. The two women also have found that partnering with other organizations or getting a celebrity to make a guest appearance can kick their fund-raising campaigns into overdrive.
Westwood is executive vice president and chief retail officer for QNB, a community bank based in Quakertown with 11 branch offices. She also serves as board president of the Upper Bucks YMCA; is on the board of directors of the Open Link, a social service agency serving the Upper Perkiomen Valley; and is chair of the Autumn Event, supporting the Penn Foundation in Sellersville. Since 2004, the Autumn Event has raised $2.2 million for the foundation's work in behavioral health and substance-abuse treatment, serving 17,000 people each year. Ginger Zee, chief meteorologist at ABC and a familiar presence on ABC newscasts and on Good Morning America, will be the featured speaker at this year's event on Sept. 25 at Pennridge High School in Perkasie.
"Everyone in some way has been touched or knows someone who has been touched with mental health issues or the opioid crisis. Having them visit the [Penn Foundation] and see the work that is being done is also effective," Westwood said. And, she added, "I do think the speaker is important to the success of the Autumn Event. Not only do we raise more money but we are able to tell our story to people that may have never heard of us. … We have had people volunteer after attending the event."
Chavous is president and CEO of her own firm, Chavous Consulting, and a cofounder and board president of Sky Community Partners, a nonsectarian organization that works to prove "the sky's the limit" for children from impoverished neighborhoods in the city. Through two state programs that allow businesses to earn tax credits through their donations, Sky Community Partners has raised $1.7 million in the last six years to provide tuition-based scholarships to more than 700 children in kindergarten through 12th grade. Sky also has raised $42,000 over the last few years through its annual 5K race/walk in April to fund pancreatic cancer research at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
Chavous, who is married to Philadelphia City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson and has two young children, said Sky partners with other charitable organizations, like Mighty Writers and Big Brothers/Big Sisters.
It also holds a "Stars in the Sky" awards ceremony each year to highlight its work and honor a Person of the Year, corporate partner, and school partner. Past honorees have included Tariq Trotter, also known as Black Thought, lead vocalist with the Roots, who cofounded GrassROOTS Community Foundation to promote health and wellness for young women, and Connor Barwin, an NFL player and former Philadelphia Eagle, who has invested in city playgrounds and recreation areas.
"My passion is breaking the poverty cycle," she said. "We shouldn't be in the fifth largest city and have the highest poverty rate." The average income for the families being served is $17,500, she said. Some parents are working two and three jobs. "They are still making decisions to send their children to schools of their choice," she said. "Money and ZIP code," she added, shouldn't be barriers to a quality education.
She admits her life can be hectic but said she finds balance and strength through having an active board of directors, a diverse group of supporters, and her Christian faith.
Innovation Award winner Andrew Voudouris, CMO of Turn5, has transformed a car show into a major annual fund-raiser, widely viewed on social media. Turn5, founded by Voudouris and his brother, Steve Voudouris, sells all the equipment needed to soup up a car, truck, or all-terrain vehicle. Each June, the Paoli-based firm hosts the American Muscle Mustang Car Show at the Maple Grove Raceway in Berks County. It's the largest Mustang show in the country, he said, attracting about 6,000 spectators. All proceeds benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
At the show, families that qualify for a Make-A-Wish grant are given rides in a parade of Mustang convertibles as fans cheer them on. Approximately 175 Turn5 employees work the event, offering their day's wages to the foundation, with Turn5 matching their donations. Spectators contribute as well. This year's event raised $117,000; over the four years they've been hosting it for Make-A-Wish, Turn5 has donated $364,000 to the foundation.
There's also a "Big Reveal" where one or more teens who qualify for a Make-A-Wish grant get to unwrap their own souped-up, totally remodeled car. "It's priceless," Voudouris said about the feeling he, his employees, and the spectators get when seeing how happy the recipient is.
Finding the right cause is the key to inspiring volunteerism among employees and customers, Voudouris said. Turn5 found its niche with the car show and Make-A-Wish.
"We kept trying to find the right match," Voudouris said. Other charitable organizations Turn5 supported were grateful, he said, but Make-A-Wish works with Turn5, inviting the recipients to be part of the car show. Turn5 also has an in-house "Dream Team" of employees who work year-round to organize the event and recruit other volunteers. "We're excited so many people are involved … It really is a community effort, not just a check at the end of the day."
The company also partners with Coded by Kids, to show inner-city children how to do computer coding. "Both Steve and I couldn't be prouder of the team here," Andrew Voudouris said.
Christie has the same enthusiasm for the Ronald McDonald House and the long-term volunteers he has met there. Some have been helping out for decades, he said.
Ronald McDonald Houses are now located throughout the world, but the first one – where Christie volunteers – was started in Philadelphia more than 40 years ago. It's now undergoing a $50 million expansion, expected to be completed early next year. It will grow from 45 rooms to 127, so that families with a hospitalized child have a nearby place to stay at a nominal $15 nightly fee. While no one is turned away for inability to pay, the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House last year had to deny 7,000 requests for rooms, said Thomas Servello, communications and marketing director.
Christie is trying to recruit volunteers and raise funds for the expansion through the Show Your Stripes campaign, where patrons purchase red-and-white socks, scarves, mittens, ties, or hats for a $10 donation. Last year, he and his friends visited small businesses, restaurants, bars, and work locations to sell Show Your Stripes gear. They raised more than $8,000. The MassMutual Foundation donated an additional $10,000 to the cause.
Other companies and organizations sponsor their own Show Your Stripes campaigns. The gifts, supplied by Ronald McDonald House, make great holiday stocking stuffers. About $6 million is needed for the house expansion, said Servello.
Christie works to raise awareness so more companies will start campaigns and also wants to recruit more volunteers to help when the expansion is complete and even more families will need meals and transportation to and from the hospital.
"Everyone has more time than they think they have. It can't hurt to sleep a little less and give a little more. What else is going on at 7 a.m. on a Saturday?" Christie asked. As a financial planner, he enjoys helping his clients save and invest for their future. He knows the parents of frequently hospitalized children may struggle to do this.
"I don't think I'll ever stop with the Ronald McDonald House. … I'm OK with helping them as much as possible because it [a child's serious medical condition] is not something they can plan for," he said.