Community service and pro bono work is a flagship trait of our culture here at Lewis. Since the company was founded in 1951, Lewis and our staff have dedicated countless hours and resources to the cities where our employees live and work: Birmingham, Mobile and Nashville.
From the outside looking in, you might reason that Lewis makes time and allocates resources toward service and volunteerism because it’s the right thing to do. Plus, a healthy company is a company that’s committed to investing in something bigger than itself. Both are true.
“As a company, it’s who we are and what we do,” says Ellen Faulkner, Lewis CEO. “It’s a priority for us, and something that’s been important for a long time here. I think it starts with individuals. Our company’s leadership has always emphasized community service, and that’s partly because it’s how many of us were brought up.”
Faulkner’s mom, Jamie Praytor, who was a dedicated public servant herself, set the pace and her children fell in line. As a teenager, Faulkner, at the urging of her mother, served on the teen action board of the March of Dimes, and volunteered in many other ways as soon as she was old enough to help out.
Yet, there’s another powerful motive. From company leadership down to its newest hires, Lewis employees have seen firsthand the remarkable ways that the science of helping out bears out.
“I think often, especially when it comes to community service, you have stated intentions,” says Faulkner. “But these additional, unintended consequences slip in and enrich the effort. That’s what’s happened here at Lewis.”
Over years of service, employees in our Birmingham office have honed their carpentry skills in partnership with Habitat for Humanity. Meanwhile, our Mobile office has offered their expertise through pro bono media work for organizations like McKemie Place, the only emergency shelter for unaccompanied, homeless women in Southwest Alabama, and the Nest of Mobile, a mentoring partnership program for at-risk youth and families. And in both Nashville and Mobile, our Lewis offices support female-owned and minority-owned restaurants by catering employee-wide staff meals during recognition months like Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month and Women’s History Month.
And that’s only scratching the surface.
The Freakonomics of Service
On International Volunteer Day, Lewis’ DE&I team led a company-wide effort to organize volunteer work in each of our three locations. Employee-led volunteer teams from Birmingham, Mobile and Nashville helped out at the Community Food Bank of Central Alabama, Ronald McDonald House and The Branch, respectively.
“The benefit to our team ends up being so much more than the benefits for the organizations we’re serving,” Carlton Wood, EVP / Customer Experience Officer at Lewis, says. “When I walked away from the food bank, I saw the look on our staff’s faces, I saw what it did for their energy level and well-being. They were happy. They were having fun. And the physical work is so rewarding. I felt really good when I went home that day.”
Wood says community service is also leveling. Years ago, when he was working alongside Lewis’ then CEO Larry Norris on Habitat of Humanity projects, he experienced what volunteering can mean for relationships. “You drive nails alongside someone all day and really get to know them.”
Recently, Wood had the same experience. Yet, at the Birmingham food bank, he was working alongside Jennifer Carter, vice president, integrated channel engagement, who helps lead a different department. “I was standing beside Jennifer for most of the day, packing food boxes. And we were talking about my kids and her kids and it reminded me how funny she is and how much I enjoy talking with her.”
Perhaps these experiences of camaraderie, humor and genuine conversation are, in part, aided by the moment — the volunteer work each person is engrossed in as they talk. Volunteers, by nature, are relaxed. According to the New York Times, “studies of volunteers show that do-gooders had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol on days they did volunteer work.”
The Times also cited a five-year study of people in Detroit. This research found that “stressful life events appeared to take a greater toll on people who were less helpful to others, while helping others seemed to erase the detrimental physical effects of stressful experiences.”
Volunteering Is a Wellness Check for the Soul
When you pair these positive outcomes with what we know about stress and creativity, it becomes clear that volunteerism has a multiplier effect. Not only does community service improve employee well-being, it also enhances the quality of the creative work we produce here at Lewis.
“As creative professionals, it’s our responsibility to use our skills for the greater good through volunteerism and pro bono work,” says Lewis Integrated Creative Director RT Herwig. “This benefits both those we’re helping and our own agency’s creativity and well-being.”
Herwig, who works from Lewis’ Mobile office, says by providing a break from industry-related stress, setting aside time for service can lead to a more productive and positive work experience.
“This connection between enhanced creativity, lower stress and community service is powerful,” he says. “Using our creativity for good, we tap into a deep well of inspiration and purpose that enhances creativity and leads to more fulfilling work. Likewise, prioritizing community service and volunteerism profoundly impacts our well-being and the communities we serve at Lewis.”
