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Goodwill Hunting

Two Ten Footwear Cares volunteering initiative is gathering momentum: more participants, a broader scope of events year-round and, best of all, greater good achieved.

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Shoe Carnival and vendor partners pitch in on a new home construction for the Habitat for Humanity chapter in Indiana. To date, the volunteers have helped build 45 homes.

Now in its seventh year, Two Ten Footwear Cares continues to grow rapidly in scope. No longer confined to April and a single day of company-sponsored activities, the industry-wide volunteering initiative has morphed into a year-round effort involving a broad range of charitable causes and beneficiaries joined by thousands of industry members—from the executive suite to the rank-and-file—working side by side for a greater good.

Perhaps best of all, volunteering is increasingly becoming ingrained into corporate cultures. Once deemed a one-off photo-op or resume enhancer, a company’s volunteer component is now a key element of the business model. It’s why many employees want to work at and remain with certain companies.

Industry members refurbish a hiking trail in Portland, OR.

In fact, results from a recent employee engagement survey by Shoes.com, title sponsor of Footwear Cares, showed a strong desire for volunteer events and opportunities that foster new and meaningful relationships between co-workers. “We know that brands are now striving to retain and attract employees by making Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) a top priority, which is echoed by our own employees,” says Alex Proelss, senior vice president Brand Marketing & Business Development.

Amy Sweeney, global community outreach manager, Charitable Programs for New Balance, cites numerous studies that speak to the impact of a company’s CSR efforts on employee recruitment and retention, team- and skill-building, leadership development, and benefits to company culture. “Everyone who works for New Balance says our commitment to giving back is one of the reasons they choose the company and decide to stay,” she says. “The service projects give them an opportunity to step outside the office and get to know their teammates and other associates in new ways. The positive feelings and pride extend back into the workplace and build our culture.” Sweeney adds, “We know this program’s evolution and growth in recent years is resonating with associates because we have grown 277 percent in hours and 127 percent in unique volunteers since 2012.”

Shoes.com employees collect donations for the National Shoe the World Day shoe drive.

Dani Zizak, vice president Corporate Communications & Social Responsibility for Wolverine Worldwide, reports a similar gathering momentum in the company’s volunteering efforts. She says once employees participate in one of the numerous events held throughout the year—be it environmental clean-up projects, Habitat for Humanity builds, packing goods at food banks and even its finance team helping prepare tax returns for local residents—they’re hooked. “Our employees tell us that when they give back to their local community, they return energized, refreshed and with an increased pride in themselves, their team and Wolverine Worldwide,” Zizak says. “As an organization, we have so much to share with our community beyond financial support—sharing our employees time and talents with the community is a responsibility that we embrace.”

New Balance volunteers packing comfort kits for the American Red Cross to distribute to disaster victims.

An example is Wolverine’s longtime partnership with the United Way. Zizak says the campaign donation totals increase year-over-year. “We’re far from being the largest employer in Western Michigan, but we’re always in the top three of giving,” she says, crediting, in part, the company’s non-traditional approach to fundraising. “In 2018, we hosted our first annual Pet Parade, complete with costume contest and all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast with company leaders manning the griddle. And our fall festival featured fire pits, a beer tent and Olympic-type games.” Zizak adds, “Our employees are competitive, and it’s great to combine a fun outing with raising awareness and support for our many not-for-profit partners.”

The annual Footwear Cares event that places donated shoes on the steps of the Massachusetts State House to raise awareness about child abuse and neglect.

Neal Newman, president of Two Ten, says the industry has long had a strong commitment to giving back, but Footwear Cares has galvanized that goodwill ethos. “We see this trend continuing and deepening over time,” he says. “As more companies increase their engagement with consumers in more meaningful ways, Footwear Cares will continue to grow fast.” Newman expects the greatest growth opportunities in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle—where wholesale companies have concentrated presences and where the Footwear Cares platform can bring multiple brands and retailers together.

Of course, all industry members worldwide are welcome to take part in Footwear Cares. No project is too small and no good cause unworthy. Volunteering is an equal opportunity endeavor with projects ranging from company-specific synergies to personal passions. It’s all good and, best of all, volunteering is infectious. It encourages other companies to get involved as well as inspires employees to volunteer on their own time. It’s a win all around, according to Newman. “Employees love the opportunity to give back, companies use volunteer programs as ways to strengthen team spirit and internal culture, and community service programs act as market-engagement opportunities that express corporate values,” he says. “Having one heartfelt cause wrapped in volunteerism, community services and giving back will also gain attention and foster loyalty among consumers.”

