On the night of June 17, 2015, in a well-publicized act of hatred, a young white man with a gun strolled into a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, and opened fire during a prayer meeting. Within minutes, nine parishioners lay dead, including the senior pastor, state Sen. Clementa C. Pinkney. A 10th victim survived. The suspect was arrested and charged with nine counts of murder.
While the shootings left the congregation at Emanuel AME Church and much of the state and nation traumatized, Denis Gallagher mobilized his troops at Student Transportation of America’s Educational Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Student Transportation Inc. The foundation presented Emanuel AME with a check for $10,000.
Gallagher said that employees play a big role in STI’s community presence throughout the U.S. and Canada because they are the first point of service. “When they are respected and treated well, they deliver better service to our customers and in turn the entire community benefits,” he said. “We believe we are not just partners in our communities but we are part of the community. We make every effort to participate in local events and charities.”
Gallagher was not grandstanding or being opportunistic. The Foundation’s actions are indicative of is the engrained culture of STI as well as of student transportation providers, suppliers and school bus manufacturers. When we view these entities through one side of the prism, we see increased expenses. However, if we look through the prism from a different angle, the light shines on the other side of the industry. There is a philanthropic imperative that touches every corner of each community they serve.
When elevated levels of lead were discovered in the drinking water in Flint, Michigan, First Student Inc. employees from 17 locations around the state teamed with local educators and citizens to transport busloads of bottled water to schools, homes, hospitals and businesses. Estimates are that in two-and-a-half month span,First Student employees delivered approximately two fully-loaded, tractor-trailers with a cargo of 10,000 bottles of water throughout the greater Flint community.
Chris Schoemann, First Student location manager for Flint Community Schools, said that everyone at company locations in the area seemingly had the same idea at the same time. “We held a conference call to determine a course of action and to touch base on what each location could do to raise awareness,” he said. “The support we received from First Student and from around the country has been truly heartwarming for the schools and the communities.”
That same light bulb lit up at Thomas Built Buses headquarters in High Point, North Carolina. Staff there stocked several school buses with bottled water and drove them to the embattled Flint community.
Caley Edgerly, president and CEO at Thomas, said community outreach is more than a corporate initiative. “Assisting those in need is something our entire workforce takes very seriously,” he said. “Our employees and dealer network always go above and beyond to give back to the community, and they continue to amaze us time and time again.”
Across the country members of the school bus industry and their vendors are stepping up when there is a demonstrated need in the communities they serve. These initiatives have such names as corporate responsibility, community engagement, community involvement and corporate and community outreach. Many companies have long-standing, structured programs that provide everything from scholarships to support for local charities.
Organizations like Habitat for Humanity, food banks, homeless shelters, handicapped groups, schools, veteran’s groups, children’s cancer and leukemia groups, the Special Olympics, Salvation Army, Goodwill, and countless local civic and charitable groups benefit from the corporate largesse of these companies. And they also encourage their employees to be proactive and get involved.
For seven consecutive years school bus contractor Durham School Services has been recognized as the top corporate sales team for the Special Olympics Windy City Rubber Ducky Derby. Last year, Durham sold 3,312 rubber ducks that raised $14,094 for Special Olympics Illinois.
“Supporting Special Olympics is our top philanthropic effort, and our team embraces this group’s mission wholeheartedly,” said Carina Noble, vice president of communications and external affairs. “There are over 180 team members in our corporate offices, and nearly every one supports Special Olympics, whether by volunteering, making a monetary donation, purchasing rubber duckies or by attending our annual summer fundraising event in the parking lot.”
Blue Bird is another long-time supporter of its local community in Fort Valley, Georgia, delivering nondenominational, faith-based community support for years. Beneficiaries of Blue Bird’s corporate social responsibility include seriously or terminally ill children, breast cancer survivors and their families, and the Boys and Girls Clubs. Spearheading many of these efforts is Blue Bird company Chaplain Jay Jones. “Blue Bird believes there is a strong obligation for bus manufacturers to have a community presence,” he said. “When people think about Blue Bird, they think about community and family because we at Blue Bird are about family and community.”
Some companies take very creative approaches to their community outreach programs. Navistar received the 2010 Community Service Award from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for implementing a program that allows employees at the company’s Alabama diesel plant to volunteer with local organizations during lulls in production rather than being laid off. The award is the U.S. Chamber’s highest honor for businesses, trade associations and chambers of commerce engaging in corporate social responsibility.
Trish Reed, vice president and general manager of IC Bus at Navistar, said the company partners with local communities where vehicle and engine plants are located. For example, IC Bus works with community partners in Tulsa, Oklahoma, such as the Bridges Foundation, to hire a diverse workforce that includes individuals with developmental disabilities. She said IC Bus employees also donate school supplies as part of an annual back-to-school “Stuff the Bus” program, and Reed added that the Tulsa employees are among the first to lead and join relief efforts.
