By Elke Hautala
The day before Earth Day, April 21, 2018 thousands of men, women, and children got up early, put on work clothes, rolled up their sleeves and volunteered to make a difference in their communities. Young, old, and everything in between. There were lots of smiles on faces, happy banter and a deep, meaningful connection to creating something tangible for those less fortunate. They all had something else in common too. Everyone was a Comcast NBCUniversal employee, family member, or friend.
Comcast Cares Day is the largest, single-day corporate volunteer event in the nation. Over 100,000 people sign up to support others through 1,000 community improvement projects. Many weeks of preparation go into organizing these events as well as coordination with non-profits, schools and other community organizations. The service events and projects span a wide range of needs everything from tree planting, computer support and training, assembling donated items or supply kits to creating meals and providing entertainment for those in need.
To find out more about the connections to my own North Seattle neighborhood, I visited my local Comcast headquarters and talked to Regional Vice President Amy M. Lynch about their goals, projects, and partnerships.
“We are doing everything from working with homeless shelters such as Mary’s Place to beautify the schools and improve classrooms and bridge the digital divide. We’re really just spending today to get out and be present in the communities that we serve,” Amy said.
She showed me around the large warehouse space they had set up for check in and then a smaller space piled high with donated items.
At this event they were working to improve the facilities of the homeless shelter Mary’s Place, beautifying the exterior, organizing supply items and putting together kits for new mothers. Mary’s Place happens to be right down the street from the local Comcast headquarters. It’s like an old-fashioned neighborhood barn raising except in this case the neighbors are a non-profit and a multimedia corporation.
“We have 4,700 employees that live and work in Washington State alone. We really think of ourselves as a local company… Over the last year, we have given 4.5 million in in-kind services or money itself to benefit the communities through 45 non-profits. Today is a big part of our giving back.” Amy explained for me.
She went on to say that not only did they want to cover necessities such as food and a place to sleep but they also realize the importance of having access to Wi-Fi and well-maintained classroom environments or school grounds. As technology has advanced, the definition of what you need to not only survive but be successful, particularly in an urban environment, has changed.
“This is just like anyone else’s home family. You do your homework, you check in with your job, you stay in touch with your other family members, if you have family in other areas. And you can do research. And the kids feel that they’re normal when they’re getting their assignments on the computer just like all the other kids. Not having access to a computer nowadays could be like not have access to a shower. It’s that integrated into our daily life.” JJ McKay, Chairman of the Board at Mary’s Place continued.
“Empowering homeless women, children and families to reclaim their lives.”
This is the mission of Mary’s Place. It was started 18 years ago as a centralized shelter for women in crisis. Now, it’s the “largest crisis shelter for families in the region,” JJ said. They cover families in crisis in three different areas – general families of all different combinations (grandparent/parent/child, single mom/children, whole intact family etc.), pregnant mothers affected by domestic violence and families whose children have a life-threatening illness or developmental disease.
The soon-to-be mothers are helped by what they call the Baby’s Best Start program and Popsicle Place was set up to address the needs of those struggling with their children’s major health care issues and the financial burden that often comes with such a diagnosis.
“Most of them come to us because they are experiencing a once in a lifetime hiccup, half of them have jobs and 97% of them, this will be their one time experiencing homelessness.” JJ immediately dispelled many of the myths and assumptions that people make about those in shelter situations. He continued, “Tonight we’ll sleep 680 and Monday we deal with 900 people every day… tonight we’ll house 20% of all homeless in Seattle and we’ll house almost 50% of all homeless families.”
I was truly blown away by the sheer volume of people that they can help. He praised Comcast for their support both financial and otherwise. He also had a truly heartfelt thank you for all the people making a difference whether through volunteering, working at Mary’s Place or interacting with the families they serve “… they give us the true resources to do what we do each and every day.”
As we finished our tour, two volunteers outside who were breaking up the ground for flower planting smiled and joked with us. We passed a group organizing for painting and a few families headed to the Comcast headquarters.
JJ shared with me a touching story about a family they had personally helped:
“Single mom, great kid, athlete. Developed cancer. The doctor didn’t do it right the first time so the second time it was more intense and she had to quit her job. (She came through our Popsicle Place) We wound up getting her a job at Comcast that was flexible so she was able to make sure that her kid could finish that journey. … it (the cancer) keeps coming back but the mom has the security and now the insurance to make sure this is going to be a win for both of them.”
As I left, the volunteers were still hard at work and there was already a vast improvement in the grounds surrounding Mary’s Place. Everyone had a part to play and each little detail mattered. On the way back to my car a man and his young son were helping people safely cross the street. The man encouraged his son to hold the flag out high and keep it there until I crossed. I said, “Thank you!” The boy smiled and his dad beamed with pride. It’s good to know that Comcast is training the next generation to care too.
For more on Comcast Cares Day visit here.
Find out additional information on Mary’s Place here.