It’s not surprising for your employer to send you back to school. But then, it’s not usually grade school.
In 2014, Jai Kately was a contractor for Mercedes-Benz Financial Services, the captive financial services division of Daimler AG in the United States. When he heard about the company’s annual Week of Caring, which gave team members the opportunity to volunteer for organizations in their communities, he was pretty impressed. Learning that the opportunity also included contract staff exceeded his expectations.
"I was honored to be able to participate in this volunteer activity as a contract employee,” he said. “Then I saw Sagamore Hill Elementary on the list and I said, ‘Hey, I went to Sagamore Hill!’"
So Kately found himself back in his old neighborhood, passing the house he grew up in, and walking into his old school, where he helped build bookshelves for the students to take home and read to a pair of second graders, Luis and Angel. Within a few weeks he was hired on by Mercedes-Benz Financial Services, and just as he has continued to volunteer at his old school, the company has continued to support that volunteer work.
It’s one example of the broad commitment Mercedes-Benz Financial Services has to corporate social responsibility, both in the cities where they have their main presence–Dallas/Fort Worth and Metro Detroit– as well as in their field operations throughout the country. Greg Ruvolo, manager of community relations, said the company’s philanthropic philosophy focuses on four areas: arts and culture; community enhancement; diversity and inclusion; and education.
“As a company, we believe that it is our responsibility to make a difference in the communities where we live and work, said Ruvolo. “We look beyond just sponsorships to build true collaborative partnerships with non profit community organizations. Equally important is empowering our team members to get involved and contribute to helping the people and communities they serve.”
This is why Mercedes-Benz Financial Services often lets its employees have an active voice when it comes to selecting the organizations the company supports. While there are primary partners the company works with–Habitat for Humanity, City Year, the Sphynx Organization in Detroit and Real School Gardens in Fort Worth to name just a few–Mercedes-Benz Financial Services also understands that its field agents located across the U.S. are invested in their communities and know where the greatest impact can be made.
“We are committed to creating life-changing experiences, not only for our employees but for our community partners and beyond,” Ruvolo said. “Volunteers are often very moved by their volunteer experience. Whether it’s packing food, planting trees or using a skill set from their professional experience to support an organization – for example, financial literacy programs – many of our volunteers return to the community partner on their own time to get further involved.”
Last September during the annual Week of Caring, nearly 1,100 employees of the two main campuses volunteered 7,000 hours of service, organizing 40 projects with 23 nonprofits. In addition to this, every employee also has the ability to use a paid “Individual Volunteer Day” to work with a community organization of their choosing.
But the volunteerism is certainly not limited to just these activities in the main business locations.
Mary DiGennaro-Latina, a dealer relations manager in the Northeast Region for the Philadelphia and Baltimore market, has been with the company more than 16 years. Last year, she was invited by a local City Year group to see how they’d been using previous Mercedes-Benz Financial Services donations at Beeber Dimmer Middle School.
“When I walked in there, my life changed,” said DiGennaro-Latina. “I went through the tour and these 22-year-olds were telling me how they try to motivate the kids to come to school, how they stand outside and cheer them on. I felt like I had come to this school for a reason, there was something I needed to do here.”
She went back out to her car and called Ruvolo, told him about her experience, and he simply said: “What can I do to help?”
DiGennaro-Latina swung into action, getting friends and family to help fill backpacks the company provided with school supplies to be distributed in he area.
She also reached out to brand partner Mercedes-Benz USA to arrange a career day at the school, and organized Pi Day activities for students on March 14.
Her efforts did not go unnoticed. DiGennaro-Latina was nominated by her coworkers for the company’s annual volunteer recognitions and she was presented with the President’s Award for Volunteer of the Year. That award came with a donation to a charity of her choice, and she chose the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh because a coworker’s daughter had received treatment for cancer there. The recognition and the opportunity to give funds to another deserving cause are still cause for a little amazement to her.
“I can’t believe we have an award for this, because it’s something I do from my heart,” said DiGennaro-Latina.
Ruvolo said the work of employees like DiGennaro-Latina and Kately is inspiring. For the employees, the same can be said of the backing they get from their company.
This is the third year that Kately, who is a subject matter expert in commercial vehicle collections, will go back to Sagamore Hill Elementary for the Week of Caring. He has kids of his own the age of the students, and he remembers what it was like growing up in a disadvantaged neighborhood. He’s pleased to be able to give the current students a chance at opportunities he didn’t have growing up.
“It’s pretty amazing to be able to give back to the community I was raised in for 25 years, where my mom still lives,” he said.” For my company to support me in doing that, it really means a lot.”