On a hot summer day, Kasandra Tenbarge, Director of Development at United Way of Porter County, received a call at the office. The man on the other end sounded a bit winded, but that’s because he had just pulled over on the side of the road after pedaling hard during a bike ride.
“It was Dr. Larry McAfee,” she recalled, “and he said he just had to stop and call me at that moment because he had this great idea about helping the community through our partnership and wanted to share. That is exactly what we’re talking about when we say Pacesetters,” she said.
The Pacesetters program through United Way of Porter County was launched in 2018 as a corporate responsibility initiative to help corporations meet their social responsibility goals while improving their culture and supporting their communities as well.
McAfee Animal Hospital was one of the first to sign on, followed quickly by other companies whose leaders and associates were eager to stay closely connected with their communities, and the mission of United Way of Porter County. Companies such as CSI, Hoeppner Wagner & Evans, Blachly Tabor Bozik & Hartman, Chester Inc, Meijer, 1st Source Bank, Horizon Bank, Sensit Technologies, NIPSCO, Graycor Industrial Constructors Inc., and Strack & Van Til are setting the pace for community engagement in Porter County.
It’s common knowledge that the healthiest organizations in a community are typically ones who become part of that community’s strong fabric.
“There are all kinds of studies and data around why companies want to contribute both financially and with volunteer time to their communities. When you talk to leadership, most companies struggle with how to fulfill their social responsibility commitments beyond a one-time financial commitment, and while we welcome those with open arms, the Pacesetters program is really about staying engaged with United Way of Porter County all year long,” said Kim Olesker, President and CEO of United Way of Porter County. “We are so grateful for our Pacesetters because they truly care about making a difference.”
Patrick MacCartney, Chief Data Office for CSI, said being a Pacesetter with United Way of Porter County allows the company to give back in ways that are meaningful to employees and the organization as a whole.
“We have been supporting United Way for several decades. We chose United Way as one of the top organizations company-wide to donate to because of all the local non-profits it supports,” he said. “Allowing us to touch a variety of organizations is more impactful than us picking a few. There are so many organizations that may not be known unless someone personally learned of their services. United Way bridges that gap, allowing many to benefit, which allows our dollars to touch and help many more people,” he said.
In fact, in the last year, United Way has supported 43 safety net programs, impacted more than 69,000 Northwest Indiana residents, and connected more than 7,000 volunteers to area nonprofits. All of this was made possible by the monetary and time donations fostered by Pacesetters.
“Everyone gets touched by United Way in one way or another,” McAfee said. “The nice thing about giving to United Way of Porter County is that you’re giving to a community as a whole. You’re helping a multitude of organizations. United Way helps people who need it, and whether you know it or not, United Way has helped someone you know,” he said.
Michelle Stanley, Administrative Assistant at CSI, said she thinks the culture at CSI lends itself to the mission of United Way of Porter County.
“When interviewing for my current job at CSI in early 2019, I, of course, asked about the culture and environment. A pure and genuine smile of pride came first, then a great conversation began on how CSI puts family in the forefront of its priorities and truly believes in work-life balance and encourages giving back to the community,” she said. “Now more than ever we have, and always will, rise up to better serve our communities.”
Stanley said United Way of Porter County makes it easy for CSI to be a Pacesetter. CSI offers payroll deduction to all employees to donate to United Way of Porter County.
“CSI even goes so far as to give a Fair Share Holiday, which is an extra day of vacation if you contribute 1 hour of pay per month,” Stanley said. “Kasie Tenbarge at United Way of Porter County and I worked closely together to provide CSI employees with ways to electronically designate where they want to see their charitable gifts sent in our communities. We are very fortunate to have such partners as Kasie, who make it easy for us to want to do more.”
Olesker said United Way of Porter County has metrics to positively impact complicated issues like homelessness, moving along the continuum of better care for seniors, early childhood education, and things like the mental and physical wellbeing of families.
“When you invest in the work of United Way, you are helping to move these large issues forward. Pacesetters are the unsung heroes in this arena, and we are grateful for their leadership, engagement, and willingness to set the stage for others to successfully fulfill their corporate goals in giving back to their communities,” Olesker said.
“As an organization, one of the smartest things you can do to build a healthy culture is identify the ways in which your associates want to interact with each other and their community and then serve up opportunities for them to do that,” Tenbarge said.
MacCartney can attest to this.
“In addition to donating monetarily to United Way, employees also participate in the Day of Caring activities through United Way. This brings employees together for a common cause,” he said. CSI staff can wear their CSICares shirts when they are participating in United Way activities that help the community.
Stanley said that during CSI’s week-long United Way campaign in 2019, United Way of Porter County connected them with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana, who presented a give-back opportunity that triggered excitement among employees – the Christmas To Remember Event.
“We headed over to their offices in early December to wrap many, many gifts for kids who may have otherwise not had presents. It was wonderful and inspiring to see how each person really can make a difference, and what could happen when we all come together for a greater cause,” Stanley said.
Tenbarge said that United Way of Porter County has had to pivot with the kinds of opportunities they may be offering Pacesetter companies in terms of volunteering due to the recent pandemic, but that there is no shortage of opportunities to contribute where help is most needed.
McAfee wholeheartedly agreed.
“Now, more than ever, is when we need to come together as a business community and help our neighbors. Porter County has been good to McAfee Animal Hospital and we will continue to give back to them through our participation in United Way campaigns,” McAfee said.
United Way of Porter County thanks and recognizes Pacesetters throughout the year in a variety of ways. It’s easy to become a Pacesetter, even if you don’t have a formalized corporate giving program.
“If there is a cause that is important to your employees and your organization, United Way has a way to help you make a difference in your community,” Tenbarge said.
For more information, visit United Way of Porter County online and contact them any time at: https://www.unitedwaypc.org/