“We believe that being a responsible corporate citizen in the communities where we live, work and play is just as important as making the best, most reliable and safe bus in the industry,” said Reed.
One of the many programs wheelchair passenger safety solutions manufacturer Q’Straint supports is Bright Horizons, a program that allows disabled students to receive hands-on vocational training by assembling some of the wheelchair securement parts that Q’Straint manufactures to keep some of these very children even safer in their school buses.
“We stand behind organizations like Bright Horizons because their dedicated staff is teaching job skills that will empower disabled children to be more independent and self-sufficient,” said company Co-President Julie Boynton. “To show our appreciation to the program and devoted staff, we send a small group of employees to hand out gifts to the students and teachers every Christmas. These students have a better chance at an independent life because of the care and commitment from the amazing staff at Bright Horizons. We are grateful to play a very small role in all of the good they do.”
Earlier this year, Bendix Commercial Systems, LLC initiated a program that encourages employees to submit suggestions for community projects that were important to them. The company would fund the best ones. Bendix’s North American operations, which includes, plants in Elyria, Ohio, Bowling Green, Kentucky, and Huntington, Indiana, submitted 85 project requests, of which 60 were completed. Among the completed projects was an anti-bullying effort that resulted in “Buddy Benches” that give students an outlet to interact in positive ways.
Barbara Gould, Bendix vice president of communications, said each year a corporate value is observed by employees around the globe. This year the value is “responsibility.”
“Bendix and Knorr-Bremse, our parent company, firmly believe in being a good corporate citizen by fulfilling our social responsibilities in the communities in which we operate,” she said. “The commitment to responsibility is why our primary 2016 Values Day activity in Elyria includes the heartwarming opportunity to give back to the community through a partnership with Habitat for Humanity and Help Build Hope.”
THE CULTURE OF COMMUNITY SERVICE
Culture is an important word when it comes to community involvement. Companies that have a thriving culture of community involvement means that their programs are driven by employees and company policy. Employees have their own pet projects and approach the company for support. They are also eager to get involved in company-sponsored programs. Some companies make community involvement a topic during the hiring process.
“It is not only discussed as part of our five core values, but as a highlight of working for National Express,” Noble said.
Companies may look at community involvement differently, but the outcomes are the same. Q’Straint Co-President Patrick Girardin said that the company has never looked at corporate giving as an organized effort, but more as something the brand and team of employees are purposed with.
“Giving back has been a fundamental part of Q’Straint’s core values since the company was founded more than 30 years ago,” Girardin said. “Social good is part of our culture, and will always be blended into what we do every day—when we see a community in need, we help.”
Boynton added that everybody should give back in one way or another, especially to the communities that foster the growth and development of their business. “We also believe that giving should be a part of the culture, and not always for PR reasons,” she said. “We encourage our team to be proactive in their giving, as social good is important to our culture and corporate philosophy.”
It’s a unanimous opinion that company leadership believes community service is an important key in developing a symbiotic relationship with local communities. Healthy communities are better able to support businesses, so it is in a company’s best interest to support those communities. John Corr, Jr., owner and president of the New York-based contractor Trans Group, said that it is “extremely” important to give back to the community. Corr also said that Trans Group is not just a transportation provider, but a key component in keeping the community vital and strong. He said that having a strong outreach presence helps them better understand the needs of their neighbors.
“And that’s something we think is essential in providing the safest and most reliable transportation possible,” he said. “The more involved we are with our neighbors, especially with strong community-based programs, the better we are as transportation service providers.”
Thomas Bus’ Edgerly said philanthropy and doing the right thing have been core values at the school bus manufacturer since the company was founded 100 years ago. “We have a commitment to our community and to assisting those in need, and we make a conscious effort to do this throughout the year.”
John Corrado, president of school bus contractor Suffolk Transportation, said that it’s easy for the employees and managers of his New York-based company to get excited about corporate responsibility—they all live in the county they serve and are all deeply committed to the overall well-being of their community. “Our efforts are a direct extension of our corporate culture,” he said. “We live, work and play here and want to lead by example by treating our employees, customers and every passenger as we would like to be treated—with care and compassion.”
Corrado said that Suffolk Transportation is a key member of the community and an integral part of the educational process, so it’s crucial to be directly involved in all facets of the community in order to maintain the highest levels of service. “After all, these are not just customers,” he said. “They’re our neighbors.”
Besides being involved a number of local activities and charities, Corrado said that he is most proud of an emergency transportation program he developed in partnership with the Suffolk County Police Department and the Suffolk County Office of Emergency Preparedness. In the event of a regional crisis or emergency, management and volunteer drivers are mobilized to provide emergency transportation services to the police, support crews and residents.
Suffolk Transportation has evacuated residents during 9/11, two hurricanes, a tropical storm and SuperStorm Sandy. Corrado said that his bus drivers also volunteer as firefighters and Little League coaches. “We’re fortunate to live in an area so rich with giving,” he said. “We’re all proud of what we do, and that spirit extends to our community work.”