By Deanna C. White
On a drizzly and blustery Sunday this October, Tricia Carlstrom and several of her coworkers from the Elk Grove Village, Illinois-based public accounting firm Porte Brown LLC, cinched up their windbreakers, grabbed their umbrellas, and headed off to the nearby Busse Woods forest preserve for a brisk 5K walk.
By the time they left the event they were soggy with rain. Their clothes were splattered with wet grass and remnants of fall leaves, and their hands and feet were red and numb from the damp early morning air.
They felt fantastic.
Carlstrom and her coworkers didn't get that warm feeling from the exercise-induced endorphins that kicked in at the end of the walk. They felt good because they had joined together as a team to contribute to a worthy cause.
The Porte Brown team, which was joined by several family members and one tenacious puggle named Tuffy, were just a few of the approximately 7,000 Chicago-area residents who turned out Sunday, October 14, for the 34th annual Ron Santo Walk to Cure Diabetes.
The walk, sponsored by the Illinois Chapter of the JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation), is the largest revenue-generating event for the Illinois Chapter, which raises $4.5 million annually.
It's the number one JDRF walk in the country.
JDRF is the leading global organization focused on type 1 diabetes research. JDRF's mission is to find a cure for diabetes and its complications through the support of research.
Carlstrom, a marketing specialist and event planner for Porte Brown, said this is the first year the firm has participated in the walk. The idea came, Carlstrom said, when volunteering at a luncheon sponsored by Porte Brown and hosted by an area newspaper, to honor the late Ron Santo on his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
"The JDRF people approached us at the luncheon with the idea of doing this walk as a firm and everything just fell into place", Carlstrom said. "We thought 'why not form a team of our employees and go to this event?' It was a way to give back to the community and a way to bring our employees together."
Carlstrom and Bruce Jones, managing partner of Porte Brown, said the Ron Santo Walk was a natural fit in the firm's overall "culture of learning", which emphasizes not only consistent and constant professional growth and education of all employees, but also the importance of giving back to the community - particularly organization's right in Porte Brown's own backyard.
"At Porte Brown, we take pride in our community involvement", says Jones. "Not only is it a good thing to do, but we have several coworkers and family members who are directly connected with JDRF. It's an honor to support this particular effort and give back to the community at the same time."
Carlstrom said Porte Brown actively encourages its staff to join associations and chambers, and the firm has participated in other volunteer efforts, such as the annual CPA Day of Service and the Roselle, Illinois-based Run for the Roses 5K walk/run which benefits the Tourette Syndrome Association.
"We want our employees to focus on giving back, and we want them to be right there involved in the effort with a personal touch", Carlstrom said.
Like many fledgling volunteer efforts, Porte Brown's first year of participation in the Ron Santo Walk started out modestly, with approximately ten volunteers. But the event had a very profound effect on that initial group.
"I think the walk really opened our eyes to a very serious cause. It made us realize how profoundly diabetes affects so many people", Carlstrom said. "Being there firsthand and seeing all these teams walking, all these people . . . it made us feel very good to participate, not just us, but all the people walking that day."
Once those core volunteers return to Porte Brown's offices with their pictures and their positive stories from the day, Carlstrom said, she's certain the Porte Brown's Ron Santo team will grow exponentially in the coming years.
"In this world, sometimes we all like to take, take, take, and we forget about giving back", Carlstrom said. "But events like the Ron Santo Walk really put things in perspective. Once we put volunteer opportunities like this in front of our staff, once we actively encourage them and support them, they always jump on board."
And that credo - the idea of moving beyond the bottom line to cultivate and foster the best in their employees and their community - Carlstrom believes, is what makes Porte Brown such a positive place to be.
"It's simply part of our philosophy", Carlstrom said. "It's what we do."