Bearpaw’s John Pierce and Tom Romeo at a (high heels) charity walk in support of a battered women’s shelter

An active company volunteering program is simply good business. This year’s Footwear Cares efforts bear that out: it’s the most projects and the greatest number of participants scheduled so far. It’s picked up right from where it left off on last year’s record-setting participation figures, according to Maureen Rubino, Two Ten’s marketing and special events manager. “We’ve already had almost 50 companies join or hold events and have engaged over 4,000 employees,” she says. Highlights have included the first-ever National Shoe the World Day shoe drive held on March 15. The original goal was to collect donated shoes for the homeless population around Boston, but then Wolverine Worldwide and Stan’s Fit For Your Feet, a comfort chain based in Milwaukee, WI, expanded the drive’s reach. “More than 1,700 pairs were collected from Boston-area companies alone,” Rubino says. “And families from Massachusetts to Michigan to Wisconsin received shoes.”

Another highlight this year, Rubino says, is tapping into the sustainability movement and, particularly, Earth Day activities. “Many companies held events that gave back to Mother Nature,” she reports. “Vans, Timberland, Vionic, Asics and Two Ten all held events that got employees outside and taking care of natural areas around them.”

Vibram Corporation also got into the green is good spirit when it became a first-time sponsor of a local environmental group’s 30th annual Earth Day Cleanup in Worcester, MA. Jennifer Lachambre, document control specialist, Vibram Corporation, says the benefits have been many fold. “Our 15 volunteers picked up more than 25 bags of trash, in addition to collecting a large pile of metal and tires,” she says. “It really brought home the message that things we throw away don’t necessarily go ‘away.’” The many styrofoam cups and plastic bottles collected reinforced the message our company has been sending to employees for more than a year about living more sustainably. (To that end, Vibram has given employees reusable water bottles, mugs, grocery totes and even silicone sandwich bags to reduce plastic waste.)

A bonus, Lachambre says, was exploring parts of the city that many employees didn’t know existed as well as the team building. “It was amazing that so many people showed up on what started out as a cold, rainy Saturday,” she says, noting some carpooled to get to the site and a few drove more than an hour. “We had people from all areas of the company—people who might not normally interact—talking and doing something about a subject that’s very important to us.”

The volunteering buzz has also spread through Vibram, and employees who did and didn’t participate are asking about the next opportunity. “The dedication and commitment from this one event has inspired us to add more volunteer events to our calendar,” Lachambre says. Those include combining a community-wide blood drive through the Red Cross with a shoe drive to benefit Soles4Souls this summer and planning a build for a local chapter of Habitat for Humanity this fall.

Tipping Point

Prepping meals at God’s Love We Deliver in New York.

Volunteering is like exercise: the more you do it, the easier it becomes and the better you get at it. That rule of thumb certainly applies to the team at Shoe Carnival. Led by Tom Vernarsky, a buyer for the Evansville, IN-based family chain, an increasing amount of employees as well as vendor partners have joined its campaign to build homes for the local Habitat for Humanity chapter over the past five years. This year, 85 Shoe Carnival employees have signed up (so far) and 60 volunteers from Skechers, Timberland, Timberland Pro, Weyco (Florsheim, Stacy Adams and Nunn Bush), Fila, Irish Setter, Wolverine, Caterpillar, Dockers, Levi’s and Keen are scheduled to take part in build days. In addition to donating time and muscle, $116,500 has been raised—up from $40,000 last year. To date, Shoe Carnival’s volunteers have helped build more than 45 houses for fellow Hoosiers in need. And thanks to the spike in donation this year, two of the houses built this year will be fully funded by footwear companies. They will be “Footwear Cares” houses.

Vernarsky says the return on the volunteering investment is priceless. “The families are so grateful and overwhelmed by the financial donations as well as the travel, time commitment and hard work by all of the volunteers,” he says, adding, “Evansville is a small city and Shoe Carnival is a major employer, so it’s good to get involved in charitable programs.”

Other events scheduled this year include Shoe Carnival’s annual fundraiser for CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) in September and participating in the 100 Men Who Cook fundraiser. (The Shoe Carnival team has raised the most donations in the city two years straight.) Then there’s the internal perks, Vernarsky says. Like the night before the Habitat home builds. “We go for pizza and bowling, and always have a great time,” he says. “It’s good team building, and the camaraderie generated makes working together the next day easy.”

Michelle Apodaca, spokesperson for Deckers Brands (Ugg, Teva and Hoka One One), agrees that the team building that occurs during its various volunteering efforts is a huge benefit. “Pictures from the events show hard work, teamwork and big smiles,” she says. “All of the volunteers ask when the next event is scheduled, so they could participate again.”

