Best Life Podcast | Altra Federal Credit Union
Best Life Podcast | Altra Federal Credit Union
Episode 9 - Altra Gives Back Day and Volunteering
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Every year, Altra gives back to the communities we’re proud to serve by closing our offices for a day so our employees can volunteer at organizations in all of our areas. We call this day of volunteering Altra Gives Back Day and Tony Beyer sits down with Altra’s Community Relations Manager, Shawn Hauser, to discuss how the day has changed over the last couple of years and its continued importance to nonprofit organizations. Also joining the podcast to speak about their nonprofit organizations and of the importance of volunteering are Mary Jo Burgess, who is the Executive Director for CASA for Kids of East Texas (casaforkidsofet.org), and Pat Stephens, President and Founder of the Rotary Lights in La Crosse (rotarylights.org).

Transcript

(Tony Beyer)

Hello and welcome to the Best Life Podcast where we here at Altra Federal Credit Union are helping you live your best life. I’m Financial Wellness Coordinator Tony Beyer and we appreciate you being here with us today. Last month, nearly 500 Altra employees took a day off work to volunteer at many different nonprofit organizations in the communities we’re proud to serve. That day is called Altra Gives Back Day and we wanted to talk more about it and just how important volunteers are to nonprofit organizations.

In just a moment, we’ll speak with Mary Jo Burgess from CASA for Kids in East Texas, CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates, they help children in foster care. We’ll also speak with Pat Stephens who is the founder and president of Rotary Lights here in La Crosse, but first we’re joined by a familiar voice, she was on our podcast a few months ago talking about NetGiver, the app that lets members donate to the charity of their choice, and all of the money they donate goes to that charity…we welcome back Shawn Hauser, who is Altra’s Community Relations Manager, thanks for taking the time to speak with us on the podcast Shawn!

(Shawn Hauser)

Oh, thank you for having me. I’m glad to be here and chatting with you again.

(Tony Beyer)

…and we’re so glad to have you here Shawn. I was hoping you could tell us a little bit about Altra Gives Back Day that we celebrate as a credit union on the second Monday in October.

(Shawn Hauser)

That is typically a bank holiday that Altra offices are closed and no business is transacted, and what we do is we go out into the community and volunteer for a portion of the day. When we originally started it, we volunteered for half of the day and then we had motivational speakers for the other half and it is was like that for a couple of years and then kind of had to evolve due to the pandemic. In 2020, it was monetary donations to community organizations where we serve and this year we did a hybrid where people could choose to do a project in a box at home if they weren’t comfortable volunteering in person, or they could go out into the communities, and we had a lot of employees choose that in-person option, and that’s kind of where we’re at. It was a great day, heard a lot of feedback organizations are very grateful. They’ve been going through a lot since March of 2020.

(Tony Beyer)

Yeah.

(Shawn Hauser)

So they’re very grateful for any help that they can get and the people that chose the projects in a box they were for homelessness, they were for military appreciation, essential worker appreciation, senior care kits, you know, for our nursing home. So we had a variety of things going on this year.

(Tony Beyer)

That’s great that we were able to help so many organizations in a few different ways…and we’ve been doing Altra Gives Back Day since 2018…and in addition to taking an entire day off to have all Altra employees volunteer in their local communities on that day, Altra also give employees eight hours every year to volunteer and are paid to do so, pretty cool. I know on past Altra Gives Back Days I’ve helped put on a Reality Checks at Central High School in La Crosse and also we’ve done one at La Crescent High School over in Minnesota, received positive feedback from the students and teachers on that. That simulation is great to give students and experience in what it’s going to be like when they’re on their own, you know, they’re going to have an income, family, all these unexpected things that are going to happen, and Shawn, I was hoping you could tell us a little bit about the feedback you’ve received and what has the response been like from nonprofit organizations and volunteers over the years for Altra Gives Back Day.

