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A RESPONSIBILITY TO GIVE BACKSmall businesses step up to help nonprofits and community causes

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CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Volunteers from small businesses in the region helped a struggling father and his family by renovating their home last year in Shillington. From right to left are volunteer Larry Kehres, owner of LA Kehres Building & Remodeling of Leesport; Chris Yarosz, homeowner; and volunteer Deb Martzall, owner of Martzall’s Custom Surfaces of Stevens, Lancaster County.
CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Volunteers from small businesses in the region helped a struggling father and his family by renovating their home last year in Shillington. From right to left are volunteer Larry Kehres, owner of LA Kehres Building & Remodeling of Leesport; Chris Yarosz, homeowner; and volunteer Deb Martzall, owner of Martzall’s Custom Surfaces of Stevens, Lancaster County.

Every day, small businesses are asked for monetary donations to help worthwhile charities.

But few, if any, small-business owners are flush with cash to donate to every cause.

Instead, civic-minded businesses turn to other valuable ways to give back.

From providing free expertise to serving on boards, from hosting events to donating supplies and by giving employees paid time off to volunteer, small businesses are critical to the success of nonprofits and other community organizations. In many ways, small businesses are not just the backbone of the economy, they are pillars of the Greater Lehigh Valley community.

“I’ve always believed that if you are blessed with some abilities, then it’s your responsibility to give back and to look for opportunities to give back,” said Diane Salks, president of Riverview Nursery and Garden Center in Alsace Township.

Volunteering enhances the culture of the company and generates feelings of gratitude, empathy and compassion among employees.

Every year, Riverview helps The Restoring Hope Foundation of Berks County restore a home for a needy family.

“Through giving of your time, you encourage a culture of volunteering within your company,” Salks said.

‘FRIEND-RAISING’

Serving as a board member is one way small-business staff can support organizations.

“Often times in the nonprofit world in our Lehigh Valley community, our charitable and tax-exempt organizations, they can’t and don’t pay board members and they want to find people to serve who can offer their experience and talent,” said Buddy Lesavoy, managing partner of Lesavoy, Butz & Seitz, a law firm in Upper Macungie Township.

Often, a businessperson’s ability to connect organizations to other donors on both the financial and talent side is another way to give back, said Lesavoy, who has donated his time in a leadership capacity for nonprofits.

Board members can chair an event, host an event, serve on a committee, actively organize an event or start a “friend-raising” effort – people who can spread the word about the organization, he said.

“Friend-raising can be as important as fundraising,” Lesavoy said. “In many if not most organizations, you start with some participation and work your way up to board level position.”

MAKING TIME TO VOLUNTEER

While there’s not a lot of time in anyone’s life these days, many small-business owners still carve out time to volunteer. And there are many ways to help.

“If you can’t afford to make a donation, the equal, best thing is to donate your time,” said Tina Smith, president of the Nazareth-Bath Regional Chamber of Commerce. “There are certainly enough charity events to be involved in.”

The causes run the gamut from cancer-related to organizations that support veterans, animals and children.

“We [chamber members and staff] organize many community events, and they’re all free,” Smith said. “We [member businesses] also as a unit give back to other organizations.”

An example is the Lehigh Valley Nonprofit Awareness Expo, hosted each September at Lehigh Valley Mall in Whitehall Township. Smith said the event gives nonprofits the opportunity to mix and mingle with small businesses to let them know about their needs.

ADVOCATES FOR CHANGE

Small businesses help LifePath, which provides home and services to people with disabilities, in many ways, including hosting donation drives, offering free help with design or website services and by advocating on a state or federal level on issues important to the organization.

“Some of our supporters wrote letters to legislators,” said Annette Kaiser, director of development and communications for LifePath, based in Hanover Township, Northampton County.

“That’s huge for us, when small businesses can help bring about changes in state policy and funding to help support bills that were in progress.”

Liquid Interactive of Upper Macungie Township helped LifePath by offering website assistance and designing fliers at no cost.

FREE CLINIC

Hartzell’s Pharmacy of Catasauqua is another small business that’s helped.

“They find creative ways to give back,” Kaiser said of Hartzell’s. “They donated a month of medical software services to us.”

LifePath otherwise could pay $600 per month for the service, she said.

Hartzell’s also held a campaign in March when customers could donate to LifePath at the register. Additionally, Hartzell’s held a clinic for LifePath consumers to receive free maintenance from a certified wheelchair mechanic.

DONATING EQUIPMENT

Another business, BSI Corporate Benefits of Bethlehem, supports LifePath by donating equipment to the organization, including laptops, Kaiser said.

BSI also allowed employees to volunteer workday time to go to LifePath and register employees for a medical benefit it helped LifePath launch, one that doesn’t benefit BSI monetarily, she said.

Regardless of how businesses give back, everyone giving a little bit can amount to so much, Kaiser said.

‘FEELS GREAT TO GIVE BACK’

Virginia Frederick-Dodge, owner, president and executive producer of VA Productions in Cumru Township, said giving back is an integral part to her company’s mission.

“I know I can speak on behalf of all employees, it feels great to give back,” Frederick-Dodge said. “It has become part of our DNA. They appreciate that they work for a company that cares.”

VA Productions, a video production and audiovisual meeting planning company, has six employees, all of whom volunteer in some capacity on a regular basis.

Nearly all employees have gone through the Leadership Berks program, which grooms future community leaders and teaches how to be a responsible board member.

“It’s really primed us to all be on boards and committees, to be very active in the community,” Frederick-Dodge said.

VOLUNTEERING DURING WORK HOURS

VA Productions employees often leave work early to attend a board meeting or work on a volunteer project during work hours – and sometimes can take off the day, with pay, to participate in a volunteer event.

The company has supported a bunch of organizations in Berks County. A prominent example is the Olivet Boys’ & Girls’ Club, for which it raised nearly $64,000 in a fundraising campaign in 2012.

Other organizations the company supports include Girls on the Run, Reading Musical Foundation and Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania.

Frederick-Dodge said as her employees work more with nonprofits and other organizations, they learn more about them and get closer to them and want to volunteer even more.

RENOVATING A HOME

Employees can donate their time helping a foundation or person, said Salks of Riverview Nursey and Garden Center. They also can sit on committees for nonprofit organizations, help a food bank, volunteer with Meals on Wheels or at a soup kitchen. And they can help at career and technical centers and other schools – applicable to their expertise.

Her company, which provides property maintenance, landscaping and gardening services, has been involved with The Restoring Hope Foundation of Berks County since the foundation’s inception in 2011.

Each year, Restoring Hope accepts applications from a working or retired middle class family or person in Berks County with a special need or circumstance, said Salks, foundation board chairperson the last four years. The foundation then selects a recipient to renovate its home.

120 BUSINESSES INVOLVED

Last year, Riverview Nursery helped to upgrade the home of a single dad raising eight children, with three in college.

Salks’ company did exterior work, while many other professionals in other trades donated products and time to make it happen on the inside, she said. In all, more than 120 businesses and more than 40 people were involved, she said, and many have helped over multiple years.

“It is a wonderful experience, and we get to meet the neatest, most generous people,” Salks said.

“We have gotten the career and technical centers involved with Restoring Hope, too. This give the kids something to work for, the opportunity to work with professionals in their fields and a letter to include with their resumes.”

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