Photo of volunteers in a circle

Today is the International Day of Charity—a day established by the United Nations to spotlight volunteer and philanthropic activities around the world. Like many of you, I’ve been fortunate enough to work for a company whose sense of corporate responsibility compels it to not only espouse people-first values, but to mobilize those words into action.

My journey with corporate philanthropy began on a Friday seven years ago during my first year as a PDI team member in Temple, Texas. It was a day that began like any other. Following a night of intermittent sleep, the obnoxiously loud beeping of a 6:00 a.m. alarm shattered the silence, and for the fifth time that week I contemplated dismantling my smart phone with a brick. But alas, there was work to do. I reluctantly rolled out of bed and sluggishly prepared to meet the world.

Upon stepping outside, the coolness of an autumnal breeze danced across my face. For a moment, the soaring summer temperatures had subsided, and I, for one, was glad. Today was United Way’s annual Day of Caring, and as one of more than 350 Central Texans to respond, I would likely spend a portion of the day outside. After a 7:00 a.m. breakfast rally at the Ralph Wilson Youth Club, I joined a caravan of local volunteers, and we headed down the road.

Nestled on 344 acres near Lake Belton was Camp Kachina, our assignment for the day. The camp, which is primarily used for Girl Scout events, had the rustic charm of an Old West homestead in a John Wayne movie. An untethered tan horse named Cowboy freely roamed the grounds, nibbling the green sprigs that sparsely peppered the rain-deprived earth. The buildings dotting the landscape stood erect, yet fragile, possessing a weathered character acquired from decades passed.

As I drove through the gate whose red, white and blue colors gave it the appearance of a Texas flag, there sat Lee Wayne Fowler, our project director, atop a green and yellow John Deere lawnmower. I parked my car and got out. We exchanged niceties, and then in a distinctive southern accent, he asked, “Do you know how to use a chainsaw?”

I replied, “No sir.”

“Do you know how to paint?” he continued.

“I’ve never really painted either,” I responded.

Valerie Lowery, a fellow volunteer from PDI, jumped in.

“If you can move your arm up and down, you can paint,” she quipped.

We all chuckled and hopped in a maroon and black golf cart and started down the winding road to our painting assignment. A few minutes later we arrived. The building sat at the bottom of a slight slope surrounded by naked trees and shrubs, stripped bare by months of triple-digit summer heat. We opened the screen door and went inside the modest structure. The interior walls were coated in shades of green. In the middle of the concrete floor lay three buckets of white paint along with brushes and rollers.

We proceeded to the last room at the back of the building. Directly on the table in front of us were several cages. Fowler reached inside a container and pulled something out.

“Here’s my frog,” he said as the green amphibian squirmed in his grip. “I have a hamster and a guinea pig too.

Oh, and a tarantula,” he exclaimed. “Every once in a while, I’ll drop a cricket in there.”

My stomach turned as I stared at the hairy, eight-legged creature crouched between the rocks in the cage. I hate spiders, I silently thought. Doesn’t everyone?

On the table to our left was an assortment of animal skeletons. An educational opportunity for curious visitors, I supposed. As we turned to leave what was essentially an indoor zoo, Lee took us toward our assignment.

“You two will paint the restrooms today,” he instructed. “If y’all want to use the rollers, I’ll bring a tray back. Oh, and I forgot to mention: there’s a rather large centipede running around here somewhere. I just noticed it was missing from its cage last night. Just in case you run into it,” he said on his way out the door.

We laughed, and the painting commenced. The restroom was about 10’ X 10’. The walls, now a honeydew green color, had been painted during the summer by a group of high school students to earn extra money. By the looks of the paint-stained concrete below us, they thought the floor needed a coat as well.

“We need some motivational music,” Valerie said.

She took out her phone, and contemporary music began blasting from its speakers. With a wry smile, I shook my head in silent appreciation. If anything could help me power through a hapless encounter with a centipede, music could.

We painted walls with rollers and corners with brushes. We tip-toed to reach the ceiling and squatted near the baseboard. We painted inside the stalls, behind stubborn toilets, under the sinks, and around the medicine cabinets. We painted everything, and at the end of two hours, the entire restroom was white. In that time, the volunteers and I learned a lot about each other – something that was particularly nice since I was new to the area. I also learned quite a bit about painting small spaces. You know, obvious things like watching where you turn unless you enjoy looking like a spotted leopard.

Afterwards we trekked back up the road to rejoin about 15 fellow volunteers. Then, the hard work of rock removal began. The process facilitates easy lawn care by removing obstinate rocks from otherwise grassy areas. It sounded like a simple task, but then I saw the rocks. These were the children of boulders–or at the very least, first cousins.

Valerie gave me a pitiful look and said, “And you don’t have gloves.”

I looked down at my hands and silently apologized for what was about to happen. I grabbed the first one and heaved it. A loud clack reverberated through the air as it forcefully hit another rock in the growing pile. Clack, clack, clack went the rocks as volunteer after volunteer continued piling until the landscape was clear.

At noon, the group gathered around the camp’s flag pole, lining up for a refreshing drink from an orange Igloo water cooler. A tired, nameless volunteer lay sprawled out on a wooden bench.

“Hey everyone, we need to take a picture!” she shouted.

Slowly we dragged our limbs into position behind the painted red, white and blue gate for a photo op. After a few pictures, the caravan of Camp Kachina volunteers headed to the Bell County Expo Center where all the Day of Caring participants met for lunch.

When I arrived, the scene was simply amazing. Inside the main hall was a sea of sweaty, tired, hungry volunteers who sacrificed time, energy, and the comfort of air-conditioned offices for a cause they believe in.

Despite our growth over the last two years, PDI remains that same people-first company it was when I began—paying its team members who take time off to volunteer and supporting organizations who are making a difference in their communities. I, for one, am glad about it.

While PDI team members are involved with various philanthropic organizations in their communities around the world, as a company we primarily support two organizations. At our 2018 Users Conference just a few weeks ago, we announced our support for Folds of Honor, a nonprofit that provides educational scholarships to spouses and children of America’s fallen and disabled service-members. You can learn more about Folds of Honor on their website. For the last year and a half, we’ve also supported the Un-Included Club, an organization whose literacy, urban ag and leadership programs create a positive learning environment that fosters improved self-confidence and self-esteem for children. You can learn more about the Un-Included Club on their website.

Even if your company doesn’t have a philanthropy program, you can still make a commitment to be the change you want to see in your community and your world. So, do it. Get off your couch, and make a difference in the lives of those around you. I guarantee it will be one of the most rewarding, enriching experiences of your life.

Did You Know: Your Source for PDI News provided by PDI, the leader in enterprise management software for the convenience retail and petroleum wholesale markets. Discover how PDI can help you thrive in today’s digital economy.