Center Maryland: Mayor shines spotlight on private-sector community spirit

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Editor’s note: The following commentary appeared on CenterMaryland.org on December 5.

By Donald C. Fry

Businesses are traditionally measured by profitability, job creation and their economic impact on a state, region or city.

But last Tuesday, Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake personally thanked 13 businesses, large and small, in the city for exceptional commitments to a different metric: performing selfless acts of community service.

In presenting 2014 Mayor’s Business Recognition Awards for private-sector commitment to community and dedication to improving the quality of life in Baltimore City, Rawlings-Blake praised award recipients as examples of local businesses “that have gone above and beyond to support our city.”

“We are so blessed to have partners like you,” Rawlings-Blake told more than 350 business executives who attended award ceremonies at the Hyatt Regency. “I can’t thank you enough for your leadership and your continued investment in Baltimore.”

The annual awards event is presented by the Mayor’s Office, the Greater Baltimore Committee and the Baltimore Development Corporation.

This year’s awards celebrated the community spirit of businesses in the city ranging from large companies such as M&T Bank – where the bank and its employees are finding creative ways to benefit communities they serve through education-related initiatives – to smaller businesses such as aMuse Toys, a family-owned toy store in Fells Point that fully equipped the Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Center for Autism and Related Disorders with new high-quality toys that enhance children’s experiences there.

M&T Bank’s volunteer activities included partnering with The Family Tree, the Maryland Bankers Association and the Baltimore Ravens to launch a pilot family game night at Westport Academy to promote families spending at least 15 minutes each day engaging in a recreation activity. Participating families received games to take home along with a pair of new shoes for their students.  In addition, 250 pairs of new shoes were distributed to all of the school’s students.

Also partnering with the Ravens, M&T Bank launched “Touchdown for Teachers,” recognizing more than 500 outstanding classroom teachers.

Meanwhile, in addition to providing an abundance of new toys for facilities at Kennedy Krieger Institute, which does not have a large budget for toys and previously relied on donations of second-hand toys for children who visit the center, aMuse Toys launched a social media campaign to raise awareness of autism spectrum disorders.

Honorees included MedStar Union Memorial Hospital which, partnering with The Arc Baltimore, launched Project SEARCH, a unique model of skill building and employment opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The project provides job training to increase paid employment opportunities for adults with disabilities and challenges ranging from autism to Cerebral Palsy. Program participants who graduated from the program have been hired for paid positions within the hospital and elsewhere.

Then there’s BGE, where employees participating in workplace giving to the United Way of Central Maryland generate nearly $1 million a year for tens of thousands of individuals and dozens of organizations in the community.

During the 2013 United Way campaign, more than 400 BGE employees participated in the United Way Fall Day of Action. Volunteer activities ranged from participating in reading sessions in local schools to staffing fundraising events such as BGE Battle of the Bands and Tournament of Champions. BGE also reaches out to its retirees, who contribute more than $50,000 annually to community service.

At SC&H, a Sparks-based national auditing and tax accounting firm, volunteer community service activities have included more than 11,000 volunteer hours served by employees during the firm’s annual days of service. Employees have engaged in a multitude of volunteer activities ranging from conducting job-readiness training for homeless veterans in Baltimore to packing lunches and dinners for families in need and cleaning trails at city parks.

Also honored with 2014 Mayor’s Business Recognition Awards were:

CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, for its company-wide commitment to partnerships that improve health, education and self-esteem, including partnering with the American Heart Association for the Teaching Gardens program at City Spring Elementary/Middle School and extensive support of Big Brothers/Big Sisters mentoring programs.

EY, for its annual day of service that benefited Great Kids Farm at the Bragg Nature Center, Port Discovery and the Cool Kids Campaign, and for participating in Parks and People Foundation’s neighborhood beautification, partnering with the Y of Central Maryland to build a lending library for Head Start and promoting student leadership at the Living Classrooms Foundation.

MECU, for its partnership with the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts – the MECU Neighborhood Events Grants program. The initiative, which helps hundreds of organizations throughout the city celebrate their neighborhoods, is one of many employee community activities ranging from book drives to financial literacy workshops. MECU’s combined corporate and employee community service activities and contributions are valued at nearly $2 million.

Morstein’s Jewelers, Inc., for owner Sonny Morstein’s lifetime support of the Federal Hill community over the years. Morstein is a founder of the nonprofit Federal Hill Main Street, Inc. and a major supporter of the South Baltimore Learning Center, a nonprofit that works to improve the self-sufficiency of educationally disadvantaged adults in Baltimore.

PNC Bank, for its “Growing Up Great” initiative, which supports enrichment programs to prepare children from birth to age five for success in school and life. “Growing Up Great” supports families by providing innovative opportunities to enhance learning and development during a child’s early years.

Saul Ewing LLP, for its commitment to helping families in need, mentoring high school students in city public schools through the Community Law in Action program and promoting a clean harbor through Blue Water Baltimore.

Team Triumphant, Inc., for responding to community requests by partnering with Abbottston Elementary School and working to increase student engagement during the summer. With funding from The Family League’s Summer Learning program, Team Triumphant and the school implemented an enrichment and family engagement program.

Wells Fargo, for its continued investment in the Pennsylvania Avenue/Upton community. A formerly vacant lot was converted into a community garden for neighbors to plant and maintain gardens to have access to fruits and vegetables and provide a safe gathering space for families. Also, more the 600 Wells Fargo employees participated in the Home for Good effort to end homelessness.

These award recipients are representative of thousands of large and small businesses in the city and in our region that make community service and civic commitment key elements of their business models. Many businesses in the Baltimore region permit employees to serve in volunteer activities during work hours.

If you talk with company executives and employees about their volunteer work you they will tell you that, although the work is intended to benefit others, they receive an incredible amount of personal satisfaction from their community service.

There is a vibrant spirit of giving throughout Baltimore’s business community. But this annual recognition reminds us that private-sector commitment to community is a major element, and benefit, of strong economic development and business growth.

Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a regular contributor to Center Maryland.

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