By Deanna C. White
The staff at Jordan & Company, Chartered in Pocatello, Idaho, could have taken a few days after the September 16 tax extension filing to tidy up the typical post-deadline clutter at the office. But instead, employees spent their "downtime" sprucing up an entirely different type of habitat.
On September 19, CPA Maureen L. Holman and eight of her fellow staff members at Jordan & Company grabbed some rakes and shovels and spent the day pulling weeds and clearing out underbrush in the grizzly bear compound at the Pocatello Zoo.
Holman said that while many CPAs are already serving their local communities as individuals, the ISCPA Community Service Day provides them an outlet to join forces as a profession to help others.
"Giving is just part of what we do. Service is a very important part of our mission, and the Community Service Day allows us to unite as CPAs to serve and celebrate that spirit", Holman said. "It's a way to show people CPAs are not the people sitting behind the green eye shade in the corner. We are out there actively improving our communities."
Holman, who is also the director of the Southeast region of Idaho for the ISCPA, said the idea to create a statewide community service day came from the ISCPA Board's new president, Farrell Steiner.
Holman said the ISCPA Board itself has always been very active in community service efforts, but Steiner encouraged them to expand their charity efforts into a project that would allow all members of the society to participate.
The ISCPA now joins several state CPA societies across the country, including societies in Illinois, North Carolina, Virginia, and Ohio, among others, that sponsor annual community service days.
"When Ferrell came up with the idea, we really just took it and ran with it", Holman said. "I think one of the reasons the idea really caught on is people realize that volunteering together as a firm boosts team building and morale among employees."
Holman said Community Service Day brings together service-minded CPAs to assist people in their own communities and provides a ready-made volunteer opportunity for those who want to serve but don't know where to begin.
On September 19, those service-minded CPAs, along with their friends and families, turned out to launch the event – fanning out across the state of Idaho to help a diverse array of nonprofits in their own backyards.
Volunteers baked treats for the local Ronald McDonald House, partnered with students from Boise State University in a bottle drive for Usful Glassworks, sponsored a sock drive for the Boise Rescue Mission, worked in the Palouse Habitat for Humanity Surplus Store, and volunteered at the Idaho Youth Ranch, among other activities.
Homan said individual firms coordinated with local agencies to select deserving nonprofits throughout the state in need of volunteers. Jordan & Company, for example, coordinated its service project through the United Way. Each individual CPA, or firm, chose the local charity that best suited them.
"It was really important to us that each firm had the chance to pick its own volunteer opportunity, because just as different communities in the state have a different focus and different needs, each firm has its own identity or issue that is important to the firm", Holman said. "We wanted firms to be able to do something unique for their communities."
The word "unique" certainly describes the activity Jordan & Company employees chose – tidying up the landscaping at the grizzly bear compound at the Pocatello Zoo.
"The Pocatello Zoo has a new grizzly bear exhibit. It's a very natural habitat with a stream running through it. It's a big area that requires a lot of upkeep, and the zoo relies on volunteers for things like pulling weeds and other manual labor to maintain it", Holman said. "When the United Way suggested the zoo, we thought it would be perfect for us, because we wanted to do something physical, something outdoors, where we could bring our families."
Holman said helping out at the zoo was also the perfect way to assist a community organization.
Holman said the Jordan staff enjoyed a day outside together, far away from desks, spreadsheets, and deadlines, cleaning up the compound – all under the watchful eye of Stripes the grizzly bear, who watched the efforts from her nearby enclosure.
"We felt like we had an observer the entire time", Holman said. "Except when she was napping."
Holman said the actual experience of volunteering together definitely supported the volumes of research which suggest group service projects create greater camaraderie among coworkers.
"I felt it was a great team-building experience for our firm. We had the chance to work together on something outside of our comfort zone, and we learned things about each other that we hadn't shared at the office", Holman said.
But ultimately, Holman said, the proof of the success of the ISCPA's first community service day is in the volunteers' immediate willingness to participate again next year.
"People are already suggesting ideas for next year's project", Holman said. "We'll definitely do it again!"