Back from a demanding and sometimes difficult five-day service project in Saylersville, Kentucky, all 21 volunteers from Briggs Bunting & Dougherty LLP (BBD) in Philadelphia would do it again if they had the chance. For Barbara Kelly, head of recruiting and director of human resources, "It was the most physically challenging and humbling experience of my life. At the end of the day we would get together for dinner and swap stories about our day. It was a kind of reality check. You ask yourself, how did I get so lucky?"
The BBD teams slept in bunk beds, four to a room, and had some hot water – not a lot - said Erin McClafferty, marketing director, "But people really got along. Our managing partner, Michael Boyle was impressed that the group got along so well and bonded so well."
"After the 10 hour return trip I thought people would get out of the cars and scream 'freedom,'" Barbara Kelly said, but by the time I got home I had three e-mails asking to get together on Saturday evening."
The group had no cell phone coverage during the day, but they checked e-mail at night. One of the principals had a report fedexed to him. But when they were out on their sites, without phones and handhelds, they could be focused on the job, something that doesn't happen all that often on a normal workday.
"I hope our experience energizes others to find ways to give back," says Marc Fisher, a BBD principal. "Even if everyone finds just an hour to give back — how much better this world could be."
Partners in the mid-sized firm had given their full support to the project. An earlier report on AccountingWEB described planning and preparation efforts as volunteers worked long hours to finish projects ahead of time and arranged for backup from colleagues who could not make the trip.
Barbara Kelly, Erin McClafferty, and Nicole Rosso, tax manager, shared their experiences with AccountingWEB. Here is some of what they said:
Nicole Rosso – "Our team built a wheelchair ramp. We met the woman who would be using it and we could see how grateful she was. She was still able to walk the ramp but would need a wheelchair soon, and was unable to use steps. We finished our project in two days and joined Erin's group, who needed the help. They had the biggest project. I was the only woman on our team and we had decent skills."
Erin McClafferty – "Where we worked, there was no shade. It was 90 degrees for the first two days and then it rained the last day. We constructed a porch and wheelchair ramp for an elderly disabled gentleman and his wife, who are living in a trailer. It was standing on the side of a cliff on rocky soil. It wasn't easy, and we had to learn new skills, but I loved the learning and the manual labor. The family was there as we worked on the project, and we came to know them and their history. They were just so enormously grateful for what we were doing. We were sunburned, and some people got poison ivy, but it was one of the best experiences of my life."
Barbara Kelly – "We constructed a wheelchair ramp for a woman who had had multiple strokes. She was still hospitalized but lives with her daughter and son-in-law. It rained all day the last day we were there, and Mr. James, the son-in law, said, 'I have heard about dedication, but really!'
"The poverty in the region is so extreme, and witnessing it is an experience that will stay with you. One thing that underscored that for me was to see that it even reaches their animals. We can feed and find water for our animals. We never question that."
A fourth team replaced the floor of a trailer which had been damaged by water, possibly in recent floods in the area.
Some of the volunteers brought skills and experience to the project but others were starting almost from scratch. Barbara learned to use an all-saw that was "so powerful it shook the whole structure. I also learned to use an electric drill and a level. I would never have acquired these skills on my own, but I am glad that I have them."
Erin bought an auger, which they left with Christian Appalachia Project, the sponsoring organization.
"I continue to be impressed that our partners were willing to contribute the money to send us there as well as donate our hours of service," she said. "We calculated that we gave over 650 hours. Most firms will contribute money or may sponsor a day of service but what we did is truly unique. We could bring friends, significant others, spouses and family members. One partner and one principal brought their sons and we could see the dynamic in the father-son relationship, could see a different side of these individuals.
"Co-workers were very supportive, taking on some of our projects and everyone, both internally and externally, were very eager to talk with us when we returned."
"I was really proud of our group's dedication," McClafferty said. "The group never lost enthusiasm for the work we were doing. Our group house, where we stayed, was bustling by about 6:15 a.m. every morning with people getting ready to go to their job sites. Even Thursday morning, when it was pouring rain and forecasted to rain the whole day, the entire group was ready to go at the regular time. We had jobs to finish Thursday - and that's what we did!"