Financial Firm Tells Employees: Volunteer On Us

By Al Parker

A Traverse City investment firm is offering its workers the opportunity to volunteer at sites around the globe at no cost to the staffers.

Financial & Investment Management (FIM) Group will pick up the tab for workers who will commit to volunteering at sites in Kenya, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Uganda or South Africa, according to Paul Sutherland, the firm’s president and chief investment officer.

FIM Group will pay the workers’ salaries, airfare, medical expenses for vaccinations, all other trip expenses and placement fees, explained Sutherland. It will even give the staffers a little extra spending cash.

The volunteers will work in one- or two-week long programs and projects that mostly impact children, according to Sutherland, who has been a volunteer for most of his life.

“When people ask me about my volunteer trips, I almost feel embarrassed to chat about it,” he said. “It’s as if to talk about it would take away from its specialness. I have held AIDS orphan babies, rocked a three-pound, week-old baby girl found in an open latrine, painted schools with children and consulted on business opportunities … I must admit, I do believe that simply the act of hugging an orphan, who sadly lost his parents, is transformative for that child.”

The program is operated by the Utopia Foundation, which was founded in 2007 and launched its volunteer program earlier this year specifically to arrange volunteers to address community needs in a personal, honest way. While declining to put a specific number on it, a number of employees have expressed an interest in volunteering, Sutherland said. The first trips are expected to begin early in 2015.

“The goal is to help create a world where communities thrive and every child goes to bed feeling nourished, loved, happy and hopeful about tomorrow,” said Sutherland. “Personally, I believe that helping children who are starving to death, who are worried about where they’ll sleep tonight, is more important than building a steeple for a church.”

Current volunteer locations and projects include:

  • Costa Rica – school teachers, tutoring, farmhand and tour guide at coffee cooperative, daycare at a children’s center and marketing at a recycling project
  • Guatemala – orphanage volunteers, street children mentoring, teaching English, school assistant, empowering women, medical assistance, stove building for families, sustainable agriculture support and reforestation
  • Kenya – teaching English, community development projects, health outreach projects, medical clinic assistance, caring for orphans, empowering women, sustainable farming projects, daycare assistance and working in slums
  • Uganda – medical care, teaching English and tutoring, sports coaching, financial coaching, agriculture education, construction projects, farm assistance, computer training and repair, library assistance and reading camp tutoring and organization
  • South Africa – working with at-risk children, assisting with social work, education and tutoring, and health care support and mentorship

Employees who are interested will undergo an interview to determine if they have any special skills or passions. After a background check, they will be matched with a project where they can make an impact. Volunteers can travel to their projects with family members or co-workers.

Each location has an infrastructure of host families where volunteers will live. Each host family has been interviewed and will provide a safe, clean, private room for the volunteers. In some locations, there is a specially-designated volunteer house where all volunteers live together.

The work schedule is typically from about 8 or 9 am until 4 or 5 pm. Volunteers will have evenings and weekends to enjoy the culture and visit local sites. The program does have a zero tolerance drug and alcohol policy. Any volunteer caught using drugs or alcohol will be dismissed immediately and all associated costs will be at the volunteer’s expense.

“I am convinced that well-intentioned virtuous humble people can make a big difference in the world, and that sincere one-on-one, person-to-person compassionate contact makes a lasting difference in peoples’ lives,” said Sutherland. “I really do believe that we are our brother’s keepers. Giving time is tougher than giving money.”