This post was featured in Forbes.com.
What were you doing when you were 9 years old? If you were anything like me, cartoons, bike riding and pickup games of baseball were the order of the day. But for Will Lourcey of Fort Worth, Texas, community impact is a top priority. One of Hasbro’s Community Action Heroes, the enterprising young Lourcey was so moved by a hungry man on a street corner that he volunteered at a food bank with friends. The plucky gang managed to pack 6,000 backpacks with food for hungry kids. This was the start of his community serviceproject FROGs: Friends Reaching Our Goals. Up next for Lourcey: Hits and Kicks Against Hunger, a sports-based program that collected money for Tarrant Area Food Bank.
Lourcey isn’t alone. The younger generation has even more community service ideas than Gen Y. While schools often highlight excellence in academics, athletics and the arts, recognition for volunteer services hasn’t caught on in quite the same way yet. Pawtucket, Rhode Island-based Hasbro believes that these kids are making a real impact. To that end, they are a founding partner of generationOn, the youth wing of the Points of Light Institute. Indeed, the global-branded play and entertainment company has invested $5 million into its partnership with generationOn, a clear case of a company putting its corporate social responsibility money where its public relations mouth is. Karen Davis, Vice President of Community Relations at Hasbro, calls the company’s partnership with generationOn, “our largest commitment next to the Hasbro Children’s Hospital.”
GenerationOn includes a Youth Advisory Council of 14 young people between the ages of 13 and 17 with a demonstrated track record of excellence in community engagement. Tiffani Alexander, 14, of Covington, Georgia, connected the care and nurturing of insects to how we treat our fellow man. Tyler Bleul, 14, from Stamford, Connecticut, is taking the lead in presenting positive role models and mentoring. His project, A Few Good MENtors, works with kids living in battered women’s and children’s shelters throughout New York City’s five boroughs. Links of Love 2 Chains of Hope, the project of 16-year-old Zachary Odegard of Dallas, Oregon, organizes young people for community service. The volunteer community currently includes 140 participants — approximately one percent of the city’s total population. Tharon Trujillo, 16, of Plumas Lake, California, invented a new helicopter design at the age of 10 to help people in disaster areas. His group, Whooz Solutions, helps to deploy this innovative technology. These are just four members of the board, all of whom are contributing to their communities in ways that would be outstanding for people twice their age.
What were you doing in high school? What are you doing now?
These kids are an inspiration to their communities, but also an inspiration internally at Hasbro. “Helping kids find their voice through service is a very big part of Hasbro’s philanthropy,” says Davis. “Employee volunteerism is in our DNA.”
To that end, it’s not uncommon to see Hasbro employees using their four hours of community service time per month to also expose their kids to the value of lending a helping hand. More than just providing for basic needs, Hasbro believes in improving the quality of life for those most in need through its employee volunteer programs. Employees visit local shelters once a month to throw birthday parties for kids and distribute toys to needy children over the the holiday season. It’s impossible to overstate the social impact of such an undertaking; kids who are used to wondering if they’re going to have a roof over their head and a hot meal in their stomach at night get treated to something that they might have only dreamt about before.
At Hasbro, employee engagement goes far beyond the four walls of the workplace. One way that Hasbro’s community outreach goes beyond simple corporate philanthropy is through match parties for kids waiting for adoption. “It’s a chance for kids to get to know prospective parents in a casual, non-threatening sort of way. There’s a lot of game play and food. Sometimes it’s the only chance kids get to see their siblings who have been adopted.” Such a party can change the face of a child’s entire life, giving them a chance for the caring love and affection of a forever home that they’ve either forgotten about or never known. “We do this during the holiday season when everyone is tired and busy, but we wouldn’t give that party up for anything in the world. It means so much to so many people,” Davis says.
So what’s the connection between Hasbro’s broader CSR programs and the Hasbro Community Action Heroes, other than the obvious answer — kids?
Kids engaged in service act as an inspiration to Hasbro’s employees engaged in community service. Davis met a young man through Hasbro’s outreach whose father was an abusive alcoholic. “The young man slept on a couch,” she says, “It made me really sad.” But this young man used volunteerism as a coping mechanism, as a way to escape his dysfunctional family life. He later went on to graduate from Vanderbilt University. “I was so inspired by this kid and the difference that service made in his life and the lives of others,” she says. In this case, good corporate citizenship helped create good personal citizenship.
“If you can catch those kids and help them find that good feeling that comes from giving back, it can be incredibly transformative.”