December 21, 2009

12 Min Read
Partners for a Cause

By Cara Sievers

When times are tough and budgets are tight, corporate giving is usually one of the first line items hacked from the list. Companies are hard-pressed to stay afloat and stay profitable, causing the time and energy to volunteer for or even organize charitable giving to dwindle away to non-existence.

But that’s not the case for everyone. Many agents, master agents and carriers in the indirect channel are tapping into their giving spirit more than ever. Here are a few snapshots of some of their philanthropic activities.

Snapshot: ADVODA

Marines deliberate and inspect team purchases at ADVODA’s Toys for Tots drive.

Every year, Denver-based master agency ADVODA sponsors a Toys for Tots event in concert with the U.S. Marines. ADVODA founder and owner Ron Dunworth solicits support from the company’s suppliers and puts up some of his own money to support Toys for Tots. Last season’s participating suppliers included Integra Telecom, Lightyear Network Solutions, Level 3 Communications, PAETEC, Qwest Communications International Inc. and TMC Communications. Participants were assigned to teams and given a handful of cash, a list and two hours to go out and buy toys. Upon returning to ADVODA’s offices, each team displayed their purchases and enjoyed dinner and drinks and good-natured ribbing about who did the best job.

Representatives from the U.S. Marines served as judges, and cash awards were up for grabs for the top two teams. In the end, it was a five-way tie and all cash prizes were immediately deposited into the Toys for Tots cash jar. More than $4,000 in toys were donated, plus a significant amount of cash in the collection jar.

TMC Communications’ Ron Ireland (center) poses for the camera with ADVODA Partner Hilary Fox and Senior Partner Ron Dunworth.

“Our third annual ADVODA Toys 4 Tots event was a great success. Thanks to our vendors for providing financial support and to everyone — ADVODA employees, vendors and associates — tasked with spending the money,” said Dunworth. “Through their combined efforts we were able to contribute over 400 individual Toys to the Marine Corps Toys 4 Tots campaign. We all had a great time working together to ensure that a large number of needy kids in Colorado [had] something under the tree on Christmas morning.” 

Snapshot: Intelisys

Intelisys’ Samantha Luporini and Danielle DeCosta present McKinley Elementary School principal Sherry Devine (center) with a school supply donation.

Master agency Intelisys has a very active group of employee volunteers whose ranks regularly swell with the added participation of others at Intelisys and a slew of family members. The group typically volunteers its time twice per quarter for a wide range of charities and organizations. These include Hands Across the County, a countywide volunteer work day for various organizations; Canine Companions, a non-profit entity increasing awareness of the benefits of assistance dogs for adults and children with disabilities; Santa Rosa Creek Cleanup, which does restoration and cleanup for area waterways; The Children’s Village, a group home for local foster children; and The Human Race supporting Well Trained Horses, which is an annual walking race to raise money for local nonprofits — Intelisys chose Well Trained Horses, a no-kill rescue facility for horses in Sonoma County, as its beneficiary.

The Intelisys team paints foster children’s homes for the Children’s Village of Sonoma County.

Intelisys also does a lot of work with local schools, conducting school supply drives for elementary schools with a high percentage of low-income students. And at one local middle school, Intelisys helps maintain the Polly Klaas Garden, in memory of the 12-year-old student who was abducted from her home and murdered in 1993.

Intelisys’ Amy Konakis, Steve Konakis, Leslie Weitinger and Christina Dumlao work in the Polly Klaas Memorial Garden at Petaluma Junior High School.

“It is extremely satisfying to know you are making a difference in your community,” said Amy Konakis, senior manager, human resources, Intelisys. “This is an ongoing effort … We have never had a community presence because of the type of work we do, so we wanted to reach out in our own backyard and make a difference.”

