CANTON — Last year, employees at Nissan Canton pledged $50,000 to the United Way. Before the year ended, the automotive assembly plant’s 4,000 workers had quadrupled that amount. Instead, Nissan employees contributed more than $200,000 to the community-based organization that brings together people with needs and the groups that support them, with a mission to improve their quality of life.
“Quite a few of our employees have used United Way agencies, so they’re very familiar with how important it is,” said Lurlene Irvin, community relations section manager for Nissan Canton. “Some work groups raise their own money and make a direct contribution. For example, one group raised almost $2,000 in cash to donate to a family at the Canton Community Stewpot. The gift was timely because the mother of the family passed away during the Christmas holidays.”
Since arriving in Smyrna, Tenn., in 1981, Nissan North America Inc. (NNA) employees have given more than $12 million to more than 200 area nonprofit organizations in Middle Tennessee through the company’s community outreach programs. Nearly half that amount has been given to area United Way programs. Because of the size of the Nissan Canton workforce, the company is already a top giver to United Way chapters in Mississippi.
“Our campaign in Mississippi has already demonstrated that we’re a lead industry in giving,” said Galen Medlin, human resources manager for Nissan Canton. “Currently, our employees give the highest level of any company in the state. We have work groups that make contributions to their favorite United Way agencies. We feel strongly about the United Way, not only giving, but also volunteer work. Our wives, for example, are also avid volunteers.
“The United Way is an excellent organization, and we’re very proud of the Mississippi chapters. We’re looking at a long history of continued support as people come along. Each year, we ask them to give their fair share and a little more. Ultimately, we will be very strong givers for United Way.”
Carol Burger, president and CEO of the United Way of the Capital Area, serving Hinds, Madison and Rankin counties, said Nissan has quickly become the company with the highest employee giving in the tri-county area.
“Nissan is very committed to the community, with employees who are generous contributors to the United Way,” she said. “It has made a tremendous difference in our community, especially with the recent economic downturn. Their contributions have given us quite a boost.”
Dan Gaudette, senior vice president for North American manufacturing and quality assurance for NNA, said Nissan values charitable contributions because “the reflection of the community is also a reflection on us.”
On the educational front, Nissan Canton has expanded its financial involvement with Jackson State University (JSU). Last year, the plant contributed $30,000 as part of a $150,000 pledge.
“In addition, we gave $200,000 for an endowment — the Jackson State University Cooperative Education and Scholarship Program — the first endowment the school has ever had,” said Irvin. “That endowment was matched with an additional $100,000 from the Tom Joyner Foundation as a part of a challenge issued on his nationally syndicated radio show.”
The cooperative program is part of a scholarship endowment that Nissan established with JSU, through which students alternate semesters, beginning in the fall, working at Nissan and attending classes.
Students selected for the program also receive a full tuition scholarship while enrolled in classes. When working at Nissan, they are paid an hourly wage. The program accepts all majors from across the university campus, including students from the schools of industrial technology, engineering and business.
Some of Nissan Canton’s charitable contributions during the automotive assembly plant’s first year of operations include:
• The toy and gift drive collected more than 1,800 gifts at an average value of $15 for children and youth in Central Mississippi, totaling $27,000. More than 120 blankets, heaters and fragrance items were collected for senior citizens, totaling $1,800. The estimated total value was $28,800. A Quest van loaded with toys was presented to the U.S. Marine Corps during a live telethon at WLBT-TV studios in Jackson. Averritt Express donated a truck to deliver toys to the Mississippi Children’s Home Services, Rankin County Human Resources Agency, Madison County Human Resources Agency and the Salvation Army in Jackson.
• The Nissan Foundation provided a $10,000 grant to the Mississippi School for Math and Science to support the research of high school juniors and seniors at work sites around the state. Students conducted college-level research on breast cancer, fuel cells and hazardous waste. Graduating students participating in the research program received scholarships from as far away as Princeton University and to all colleges in Mississippi.
• About $20,000 was donated to the 100 Black Men of Jackson to support the summer program “Diversity the 100 Way.” Each week during the summer, students learned about a different world culture, which included a visit to the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians reservation to learn about tribal culture in Mississippi. The program continued throughout the school year and included a celebration of Christmas Around the World, where local residents who are native to various world cultures presented traditional Christmas meals to showcase the different ways Christmas is celebrated around the world.
• During the holidays, the families of Nissan employees serving in the Middle East received generous Christmas gifts to show support of their work for the country and for Nissan. Each child in the family was assured of receiving at least one item that they “really, really” wanted for Christmas, said Irvin.
• Nissan Canton donated $2,000 to support the State Conference of the Academic Decathlon. Teams of high school juniors and seniors competed in 10 events for academic medals that included competition in history, economics, mathematics and other areas.
• Donations toward the pledges to Mississippi institutions of higher learning continued with $30,000 each to the Mississippi University for Women, to support the Nissan Auditorium; Mississippi Valley State University, to support the “Valley of Scholars” program; Delta State University, to support Nissan Superintendents’ Academy; Alcorn State University, to support scholarships for environmental science and industrial technology; and to Tougaloo College, to support its Fiscal Affairs Office. (This year is the last year for Nissan’s installment to Tougaloo College.)
“In addition to the economic impact Nissan is making in the state of Mississippi, we are strongly committed to being a good corporate citizen in our community,” said Irvin. “Nissan will continue making corporate contributions that focus on the areas of education and community service. We have a sincere desire to be a part of the community that we live in, as well as a world-class automobile manufacturer.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at email@example.com.