The importance of community service can’t be overstated, but Venturi, based in Huntsville, Ala., has raised the bar with the Venturi Brighter Day Employee Fund, a purely-employee funded and manned initiative. Since its inception, the fund has given back thousands of dollars and countless volunteer hours to community organizations and efforts.
The non-profit Brighter Day began in 2007, nurtured in a corporate culture of giving established by Venturi founder Mike Alvarez, who prefers to keep a low profile while pointing out the good works of his employees. The workforce at the aerospace company follows the lead set by Alvarez, who has entered the automotive sector with initiatives to prevent children dying unnecessarily from hyperthermia after being left in autos by distracted parents and caregivers. Stories of these tragedies prompted Alvarez to offer a monetary reward to the Venturi X Prize winner who could design a feasible device to prevent those deaths.
Prize winner Ben Payment named his compact invention Payton’s Charm in memory of a child who died in Florida in 2010, and now the work is being done to bring the product to market.
It’s that sort of caring attitude that has resulted in Venturi being named multiple times as a winner of the Best Places to Work competition sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce of Huntsville/Madison County.
With Brighter Day donations and corporate gifts from Venturi, the combined total invested back in the community to help those in need is approximately $1.6 million.
Derek Johns, human resources director, works closely with Sinuhe Agrinzoni and other Brighter Day leaders to keep paying forward good works. Employees opt to give financially, which allows fund administrators to allocate resources throughout the community.
“Most employees contribute through payroll deduction, and each quarter, we review applications for grants,” Johns says. “To date, we have awarded $750,000 in grants to 60 nonprofits throughout the area. Some are multiple recipients.”
The funds have been distributed in Madison, Marshall, Morgan, and Limestone Counties, but Johns says the monetary donations can’t match the hands-on work of Venturi’s skilled employees.
“Not everything is about writing a check,” he says. “For many years, we have had more than 90 percent participation in Brighter Day (there were 25 to 30 employees in 2007 when the fund began), and the company has more than doubled in size in the last two years.”
Venturi now has approximately 180 employees, the majority of whom are located in Huntsville. Johns says he’s often asked about the impressive success the company has enjoyed with its charitable program and attributes it to the early endorsement of Alvarez and other senior managers, who tipped their hats to the way employees stepped up to help fellow citizens.
“Recipients of grants cover the gamut from health care to AMBUCS, an organization that started out adapting bikes for use by children with disabilities,” Johns says. “They now are making those bikes for adults, and many disabled veterans use those.”
Employees help assemble the bicycles, as well as building wheelchair ramps to makes homes and community buildings more accessible.
“Once each quarter, employees go out, not because it’s fun but because we see a need and want to be sure it is taken care of,” Johns says. “The mission is to keep people in their homes as long as they can. Aging in place is an important aspect of society today, and we want to contribute to making that possible.”
The organization also participates in programs to combat hunger, which are run by a care center in North Alabama. Whether employees are distributing supplies or building wheelchair ramps, they are doing it on their own time as a true volunteer effort.
“We go out once a quarter and pack bags for children who may not have enough food to get through the weekend,” Johns says. “The CARE Center, an organization started by 12 churches in Madison, Ala., is one of many the organizations we have supported. We have awarded them grants and been involved in their Bags of Blessings ministry.”
Bags of Blessings, a weekend food security program, has partnered with area schools to provide meal packs to school children on free breakfast and lunch. The packs are distributed discreetly into kids’ backpacks on Fridays and help supplement nutrition through the weekend when they might not have food at home.
On its website, the Care Center expressly thanks Venturi as a dedicated community partner: “We are especially grateful to our Community Partners, like Venturi and D & F Equipment for their continued support of volunteers and financial support to this vital ministry. We appreciate you all so much for making a life-long difference and a lasting commitment to our youth.”
The bylaws for Brighter Day require assistance recipient agencies to meet two criteria. The must have formed official 501c3 status, and they must be a local organization or show that the money is being used locally.
“To date, we have not awarded grants outside the Tennessee Valley, but we hope to be able to do that one day,” Johns says. “As the company has grown, our giving ability has grown. The volunteer hours employees put in are because they are giving people who care and want to be involved. Some people are on boards of nonprofits, and some are involved in other volunteer activities. It’s a mix, but this is a very giving company. It warms my heart.”
Aside from Brighter Day’s contributions to the community, Venturi Corporate also gives, doubling down on the support, from helping children and families in need, offering assistance to the mentally disabled, and supporting schools and local charities with time, skills and money to improve quality of life.
“A lot of the dedication to giving back in this company is because of Mike Alvarez,” Johns says. “Mike is a very humble guy. He doesn’t need the limelight and doesn’t want it, but people see others giving with time, talent, and money, and it’s a healthy contagion.”