(Shawn Hauser)

Yeah. It really is heartwarming to see especially this year, even our employees. They’re so happy to be back together and to be doing something as a group because we’ve been so disconnected and separated and this year the feedback from the employees, just the photos I’ve seen, the smiling faces and it’s just really been a great year to see that and It really does make me feel good, I think it makes a lot of our employees  feel good, no matter what they did that day. It’s all about giving back and that’s all about what the credit union and what Altra is all about.

(Tony Beyer)

I agree, that’s excellent! Thank you Shawn, we really appreciate you being on the podcast and we wanted to welcome in, via video, Mary Jo Burgess, she is the Executive Director at CASA for Kids of East Texas, it was one of the many of the organizations that Altra helped on Altra Gives Back Day back on October 11th…welcome to the podcast Mary Jo!

(Mary Jo Burgess)

My pleasure

(Tony Beyer)

Great! Mary Jo, tell us a little bit about what is CASA for Kids and what it does it do for children there in the Tyler, Texas area.

(Mary Jo Burgess)

We are appointed by the family court services Guardian ad Litem for children that have been removed from their homes due to abuse and neglect. So we work directly with those children, we assess their needs, we look at their case history, we talk to teachers, medical professional, counselors, siblings, foster care providers, the parents, any kinship people, and then we gather all that information report that back to the court.

(Tony Beyer)

So, how many volunteers do you have there helping with this important mission?

(Mary Jo Burgess)

We have over 200 volunteers. We are always looking for more because the number of children that need our services continues to grow in our community.

(Tony Beyer)

So Mary Jo, I was hoping you could tell us a little bit about what some of our Altra employees did for CASA for Kids on our Altra Gives Back Day.

(Mary Jo Burgess)

We had eight amazing volunteer that joined us for half of the day, and it was the day before our primary fundraising event, and this year we actually held it on our campus. We have normally hosted that at a different venue. Last year, COVID threw a big curve ball at us and we hosted it virtually. So, this was our first year of back, but your Altra staff were amazing because they came in and helped us the day before the event get ready. They created popcorn bags, mixing popcorn and candy corn, which was a big hit. They assembled decorations, they helped us set those decorations up and on our walls, they moved tables, they put drinks in ice chests. They just they were non-stop little Energizer Bunnies for us.

(Tony Beyer)

We love hearing that! How important are volunteers for CASA for Kids?

(Mary Jo Burgess)

Well, we have regular volunteers, that work directly with the kids and those are called our volunteer advocates, but supplementing them, we have many opportunities for other volunteers that can do a one-time projects such as what the Altra volunteers did, or we have other volunteers that maintain like our toy room, where all of our toys are stored for our children. We have volunteers that maintain our children’s library or continuing education Library. We’re always looking for more volunteers that can help twice a year. We have a workday at our office and we just kind of spruce it up, do some general repairs, maintenance, cleanout gutters, trim trees, and all those fun kind of things, so there’s always opportunities for volunteers at CASA for Kids of East Texas and all nonprofits really.

(Tony Beyer)

What are ways that people can help with CASA for Kids of East Texas or if people wanted to donate or help with your fundraising efforts, how are they able to do that?

(Mary Jo Burgess)

We are on the web at CASA for Kids of East Texas, we have social media, Facebook. We are about to kick off a virtual toy drive. We did this last year with COVID, and when we say virtual toy drive instead of accepting actual toys, we accept gift cards, and that in turn last our Advocate go find the perfect Christmas gift for the child because each child has different needs and they know what their needs are. So a $25 gift card to Target, or Academy,  or Barnes and Noble, or Half Price Books. The Advocate team can go find exactly what that child needs, so that’s a really unique way and inexpensive that anybody can make a tangible difference in the life of a child

Excellent, making a difference is very important, and actually CASA’s can be found in many different areas across the country…not just in East Texas…but we wanted to change gears and talk about the changing seasons and we’re joined over the phone by Pat Stephens who is the President and Founder of the Rotary Lights which is a great show if you’ve been to La Crosse and have seen it down at Riverside Park, it’s an awesome attraction, happens between Thanksgiving and New Years so I know you’re busy so thank you so much for taking time to be on the podcast Pat.

