Each issue of Advantage features an “Impact Player” from the United Way of Northeast Florida, as a means to highlight the contributions that local volunteers make to our community.
Vystar has also given $20,000 a year as a company, in recognition of its employees desire to support the community. Also, VyStar President and CEO Terry West, this month’s Impact Player, was chairman of the United Way’s 2011 Community Campaign, which raised a total of more than $25 million.
HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH THE UNITED WAY?
When we did an employee survey in 1989 many of our employees said they wanted us to do more community engagement. So, we started with the United Way in 1989 or 1990.
We’ve always liked United Way because it focuses on what’s important to the community. It’s also a good way to donate money because the United Way knows how to spend it so that it will get the most use.
VyStar’s is now usually one of the Top 10 employee campaigns in North Florida. We’re very engaged.
HOW HAVE YOU SINCE HELPED?
I was the chair for the United Way’s 2011 Community Campaign. We also have employees involved on related boards. With its focus on education, income and public health, it’s such a tremendous way to improve the lives of people.
Also, because we’re a nonprofit we can’t write a big check. So, it’s cool to have our employees contribute to it so much. It makes sense to people. If you have a better education, you have a better opportunity for a job. If you have a healthy lifestyle, it ties back to you being productive in a healthy work environment. The United Way is very focused on the community.
WHAT PROGRAM(S) ARE YOU MOST INVOLVED IN?
We’re involved with several of the education programs. One is Success by 6, which prepares students in low economic environments and environments where they may not have access to the proper environment to go to school. We’re also involved with Achievers for Life for middle school students, and participate in some mentoring programs for young people.
Education is the center of a person’s opportunity. If we can help kids get prepared for school and learning and get them to stay in school and to graduate from high school, they have a better chance to succeed later in life. Education is also a tremendous value to your community. If you have a good education system it attracts businesses.
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM THE PEOPLE WITH WHOM YOU CONNECTED?
You meet incredible people in the United Way. Whether they are volunteers or employees, they’re dedicated to making our community better and making a positive difference in peoples’ lives.
You also meet some recipients of programs for whom the United Way has made such a difference. One man said United Way helped him stay in school and college, and that it helped save his life.
You also meet CEOs of Fortune 500 companies who aren’t just giving their dollars but also their time and energy because they believe in it so much.
You meet people from such different walks of life that it reminds you that life is about people. In 2011, I got to meet people I had never met before and many are still friends. It gave me an opportunity to see our community from a perspective I might not have had otherwise. It changed my relationship with the community. I had a good relationship with the community before but it helped me appreciate how to bring people together.
HOW DO YOU MEASURE OR DEFINE IMPACT IN THE COMMUNITY?
One of the things we like about the United Way is that they have quite a number of programs that are well defined. They have goals for each program and they measure what is successful.
For example, with Success by 6 metrics, they’ve been able to demonstrate that a child in that program will have a larger vocabulary, get better grades and stay in school longer. It is truly making the difference in the way they expected. That’s important because you know your dollars are going into an area that will make a positive difference in the community.
As a credit union we’re all about people, and we say, “How can we help people in a positive manner?” We let United Way be the judge of how that positive manner will be most effective.
HOW DOES UNITED WAY’S WORK MAKE OUR COMMUNITY MORE ATTRACTIVE TO BUSINESSES INTERESTED IN STARTING HERE?
If we can improve the graduation rate and prepare people for the work force, that’s what companies want. It has a very positive impact in that realm.
Also, companies often like North Florida’s lifestyle and moderate climate but they want to know if it has a good school system and if it has a good art system, for example. It’s a combination of everything that attracts companies to come here and stay here and invest in our community
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHER SMALL-BUSINESS LEADERS INTERESTED IN ENGAGING WITH THE UNITED WAY?
Get engaged. Getting involved isn’t as hard as you think. Figure out how to get involved.
Start small and let your employees drive. Our employees want to be involved and often they tell me they like the fact that the company supports the community.
When you have employees in charge of programs and campaigns you get to see them lead in a way you may not have seen before and to perform in a way you haven’t seen before—it gives them an opportunity.
You’ll be amazed when you see what your employees can accomplish, how creative they can be and how they can benefit the company. There are future leaders.
You may only be able to d o a fundraiser for $10,000 but every dollar counts. We have some employees who give $1 or $2 a pay day and some that give thousands of dollars a year..
The employees who give the highest percentage of their income are usually some of our employees who make the lowest salaries. They say, “We saw so much need and this is a way we could do something meaningful.”