Deckers’ volunteer projects this year so far have involved 100 employees participating in a range of good causes. Rise Against Hunger, a food packing service, saw the team put together 25,000 meals in one hour. Another involved Deckers’ annual Backyard Collective, where employees partnered, this time, with The Conservation Alliance, Ventura Land Trust, Toad & Co, Patagonia and REI to eradicate invasive species in the Ventura River as well as nearby restoration (weeding, hoeing and lining with rocks and wood chips) of trails washed out by heavy rains. “The results were amazing due to the number of volunteers we had,” Apodaca says, noting it has inspired smaller projects as well. Like the legal team volunteering at the Food Bank of Santa Barbara for a few hours after a meeting and the procurement team pitching in at the Unity Shoppe to assemble care packages for those in need.

Employees learn about non-profits that hit their hearts to give back,” Apodaca says. “Passions are different, but the end results and personal satisfaction are the same.” It helps, she adds, that Deckers incentivizes volunteering by compensating employees up to 24 hours a year of paid volunteer time. “It’s a huge benefit, and many employees take advantage of it,” she says.

One need not be a publicly traded company, however, to make a big impact in volunteering. Stan’s Fit for Your Feet is an example of a relatively small company (six stores) that does a lot of volunteering year-round. Efforts includes working regularly with two homeless shelters, Hope House of Milwaukee and the Repairers of the Breach, as well as donating shoes and socks to many local causes and running its annual Share-A-Pair shoe drives. “Our entire company is involved, donating time, money and shoes,” says Megan Sajdak Holtan, director of marketing. “We also participate in round-up campaigns for non-profit organizations in the community, such as Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin School Room Fund and the Pancreatic Cancer Network of Southeastern Wisconsin.” Sajdak adds, “There’s always a way to get involved.”

It helps that Stan’s seeks out employees for whom volunteering comes naturally. “We hire individuals that have a true passion about helping others, be it in our stores or in our community,” Sajdak says. “Since we’ve woven in service projects—such as each store supporting a food basket for a specific family over the holidays—our team is used to giving back and thinking about the community outside our doors.” Connecting the efforts to Footwear Cares, Sajdak adds, gives national exposure to what the 70-year-old business is doing on a local level. “It shows shoepeople are there to help others and pay it forward,” she says, noting that giving back to the community is central to Stan’s mission. “We’re so thankful for the support and the ability to flourish in Milwaukee, and it’s important to give back.”

Takes All Kinds

Footwear Cares volunteering projects run the gamut—from a handful of employees pitching in at a local charity for a few hours to a corporate wide platform involving thousands of employees worldwide working on projects year-round. Like New Balance, for example. Sweeney says the company’s Global Volunteer Week service projects align with the New Balance Foundation’s mission: to drive change in global communities with an enduring commitment to preventing childhood obesity and championing the future success of today’s youth.

Volunteering efforts this year by New Balance include leading fitness and sports clinic activities for kids; working on farms that raise food to provide greater food justice and access to underserved families; preparing healthy meals at the Boys & Girls Club, local food banks and soup kitchens; and helping prepare summer camps by painting, building, landscaping, etc. “We also make blankets for newborns from disadvantaged families and sports equipment kits for local schools and charities,” Sweeney says, adding that approximately 2,200 associates from 30 New Balance offices and nearly all U.S.-owned stores are expected to participate in about 250 projects this year. Sweeney notes the expansion of its Community Connection Volunteer Program and Give Back benefits to Canada and the UK this year are helping expand its volunteer efforts. It involves identifying associates who have relevant skill sets and passion for CSR to take on the role of Community Connection coordinator and lead efforts in their office. “We want to provide more resources and opportunities for our associates to make a difference—from Boston to England to Indonesia and beyond,” she says.

Under Armour’s volunteering efforts are also on a worldwide scale. Last month, the company kicked off Global Armour Day, involving activities focused on strengthening the health and wellness of local communities and training its teammates (i.e. volunteers). This spring, Armour Day will take place in 30 cities in 14 countries, including Pittsburgh, Moscow, Guangzhou, Buenos Aires and Sydney. Projects include volunteering at Family House to provide housing, emotional support and other services for families with children who are terminally ill; recycling soap collected from various hotel partners and redistributing it to disadvantaged families with Soap Cycling in Hong Kong; building 70 custom skateboards for foster children through the Oregon Department of Human Services; and planting trees in urban areas with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.

Stacey Ullrich, senior director of Global Philanthropy for Under Armour, reports the Armour Day at the company’s headquarters in Baltimore, MD, saw 2,000 employees contribute 6,000 hours to advance the mission of 20 organizations serving nearly 20,000 residents. Additionally, 60 teammates are now trained to coach local youth sports teams and 360 others are ready to respond when an emergency arises. Ullrich says teammates are incentivized by receiving 32 hours of paid time off to volunteer. “Some of the most popular areas include coaching youth sports, mentoring, serving dinner at the Ronald McDonald House and working in schools.”