(Pat Stephens)

Happy to do it.

(Tony Beyer)

Pat, tell us a little more about the Rotary Lights in La Crosse and how it benefits the area.

(Pat Stephens)

Sure, well every year we get involved with Rotary Lights. We have approximately 100 nonprofit, organization and another 20-30 corporate Partners like Altra that help us put our workforce together that we need to put it up, take it down, create builds, fix repairs, whatever, has to be done and when you add it all up, it’s about 3200 volunteers from the community that make Rotary Lights Go. We have no payroll, it’s all volunteers to get it done and I’m pretty proud about that in way that it has grown over the years. Our main mission is to feed the hungry, and we think we’ve done a pretty good job of that. In 1995 when we got started, we collected 17,000 food items and we gave them all to the Salvation Army, which they were pretty pleased with, and we were very happy to get that done. Last year in 2020 we collected 340,000 food items, and distributed that and 14 different food pantries in the Greater La Crosse Area. So, we really do think that we make a big dent in feeding the hungry in the area and we’re happy to do it.

(Tony Beyer)

That’s great, and Pat, do you remember, what were some of the things that, that Altra employees did on Altra Gives Back Day to help the Rotary Lights?

(Pat Stephens)

Well, we love the Altra employees and we love their giving back the always includes the Rotary Lights as well. They are one of the few organizations that comes in, they roll up their sleeves, and tell us what we got to do, they get right to it. I’ve never heard one complaint from any of them. Some of it is not the most desirable efforts, some of it’s kind of dirty work. Sometimes it’s painting, sometimes it’s cleaning, or whatever might need done. They just roll up their sleeves and get it done. Usually they work in two shifts, One shift coming in the morning, the other shift coming in the afternoon. There will be eight to ten people per shift, they get a lot done and we are very appreciative of the effort they put forth.

(Tony Beyer)

Excellent. How important are volunteers to the Rotary Lights in La Crosse?

(Pat Stephens)

No, it can be done and over the years, now, we can lay claim to helping 14 other communities in Wisconsin and Minnesota getting a Lighting Display started in their area. None are as large as ours and, of course, none are as nice as ours either. We have given a lot of information to them on ways they can that they could get the lighting that show started. We’ve shared budgets with them, insurance with them, storage with them, we even have some seminars in our building on how they can build their own animated displays, and first to do all that, we only ask two things: one that they be a nonprofit organization and secondly that they have feeding the hungry as your main priority. So when we boast of 340,000 food items being collected during our Rotary Lights lifetime is we also can add 14 Other communities that are doing the same and collecting great sums of food at those other places as well. It’s a pretty neat arrangement.

(Tony Beyer)

That’s a fantastic mission and wanted to let you know that Altra Federal Credit Union will be volunteering with the Rotary Lights on December 11th and I know our employees always look forward to doing that, even in the cold, it’s a very worthy cause.

(Pat Stephens)

Well, I just extend my appreciation once again to Altra for their help with it, You know they’re also financial contributors that help us with the project as well in addition to the grunt labor that they supply every year.

(Tony Beyer)

To learn more about the Rotary Lights in La Crosse and how to get involved or to donate, visit rotarylights.org

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In this episode of the Best Life Podcast we were joined again by Altra’s Community Relations Manager, Shawn Hauser. Mary Jo Burgess, the Executive Director for CASA for Kids of East Texas also joined us via video chat, and a very busy Pat Stephens, the Founder and President of Rotary Lights in La Crosse took the time to be on the podcast over the phone.

Well, that’s going to do it for this episode of the Best Life Podcast presented by Altra Federal Credit Union. We appreciate you taking a moment to learn how you can live your best life. If you have a question or a topic you’d like us to cover, shoot me an email at: [email protected] and who knows, it may even make it into a future episode. Don’t forget to follow the Best Life Podcast pretty much wherever you get your podcasts or find it on our website at altra.org. Thanks again, be well, and we’ll talk to you again soon.