ELKHART — About year ago, Acts of Service was just an idea thrown out during a brainstorming session.
But now it’s changing one of the region’s largest companies and spreading to others.
In late 2016, the leadership team of Lippert Components Inc. agreed to set a goal in giving back to the community. LCI, which had about 8,000 employees, committed to 100,000 hours of service in 2017.
The company’s employees have volunteered about 93,000 hours so far. Employees show up to help and often bring their families. They wear LCI shirts and give back. This isn’t a quaint little effort.
“It’s not just about Lippert’s 100,000 hours. It’s about transforming the community,” said Michilah Grimes, director of philanthropic relations and Acts of Service.
The methods LCI uses to grow its business and make its operations more efficient are being applied to helping nonprofits or park departments do needed work.
The Facebook page went live a few days ago. Before that there was ActsofService.com, which uses the power of a well-built webpage to provide information and track data. Nonprofits enter needs. Employees from LCI and the 12 other companies who have committed to be part of Acts of Service show up to help.
Ashley Boling Molyneaux, executive director of the Elkhart Education Foundation, said the remodeling of elementary school libraries into 21st century spaces has progressed faster because of Acts Of Service volunteers. Matt Fisher, director of development for the Boys & Girls Club of Goshen, added that Acts of Service volunteers always show up and that helped inspire 68 percent of the teens at the Goshen site to volunteer this year.
For an entrepreneurs like Jason Lippert, Lippert chairman and CEO, tracking progress on a goal is just how business is done. Lippert as a company is changing, in part because of Acts of Service. The culture of the company is shifting as it works on retaining employees. That means paying attention to wages in a competitive labor market in a different way, but also engaging employees differently. It’s not just about going to work for a big company. Employees want to be part of something bigger.
Lippert said he was praying about how to do more, how to expand on the ways he and Lippert were making money, doing work and already giving back. Lippert Components has grown dramatically as a supplier in the recreational vehicle industry. The company and Lippert as an individual write big checks to help local causes. He is key to a fundraiser for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Elkhart County.
The company adopted the goal of 100,000 hours that emerged from the strategic planning for 2017. The stories of interactions between Lippert employees and those in the community started to emerge. Lippert and his son were cleaning a park and encountered a boy from the neighborhood who asked what they were doing and got emotional when he learned that someone had come to help, he told a group gathered at a lunch last week focused on growing the program.
Grimes tells of another Lippert employee who has been back helping an agency that helped him through a difficult time.
“There has been nothing cooler than hearing the stories coming out of our employees and the company,” Lippert said. “I wish we would have thought about this 20 years ago.”
Now that he’s seen it work for his company, Lippert is encouraging other companies to join. Companies including Genesis Products, Kem Krest, Welch Packaging and Heritage Financial Group have signed on.
As employees engage more deeply in the community, they’re also engaging with their employer more deeply, he said. Lower attrition means that safety and efficiency improve, which helps the bottom line. Lippert said that Acts of Service gives the company and the region a competitive advantage.
LCI will likely meet its own goal and set another for 2018, but now Lippert wants more, He wants 100 companies to set their own goal and join Acts of Service, because he believes it can be transformative.
“What we’re trying to do is not normal,” he said. “It’s not what all the other companies out there are doing. But it’s the right thing to do.”
Marshall V. King is a freelance writer and photographer who has worked in Elkhart County as a journalist for more than 20 years. You can read his Food For Thought each Monday and his Dining a la King column each Friday.