Archive for April, 2010

Thanks MNN for Spreading the Word!

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

MNNlogoIf you haven’t found Mother Nature Network yet, you really need to check it out.  The site’s stated mission is to “Improve Your World,” using the term world in the broadest sense  – not just the planet, but your family, lifestyle business and community as well.  Under that umbrella the site covers a range of daily breaking news as well as a lot of great in-depth reporting on everything from sustainable business practices to healthy cooking.  I also love the photo essays.

While I enjoy the site every day, I’m thrilled today that MNN has posted a guest blog from me about the importance of green building for families living in modest homes.  I truly appreciate their help in getting out the message that responsible building protects pocketbooks, people and the planet.  I hope you’ll give it a read and let me know what you think.  If you agree, please help us spread the word too!

What do Admins’ Day and Earth Day have in Common?

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

I found a certain amount of irony this week when we celebrated both Administrative Professionals’ Day and Earth Day on consecutive days.  I know what you are thinking – that I’m going to say that I think both of these are “Hallmark holidays” created by greeting card companies to encourage sales.  If that’s what you thought, you really are a cynic.  That’s not it, but I do think that these days are just reminding us of what we should be doing year-round.  In fact, I think it’s a little sad that we need a day to remember how important the people who help us through our work days are and the amazingly complicated planet we live on it.  Maybe because they are so familiar, we just take them for granted.

For those of you who are interested, here’s a little history.  Although when you search “administrative professionals day” on the internet, the first result is for a florist, it was in fact created to encourage more people to consider becoming secretaries.  In 1952, a publicist for the International Association of Administrative Professionals came up with the idea of “secretaries day” to draw attention to the enormous potential offered by an adminstrative career.  Today, the IAAP stresses that it is the sole sponsor of the day, which it believes serves to highlight the “increasing value and contributions of administrative professionals in today’s workplace.”

Earth Day, on the other hand, was the idea of a politician, Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin.  According to his telling, Nelson first thought of bringing environmental conservation to the political fore in 1962 and he soon asked then-President Kennedy to conduct a national conservation tour.  Kennedy led the tour through 11 states in 5 days, but it did little to catalyze public or political concern for the environment.  Nelson had to wait 8 years until the spring of 1970 to celebrate the first Earth Day, which was an overwhelming success with 20 million people participating in local activities focused on the environment.  Who can imagine how many school children, corporate workers and families are participating in today’s fortieth anniversary activities around the globe?

So you see, there’s a huge appetite among us to pause to think about what we enjoy every day, whether it’s the blessings of a beautiful spring day after a long cold winter or the fact that you got your project done and out by the deadline because of the help of an administrative assistant.  It’s just that we forget sometimes in the bustle of the day to give thanks for the good things we have.  This week, while I’m recognizing the contributions of the assistants in our office and the many wonders of nature, I also want to thank the IAAP and Senator Nelson for reminding us to appreciate what we’ve got – while we’ve still got them.

Paying Volunteers say “Thank You New Orleans!”

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

Be glad that you aren’t sitting next to me – I’m tired, sweaty and smelly… and I feel great. I just got back from a Habitat for Humanity site where we worked on 5 different houses. All told, dozens of people who work with The Home Depot’s marketing, advertising and online teams essentially built a house – albeit not all in one piece. We did different work at different houses: at the first, laying the cement block foundation; second, building the floor system; third, framing a three-bedroom, one-bath home; fourth, siding an entire home and starting to paint it; and finally, nailing shingles on the roof and completing some framing inside. WHEW!

foundation

While these days of working in a community – beside colleagues, neighbors and in this case, the future owner of the homes we were building – are always meaningful, I think all of us were particularly inspired because we are in New Orleans as the fifth anniversary of Katrina approaches. Even as we sweated to bring these new homes out of the sandy ground, across the street decrepit and abandoned homes seemed to be staring at us through glassless windows. No one having stepped foot in them since the storm blew through over four and a half years ago.

