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Local Businesses Have Strong Tradition of Generosity in Community

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Two years ago, Kimberly Summy posted a comment on Facebook asking her friends and family to collect used cleats for the high school football players she works with at Anacostia High School in Washington, D.C. Summy, a certified athletic trainer, soon received an e-mail in response from Chuck Bollweg, co-owner of League Outfitters, a sports gear retail store based in North Laurel.

“Chuck e-mailed me right away and sent about dozen pair that year,” said Summy. In 2015, Bollweg offered to provide cleats for each of the players on the team.

Summy said Bollweg has made a huge difference for the young athletes, who receive brand new cleats for free from League Outfitters. “Working in southeast D.C. with an underserved population has its struggles,” she said. “It takes the generosity of organizations like League Outfitters to recognize the struggle and step in to provide a helping hand.”

In 2015, League Outfitters extended its offer of cleats to the entire state of Maryland. “I am proud to say we were able to fill every request we received from every high school football coach,” said Bollweg.

Finding a Niche for Giving

In addition to donating their products, businesses often tie into ongoing charitable events within the community, then find a unique role over several years of participation.

Martha Clark, owner of Clark’s Elioak Farm in Clarksville, looks forward to the farm’s participation in Howard County’s Cherrybration Days to honor the beauty of springtime cherry trees and help raise cancer awareness by benefiting the Claudia Mayer/Tina Broccolino Cancer Resource Center. The farm has expanded its role over the years, and now has a themed day during which all kids get a free hayride if at least one person in the family is dressed as a pink princess. Kids also can dress up in princess gowns at the farm for a photo opportunity with “Princess Cherrybella.”

The farm designed its participation in Cherrybration in a way that fits the farm’s setting, said Clark. “We look forward to it every year because it’s a way of benefitting the cancer resource center in a fun way,” she said.

The Columbia-based accounting firm Berman Goldman & Ribakow also contributes to many of Howard County’s longstanding good causes, said Angela Pueschel, director of marketing. “We look forward to giving back each year with contributions toward the Howard County General Hospital, Howard County Chamber of Commerce, local school supply drives and around the holidays through Home Instead’s Be a Santa to a Senior and Toys for Tots.”

There are many organizations that make the community a better place — and they need business partners, pointed out Tom Burtzlaff, president of CMIT Solutions in Columbia. “We connect the Howard County Chamber, Leadership Howard County, Rotary and Making­Change, a local nonprofit,” he said. “These four organizations focus on ways to make our county and its residents better, and they have different approaches on how to do that.”

Burtzlaff recommended really finding out what a community organization does — and then getting involved in an event or with volunteer work. “Just giving money is easy, but getting really involved is much more rewarding for everyone,” he said.

‘Making a Huge Difference’

When helping people in his community, Richard Dean, owner of Environmental Systems Associates, said he finds it very easy to let his employees do what they do best: provide solutions to make customers comfortable. The residential heating and air-conditioning contractor donates its services to The Arc of Howard County, a nonprofit that, among other services, operates about 30 group homes in the county for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“We find that this has very little impact on our bottom line while making a significant difference to people — plus they do not have to go searching for a contractor every time something crops up,” said Dean.

Environmental Systems Associates, based in Columbia, also works with Rebuilding Together Howard County, a nonprofit that provides free home repairs to low-income families in Howard County. Dean recalled one of many people his employees have helped. “It made a huge difference to the young lady trying to raise two children. She had no heat — and she needed what, to us, was a simple repair.”

Dean recommended Rebuilding Together because the nonprofit screens applicants — “something that is very time-consuming,” said Dean. “It helped us place our resources where they are most needed.”

Hiring With Meaning

William Stone, president of Mobern Lighting Company, in Laurel, is well-known for training and hiring employees who might be considered “high-risk” for a variety of reasons.

“We actively have people on our staff from reentry programs, homeless shelters, college internships and are currently putting in place a program with Arc of Howard County to bring on board people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” he said. “All of this allows me to focus my efforts in areas that help the community and help my business while staying aligned with my personal values.”

When Stone advises other businesspeople on how to get involved with their community, he recommends they think carefully about what’s truly important to them. “Based on my experience, I would recommend they pick a few core areas that are important to them on a personal and professional level and then search out organizations that align with those values,” he said.

When business owners closely align their values with their efforts in “giving back,” those efforts can even expand to become an entity outside the business itself. Brian Jolles, CEO of Jolles Insurance, in Ellicott City, founded We Promote Health, a nonprofit organization committed to building a healthier county. His Saturday morning “boot camp” fitness program at Centennial Park has become popular for people of all ages.

For Jolles and his employees, being involved in a company that serves a higher purpose changes their feelings about what it means to come to work each day. “Imagine a workforce of employees that show up to work each day knowing in their hearts and minds that they are part of something bigger than themselves and bigger than their company,” he said.