Snapshot: Telarus

“God has blessed each of us with certain talents, abilities and resources,” said Patrick Oborn, vice president of marketing at master agency Telarus. “Although we focus most of our time using these resources to build up our own bank accounts, it’s important to recognize that it’s also our responsibility to improve the world in which we live. Telarus is and remains committed to using our people, technology and financial resources for causes that help those in need — whether it be a wounded soldier or a student who depends on the local library to access Wikipedia.”

Patrick Oborn of Telarus races in the Ironman California 70.3 triathlon with U.S. Marine Corporal Evan Morgan.

Telarus’s two main charitable efforts benefit the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In order to help the more than 27,000 military personnel wounded during the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the CAF supports athletic endeavors of physically challenged athletes by providing specialized equipment, mentoring and training to help them get back into sports. Oborn acts as a member of the fundraising team, and although he is the only Telarus employee that participates in the Ironman California 70.3 triathlon each year, Telarus employees, agents and carrier partners donate thousands of dollars for the cause. The team is shooting for $10,000 for next year’s effort.

Last year, Oborn participated in the event with 23-year-old U.S. Marine Corporal Evan Morgan, who, as a result of an explosion, lost his right leg above the knee, his left leg below the knee and his sight in one eye.

“About an hour before the race began, I saw Evan roll up in his wheelchair. I waited for him to get his wet suit on and then I popped over to him like a rock star groupie,” said Oborn. “I shook his hand, introduced myself and told him that the agents of Telarus and the telecom channel in general appreciated his service and sacrifice. He wasn’t a super-talkative fellow, but he looked back at me (with his one good eye) and said, simply, ‘It’s an honor to serve, sir.’”

In addition to Oborn’s efforts with CAF, Telarus also works with the Gates Foundation, which approached the master agent with broadband price research needed as a prerequisite to formulating a budget of the expected cost to ensure all public libraries across the country had a minimum of 1.5mbps T1 Internet connectivity. The foundation started out with the goal of helping provide broadband, but there was no way to even approximate the costs involved or to discover the locations where their money would be best leveraged. Telarus volunteered to provide carrier-neutral pricing for every library to the foundation for data T1, fixed wireless, Ethernet over copper and bonded T1.

“It was humbling to know that with all of the money in the world, the foundation came to us — a relatively tiny entity compared to Microsoft — for access to real-time broadband price quotes,” said Oborn. “There are few organizations in the world with real power to change their surroundings, but the Gates Foundation is one of them.”

Snapshot: Telecom Decision Makers

Jennifer Redmond, TDM customer assurance manager, volunteers at a Ukraine orphanage.

Telecommunications agent Telecom Decision Makers Inc. (TDM) volunteers for several different organizations from Louisville, Ky., to Guatemala and the Ukraine. Its major focus has been the Louisville Orphan Care Initiative (LOCI), whose mission is to equip Christian families to provide loving care and/or homes for the fatherless.

TDM volunteers with LOCI on a weekly basis, answering the LOCI hotline. The group also participates in soliciting donations for and filling “dignity bags” for children going into the foster care program; they also help out with quarterly events such as the back-to-school picnic, Christmas Toy Store and other seminars.

Brad Fenton, TDM director of sales, speaks with children in Pacux, Guatemala.

TDM has sent several teams on mission trips as well. In the Ukraine, they helped paint rooms, plant gardens and perform maintenance in five different orphanages. In Guatemala, TDM employees worked on the construction of a church, school and a pastor’s home, as well as facilitated several medical trips, providing dental checkups and other care.

“LOCI benefits immensely from TDM’s commitment to serve their community,” said Darren Washausen, executive director of LOCI. “They host our hotline, which includes significant time to staff it, and they mobilize their employees to help in any need … usually when the need is last-minute.”

“Volunteering allows each of us to get our mind off ourselves and focus on the needs of others,” said Robert Bowling, president of TDM. “It’s amazing how you don’t have to look that far out your door to see someone that is in need.”

