By Todd Cohen
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Marshaling corporate executives to work side by side as volunteers reaps multiple benefits, say participants in an ongoing effort to build a playground a year in Charlotte.
“The community of Charlotte now has four playgrounds that are safe places, not only for children who attend the schools, but for the people who live in the neighborhoods,” says Donna Lockhart, vice president for corporate community relations at Carolinas HealthCare System.
Michael Baker, managing partner of Deloitte’s Charlotte office and honorary co-chair of the project, says enlisting senior executives as volunteers provides role-modeling for other employees.
“If executives do manual labor, it will help others see that volunteering is important,” says Baker, whose honorary co-chair was Art Gallagher, president of the Charlotte campus of Johnson & Wales University.
Lockhart says the playground project also serves as a “great team-building experience, plus you get a chance to rub shoulders with CEOs.”
And it gives senior executives from competing banks, accounting firms, hospitals and other businesses a rare chance to step outside the fray of the marketplace, she says.
“You’ve got businesses who are fierce competitors during the year,” she says, “but for one day, we’re all out there for the same reason.”
Baker says encouraging volunteerism also helps companies attract and retain employees.
“As an employer, if you want to win the war for talent, you‘ve got to do things people respect,” he says, “and surveys say employees respect people who give back to the community.”
For the April 19 project, supervised by Game Time, a Charlotte firm, participating companies contributed a total of $55,000 in materials and equipment.
Executives spread a 12-inch-deep blanket of mulch, and toted concrete and hoses.
They assembled swings, a sliding board and monkey bars, and built an outdoor classroom and planters.
And they paid for a lighted marquee featuring the school’s name, and for a mural by Brazilian-born artist Maria Tavares of Charlotte.
They also had fun.
Organizers buried items like plastic rakes and shovels in the mulch, and volunteer workers who found them could bid for a coffee mug from Fargo, N.D.
Baker won, and then auctioned his mug to the highest bidder, says Shannon McFayden, director of human resources and corporate relations at Wachovia.
With three other volunteers bidding near the $250 high bid, she says, Baker agreed to get them mugs if they kept their bids at that level.
“Now he owes us Fargo cups,” she says, “and I’m going to hold him accountable.”
Lockhart says the playground project generates its own momentum.
“Once you do it one time,” she says, “you just have to keep on going.”
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