Under Armour’s volunteering scorecard so far this year is impressive. For example, 500 kids will receive a new bike, helmet and training; 1,400 kids will explore creative expression with new puppet show kits; 2,500 kids will receive a lunch box and snacks; 1,200 kids will have a battalion buddy to hug when their military member parent is deployed; 125 families will be greeted at their new home made by teammates; 150 families will receive fresh produce from the container gardens created by teammates; and 3,000 animals will receive blankets for a cozy transport. Ullrich adds that doing all this good is good for Under Armour. “The biggest takeaway in our most recent engagement survey is that our teammates are very proud of the company, specifically the connection to our commitment to diversity and inclusion, and our sense mission to give back,” she says.

Every Volunteer Counts

Small volunteering projects can have just as big of an impact. Bryce Sakach, marketing and special events coordinator for Two Ten, cites the recent example of a cold, rainy January day in Portland, OR, where the Forest Park Conservancy appreciated every single volunteer that Footwear Cares brought together to make trail improvements. Employees from National Shoe Travelers, Van Gasse Consulting, +39, Vibram and Two Ten took part in the effort. Together, the team improved an area loved by thousands of local residents. “Whether used for running, walking, bird watching or family time, our volunteers understood the importance of rolling up their sleeves to keep the area pristine and thriving,” Sakach says.

Volunteering starts with individuals that then snowballs, adds Sakach. “We wouldn’t have a volunteer program if individual employees didn’t take time out of their busy schedules to give back,” he says. “Many large-scale events—like those done by Timberland, New Balance, Under Armour and Vans—are created by relatively small CSR teams. They plan, coordinate and execute events that impact communities around the globe. Without these small-scale teams, many projects would be left incomplete.” 

Proelss of Shoes.com agrees that no volunteer project is too small when it comes to getting involved. “It can be something as simple as a shoe or monetary donation,” she says. In fact, starting small can get a project off on the right foot and grow from there. To help move that process along, Shoes.com has created ShoeCrew, a culture/employee engagement committee focused on creating charitable opportunities to bring different departments together to bond. Upcoming projects include working at the Girls on the Run Great Boston End-of-Season 5K; a beach clean-up day in Boston; and a shoe donation drive in support of St. Francis House Boston men’s shelter. As for choosing the types of project, Proelss recommends building a foundation around shared company and employee values. 

An example is Bearpaw’s support of women’s causes. For the third straight year it will join Weave, the primary provider of crisis intervention services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in Sacramento County, CA, as a sponsor of its Walk a Mile fundraiser. Male participants march in heels, helping bring awareness to end violence against women. Funds raised assist critical crisis intervention services for victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse in the local community.

Frequency of a variety of smaller volunteering efforts is another way to make a big impact. Honeywell Retail Group, (Original Muck Boot Company, Quoddy and Xtratuf), has been doing just that. The Muck team recently teamed with Vertical Harvest, an organization that provides inclusive employment for people with different abilities by growing food in vertical greenhouses in urban areas. “We outfitted employees with Muck Boots, which are perfect for that type of environment,” says David Mesicek, head of marketing and ecommerce. Honeywell also uses trade shows as an opportunity to impact local communities. “We’ve developed custom branded items that can be offered to attendees for donations to local non-profit organizations,” he says. “For the Fred Hall show this spring, we sold custom Xtratuf t-shirts to benefit Rollo Kids, a Southern California non-profit organization that arranges for local youth to take part in marine awareness fishing trips.” For the upcoming Outdoor Retailer show, Honeywell is partnering with Denver Urban Gardens (DUG) to create an experience at its booth that will raise funds for one of the organization’s community gardens. A key aspect of Honeywell’s volunteer strategy involves charitable causes that could use its products. “We develop technologies that keep people safe and build lasting solutions for a sustainable world, and implement them into community service and conservation efforts,” Mesicek says, adding the company also contributed to the National Shoe the World Day shoe drive.

It’s all good for companies and individuals who take part in Footwear Cares. “Volunteering is one of the best ways to team build, and it’s always good to get people out of the office and collaborate on challenges that aren’t related to their day-to-day tasks for a greater good,” Mesicek says. Adds Proelss, “Footwear Cares has been instrumental in creating the groundwork to make Shoes.com more socially responsible and community driven within the industry, and it increases and encourages cross-functional collaboration across the company.” Sweeney of
New Balance echoes the win-win outcome of volunteering. “Our associates’ efforts help bring the New Balance giving mission to life and deepen our commitment to leading a purpose-driven business,” she says. Its efforts combined amount to no small potatoes. To date, New Balance has donated more than $100 million to charities worldwide.

On that note, there’s no time like the present to start volunteering. To join a Two Ten Footwear Cares event or learn how to start your own project, visit www.twoten.org.

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