Deseret news

We need to be in the business of helping others

By Darin Mellot, Contributor | Posted - Sep 18th, 2013 @ 10:05am

SALT LAKE CITY — Last week, I had the chance to participate in a community service project with many of my coworkers at United Way's Day of Caring. A few days later, headlines turned to the anniversary of Lehman Brother's bankruptcy in 2008. While these two experiences are very different, they caused me to reflect upon the connections that exist among us and the roles that we play in determining how vibrant our community will remain.

September 15, 2013 marked the fifth anniversary of the fall of Lehman Brothers, which set off a global financial crisis and deepened a recession that had already begun. There was a real impact on people's lives. We all know somebody who lost their job or took a pay cut to keep their business afloat. Looking back, there are lessons to be learned, but there are also many questions that beg to be asked. For example, we learned how interconnected the world is and how devastating bad policy and unethical behavior can be for so many. However, questions emerged regarding corporate responsibility and how best to help those in need. That's what I want to address today.

Even in a state like Utah where the economy continues to outperform the nation's, there are those among us who for various reasons (not necessarily of their own making) are less fortunate and in some cases feel amplified economic pain when things go wrong. Importantly, we should remember that behind the positive headlines, many still struggle.

Red State

Utah is a red state (no relation to this weekend's game). A conservative approach to business and policy is strongly endorsed by many residents. People often speak of the inability of government to effectively deliver services. To be clear, that's not even what I want to talk about. However, this debate inevitably leads to the question, if not the government, who or what can help the vulnerable and those in need among us? This is a question for all of us to debate and sort out. However, I can say that businesses and organizations have a unique role to play.

Last week, 4,000 volunteers from 115 companies participated in a Day of Caring here in Salt Lake, according to United Way. This was an event that I was able to participate in. Along with other coworkers from CBRE, we went to work at the Neighborhood House. The stated mission of the Neighborhood House is to "Provide quality day care services for children and adults based on the ability to pay." Allow me to tell you a little bit about the people who receive help at the Neighborhood House.

Neighborhood House

The typical user of their services is a single parent family, with three kids and making less than $20,000 annually. When I heard that statistic, I was humbled thinking about the challenges so many of these families must encounter every day. Here's an organization that is not giving handouts, but helping families so that parents can continue working and kids can get the support they need to continue learning and look forward to a brighter future.

The Neighborhood House is one of many organizations throughout our community that serve the needs of those who find themselves in difficult circumstances. These places don't look at the people they serve as numbers or someone else's problem; they're in the business of helping people and they deserve not just our praise, but our support.

Let me justify that statement by using the Neighborhood House as an example. We know that childhood education is important and if kids are given a chance during their formative years, the outcomes are very favorable for society. On the flip side, we know that there is a cost to society if these types of issues are not confronted. These costs come in the form of lost wages as human potential is not realized, coupled with an increased need for services.

In essence from this point of view, society has a choice to make. One choice is to do nothing and pay a price later, or we can confront these types of issue. A great way to do that is by supporting organizations that help people realize their potential.

Community engagement

On the individual level, it's great to go to work with your coworkers to help other people. I found it a refreshing experience where one can learn a little bit more about those you work with and also learn about others living a different reality than your own. These types of experiences form bonds with those you work with and encourage further involvement in the community.

Furthermore, as we become more aware of the state of our community and the needs that exist, our ability to address challenges will be enhanced. Now how does this relate to business? Aside from the inevitable benefits from working together and forging a closer bond, it's important to remember that this kind of work enables a community to become even more prosperous over the long-run.

Worth answering

If there's one thing we've learned over and over in recent years, it's that there are so many connections that exist among us. Events and issues that impact one group inevitably affect others. In short, we have an interest in enabling the success of everyone in society and businesses have a role to play in this.

Last week businesses leveraged their organizational skills and resources to help the community. I saw firsthand how this kind of work can improve the lives of others and I am convinced that the continued involvement of businesses will be vital to the future of the broader community. We should all be asking the question: how can we give back and what can we do to ensure our best days are ahead of us? It's a question not only worth asking, but a question worth answering.

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