The point I want to underscore though is not where we are, or what we did, but who was there. The Habitat staff was organized, professional and easy to work with, and the future homeowners were quietly excited, but perhaps a little overwhelmed. There were quite a few people who work for The Home Depot, but the vast majority of the volunteers are employed by the companies The Home Depot has hired to help its marketing and advertising efforts. These are men and women to whom “building a deck” doesn’t involve hammering nails, but instead means creating a powerpoint presentation. And not only did they travel and give their day to help someone they didn’t know, they even made a financial donation to do it.

roofing

Now, I’ve worked for large corporations for my entire adult life (How long is that? Long enough!), and I understand that sometimes it’s hard to see that real, breathing human beings with emotions and compassion make the decisions for these organizations. But I wish you could have seen the companies working through these people today. From early this morning, my goal for the day was to make sure these paying volunteers had a good experience and knew that we appreciated the time and money they were giving. Instead, I spent the day being thanked by others for giving them an opportunity to help this community where they don’t live and to help families they will probably never see again. The statements were gratifying: they told me that they would remember this day for a very long time, that it was the best corporate event they had ever attended and that when they get home they were going to take their families to do something in their community. In fact the only “complaint” I heard was that they didn’t get the chance to work hard enough.

wallraising

As the media stories start to gear up this summer about the five years that have passed since Katrina struck and the progress, or lack of progress, that has been made, I know I’ll remember what I experienced today: a neighborhood with amazingly strong people trying to reclaim their homes and a gracious community allowing scores of strangers the opportunity to help others and to give of themselves.

Hiring the “Disabled”- Who’s Really being Helped?

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

I’m very glad to have returned to sunny Atlanta after spending a couple of days in rain-drenched New York this week.  Don’t get me wrong, I always enjoy time in Manhattan – for the people watching if nothing else – but fighting for a cab in a NY downpour is not a skill I’ve mastered as a native-born Georgian.  Despite the dreary weather, I had a series of productive meetings about a variety of aspects of the Foundation’s work, but what I keep thinking about is some time I spent in a Home Depot store with several intellectually disabled associates.  They were hired through a program called Ken’s Krew (a/k/a Ken’s Kid’s), named after Ken Langone, one of the co-founders of The Home Depot and  the person who originally funded the organization.  Through Ken’s Krew, The Home Depot employs associates who have a variety of intellectual and developmental disabilities in about 55 of our stores.  The Foundation is proud to be able to provide significant grant support to the organization to help fund the job coaches who train the employees when they are hired and then provide support as needed after they get settled into their jobs.

As I type the word “disabilities,” I can’t help but hesitate a bit.  The three men I met yesterday obviously had very different skill sets, but they were also very clearly employees who are valued by their managers and are making significant contributions to the teams in their stores.   “Andy,” was a tall young Asian man, who had just received a platinum award for providing outstanding service to his customers, having moved through the silver and gold levels of recognition.  If I had come across him while shopping as a customer, I doubt I would have realized he had been hired through any kind of “special” program.  “Michael” in the garden department, however, has more difficulty communicating and wouldn’t look me in the eye while we talked. He did tell me, however, that he has won several gold medals in swimming at the Special Olympics.  He knew, though, how to help customers find what they wanted in his department and was very proud (as he should be) of the way his aisle and the plants looked.  Michael told me his supervisor liked him because he was always there when he is supposed to be and would always do whatever needed to be done.  What more could any employer ask of someone who works for them?  My conversation with Michael was brief because he was anxious to get back to helping customers.  Finally, “Jim,” a six-year associate who helps customers out of the store with their purchases.  He came across as a real New Yorker – a little gruff, a little cocky – picture Danny Devito with an orange apron.  He recently visited the Home Depot store where he was originally hired before he transferred to this store, and they asked him to come back to work there.  He said he liked his current store because everyone was nice, and it was an easy train ride for him.  He lives with his parents, but was very proud that he got to his job independently.

The Home Depot is certainly not alone in hiring intellectually and developly disabled people.  Whenever we talk about these employers, though, the discussion is often about the service the companies are providing to individuals who wouldn’t otherwise be able to find employment or have a structured and productive way to spend their days.  I’m pretty sure, though, that The Home Depot and any other such employer is getting much more than it is paying for.  Not only is this a great community outreach program that shows that the company has a heart, it is also a way to build morale by showing the associates that they work for a company that they can be proud of.

More importantly, though, the company is recognizing the skills of someone who is defined by their lack of skills.  This may sound trite, but that may be because it is true.  Each of the associates I met had different strengths, ranging from having an engaging personality and enjoying helping customers to being dependable and keeping the racks of seed packets in order to having the physical muscle to help customers out with heavy products.  Because of that willingness to define people by what they can offer rather than what they can’t, we create a place where our associates and our neighbors can feel good about coming.  By any measure, I think that’s quite a return on the investment.