Building together, Part 1

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Most workdays, they compete fiercely with one another for commercial turf.

But on April 19, 150 CEOS and senior executives from 42 Charlotte companies traded their business suits for work boots, and teamed up to build a playground at a local elementary school serving mainly high-risk, low-income youngsters.

“For that project, the community’s more important than competition,” says Michael Baker, managing partner of Deloitte’s Charlotte office.

Baker was honorary co-chair of the project, marking the fourth straight year corporate executives in Charlotte have built a playground.

The effort grew out of a challenge President Bush gave CEOs after 9/11, says Shannon McFayden, director of human resources and corporate relations at Wachovia.

Bush in the summer of 2002 invited 18 CEOs, including Wachovia’s Ken Thompson, to the White House “because their companies were already perceived to be doing a lot to develop a culture of service in their communities,” McFayden says.

When Thompson returned to Charlotte, he recruited corporate chiefs like Michael Tarwater, president of Carolinas HealthCare System, says Donna Lockhart, its vice president for corporate community relations.

That December, at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C., a coalition of companies launched Business Strengthening America, a $1 million effort over three years to enlist 1,000 companies to promote volunteerism in their communities.

While in Washington, executives also built a playground in a single day.

That prompted Charlotte executives in the group to agree to focus their local effort on building a playground a year.

In 2003, partnering with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Parks and Recreation Department, 150 senior executives built a playground at Progress Park.

And in 2004 and 2005, teaming with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, executives built playgrounds at Idlewild and Thomasboro elementary schools, respectively.

When the national initiative ended last year, Charlotte executives decided to continue building a playground a year through Charlotte’s Business Volunteer Council, an arm of the Volunteer Center at United Way of Central Carolinas, says Lockhart, who chaired the April 19 project at Reid Park Elementary School on West Tyvola Road and will chair next year’s project.

Charlotte recruited more volunteers than any other community for the national effort, which enlisted more than 800 corporations, Lockhart says.

And it is the only city that built four playgrounds and will keep building them, she says.

Other stories in series: 

Part 2: Volunteering pays off for community, companies, executives say.     

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