Snapshot: One Communications

Massachusetts-based carrier One Communications has built a significant relationship with United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley. The company has held an annual fundraising drive each of the past three years — including efforts such as raffles, employee bake sales, donations through the Web site, volunteer efforts and an auction where vendors and employees donate services or items to be bid on by other employees — and donated 100 percent of the funds raised. The campaign usually runs for about two weeks every September. In 2008, the company raised $70,000; in 2009, it raised $53,000.

“In this difficult economy, our local communities are more desperate than ever for funds and volunteers to assist in providing health, education, counseling and income replacement services for those in need,” said Howard Janzen, CEO of One Communications. “In addition, we have had numerous employees in the past year who have faced difficult times — house fires, stage four cancer, etc. Our organization unties not only to help these individuals, but to help fellow family members, customers and friends in need as well.”

Furthermore, One Communications offers eight hours of paid time off for employees to volunteer their time in the local community — more than 500 hours had been donated in the communities where One Communications employees work and live as of June 2009.

Snapshot: USA

USA’s Steve Silverman and Gregory Gutos pose for a photo opp with Martha Chavis (center), CEO of Welcome NJ.

Agency is working closely with an organization called Welcome NJ, a nonprofit that provides workforce development services to adults and youth (14-24 years). “Our focus is to enable the individual who has social or self-imposed barriers to work learn to navigate the workplace environment to become successfully employed and retain employment,” said Martha Chavis, CEO and president of Welcome NJ. “The training emphasizes work attitude, worth ethics, cultural diversity, customer relation skills, effective communication and personal management.”

USA Phone is establishing an internship and training program through Welcome NJ for inner city residents to teach them telecom basics and marketing skills. Upon completion of the course and a 20-hour internship, participants secure a job with USA Phone, and the profits are shared with the organization.

“We are very excited to help the local community offer second chances to wayward youth and young adults making efforts to help themselves,” said Gregory Gutos, president of USA

“Welcome NJ sees the volunteer efforts of USA Phone as a partner in helping us to establish a telemarketing learning lab by providing us with their trainers,” said Chavis. “We see this voluntary collaboration as a stakeholder commitment in the community and the workplace.”


Snapshot: The Lazy Volunteer

Telecom Brokerage Inc.’s Ken Mercer and Cbeyond’s Dana Woll perfect their baggo tosses at the Toss for Tots event.

The Lazy Volunteer is not just one company in the telecom channel, but rather a collection of representatives from many. The organization started among friends as a grass roots effort to give back to the community. “The name of the organization came about from my fear that volunteering in America was being replaced by writing a check and forgetting that there are serious problems out there,” explained Keith Tomlin, national partner channel manager for XO Communications and also chairman of the board for The Lazy Volunteer. “Don’t get me wrong. Writing a check is important; but I want to encourage others to get involved.”

Joining Tomlin on the board are D.J. Fioretti from X4 Communications, Ian Kieninger from Avant Communications, Katie Else and Shane McNamara of CDW and Dallas Tomlin of AAOS.

Dave Henke of Chicago Paramedic, Keith Tomlin of XO and Bob Welker of Verizon show off the gorgeous Toss for Tots baggo trophies.

In addition to ongoing volunteer efforts, The Lazy Volunteer’s main event is a “Toss for Tots” baggo tournament held each fall to benefit Children’s Memorial Hospital Cancer Research Center in Chicago. (Baggo is a kind of beanbag toss game.) This year’s event was sponsored by XO Communications, X4 Communications, Telecom Medic, Global Crossing,, Level 3 Communications, Avant Communications, BlackBerry, US Signal, iTEMize Technologies, Shoot Photography, Wells Fargo, State Farm, Netwolves, Action Seratoma and PAETEC.

The event raised approximately $15,000 in 2008 and about $25,000 in 2009.

“It sounds so cliché,” said Tomlin, “but if everyone got involved in a charity they were passionate about even once a year, we would all be a lot better off.”

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