What’s given is returned in kind, and then some.
“When you have an opportunity to volunteer, it’s good for the soul,” says Brooke Nemchak, a web developer in Lewis’ Nashville office. Nemchak is active on the company’s DE&I team and was project lead for International Volunteer Day. She was tasked with collaborating with all three offices to coordinate volunteer projects in each location.
“At The Branch, we were welcomed and given tasks to do, but we weren’t micro-managed. It was super relaxed,” she says. “It wasn’t a situation where the tasks had to be done perfectly or quickly. We were all there working together and laughing, and you could see everyone’s guard come down.”
Nemchak and her coworkers filled food carts at The Branch. Each group had a list of items to include in each cart like one milk, one bread, certain veggies and so on. “While we were there, they were doing active pickup,” Nemchack says. “So we were able to see families picking up their items and then the carts were returned empty. And that made the benefit very real. You could actively see the difference we were making, and you felt instant satisfaction. We were having a good time, but also, we could see the end result. It was tangible.”
Civic Boosterism Is an Old Idea with Modern Value
Historically, we know that many of America’s greatest, pre-World War II companies, particularly those founded in older, eastern seaboard cities, made sizable investments in their home cities. Enormous contributions were made to build community libraries and parks. Many single-handedly built museums, orchestras, universities and hospitals in the communities where their employees worked and lived.
As Christopher Lausch observed in his book, The Revolt of the Elites, those generosities had a secondary motive: “Civic boosterism amounted to good business in an age of intense competition among cities, each aspiring to preeminence.”
Today, “civic boosterism” is still at play, but a company’s attractive differentiator is rarely its local library. (Although the Hoover, Alabama, library — just down the road from our Birmingham office — has a sweet coffee shop and has certainly outdone itself). Today’s young talent values an employer’s commitment to something larger than itself. It’s at the heart of a company’s soul, and the health of its culture.
As she talks about her volunteer work at Lewis, Nemchak says something unremarkably remarkable:
“I've wanted to be on the DE&I team ever since I got here,” she says.
When Nemchak arrived at Lewis, involvement in the company’s DE&I was a goal. It made the list among other items that fit the more traditional motives of a new employee: professional growth and work experience. To some, that’s unremarkable. But to some of the older stalwarts at Lewis, it’s remarkable. It says something about our growth, our priorities, and what’s important to the young talent great companies are competing to hire.
You can read the history of corporate community service in America. You can study the research and trends, track the outcomes and implement a plan to apply what we’ve learned. But the best education comes by way of experiences. And that’s also the education that tends to stick.
For Lewis, community service and volunteerism is an exercise in giving and wrapping arms around your fellow man. Yet, it’s also a lesson in the unintended consequences of what giving gives, and what giving gives right back.
Check out our recent community service projects in the cities where Lewis employees live and work:
Ronald McDonald House, Mobile, Ala.
On International Volunteer Day, the Lewis Mobile office volunteered at the local Ronald McDonald House. Employees were split into teams. Some prepared and served a meal, while others put together care packages for families. Ronald McDonald House Charities of Mobile is a safe haven for families whose children are receiving life-saving medical treatment in nearby hospitals. Learn more.
Community Food Bank of Central Alabama, Birmingham, Ala.
The Lewis Birmingham office deployed to their local food bank on International Volunteer Day to lend a hand at the Community Food Bank of Central Alabama. Teams of volunteers boxed and packaged food, which included putting together the cardboard boxes, filling them with designated food items, then securing the boxes for distribution. Our volunteer team packed enough boxes that would feed over 500 families for seven to 10 days. Learn more.
The Branch of Nashville, Nashville, Tenn.
Our Nashville staff donated their time to The Branch on International Volunteer Day. The Branch is an organization that feeds 300 local families per week. During their volunteer day, those in need were actively picking up food carts as our volunteers filled them, which added to the value of the experience. The Branch helps families in southeast Nashville flourish by offering English language classes and emergency food support. Learn more.
Lewis Food Drive: Birmingham, Mobile and Nashville
This fall, Lewis organized its 4th annual food drive.
Our Mobile office donated 147 lbs of food and Birmingham donated 61lbs of food, while Nashville led all offices with 250 lbs of food and nearly $4,000 in monetary donations. Together, Lewis offices provided more than 16,200 meals to our communities.