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Businesses, professionals find time to give something back

If you want to get something done, the old saying goes, ask a busy person. Hardworking business and professional people all over Mississippi are proving that true every day by making time to give back to their communities. A few of them told the Mississippi Business Journal why they do it and which worthy causes they support.

Charles Doty of Jackson says Habitat for Humanity is one of the first community endeavors he became involved with and is a personal favorite. The CEO of Lextron of Jackson and Visteon of Canton says he does it for love of the city and a need to reduce substandard housing.

“We have a duty to improve the quality of life for all citizens,” he said. “Habitat makes safer neighborhoods and encourages people to do more. It’s a benefit to the city and offers a home and ministry that helps to build the family structure.”

Doty, 46, says he feels providing residents with better housing gives them a stake in the community. It offers value and enhances the community. He’s done everything with the Habitat program from contributing to hands-on building.

“I’ve done a little of it all. I’ve worked side-by-side with home owners, especially in mid-town,” he said. “It’s consumed time and resources, but it’s a good experience and one we plan to continue.”

While Doty feels he’s had to step back from some philanthropic work of late, he is about to become involved with another cause, INROADS, a national organization with a mission to develop and place talented minority youth in business and industry internships. He sees it as an opportunity to retain talent in Mississippi.

“It’s necessary to make time and be concerned about the people who live here and make up the workforce,” he said.

Brian Sanderson, a Gulfport attorney with Butler, Snow, O’Mara, Stevens & Cannada, gives much of his time to a number of community organizations.

“Youth is the main thing,” he said. “I get immediate satisfaction and see changes by working with Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the Boys & Girls Club.”

The 31-year-old serves on the Boys & Girls Club corporate board and is beginning his third year as a Big Brother, spending time once a week with a “little brother” in the program. He is also president of the Gulfport Kiwanis Club, serves on the Back Bay Mission advisory board, and leads the United Way campaign’s local governments division.

“It’s the right thing to do and creates an opportunity to make a positive impact with others,” he said. “I want to see a better community.”

He adds that it’s hard to find enough time for community involvement but his secret might be that he’s not married.

No one could be busier than Carolyn Shanks, president and CEO of Entergy Mississippi, who says that like everyone else she has issues that draw her time and feels the tug to give something back to the state she loves.

“I try to take on a start-up roll or chair an event and change it up, then pass it on,” she said. “I would like to leave where I live and work a better place and tend to be more involved with those concerns that have impacted me personally.”

Because Shanks’ mother died of breast cancer and her brother is a diabetic, she has chaired “run for the cure” events to raise funds for the American Cancer Society and the Diabetes Foundation.

“We’ve also had a great partnership with Jackson State University for Habitat for Humanity and build a house every year,” she said. “Plus, we encourage our employees to get involved in community projects where they live. We operate in 45 of 82 counties in the state.”

With a 21-year career at Entergy, this lifelong Mississippian is a leading force in the Blueprint Mississippi initiative. She co-chairs the economic development committee with Mississippi Power president Anthony Topazi.

“We hope to provide opportunities to improve the quality of life for all our citizens,” she said. “We all have an interest in doing that.”

Jim Garrison, chief operating officer of The Ramey Agency, gives back to the community on a personal and corporate level. Through a once-a-year evaluation process the Jackson-based advertising agency chooses one nonprofit and one art group to support.

This year, their focus is on Stewpot Ministries, which recently raised more than $85,000 and drew 1,000 people to its Taste of Mississippi fundraiser. Numerous community organizations have benefited from the Ramey Agency including Big Brothers/Big Sisters, New Stage, the Mississippi Museum of Art and the Jewish Cinema South Film Festival.

“Tommy Ramey (agency founder) believed in giving back to the community,” Garrison said. “It’s something that’s been instilled in us from the beginning as a part of our culture.”

In addition to the agency’s formal program of helping nonprofits, corporate policy gives each employee 40 hours of paid time off each year to do any community service of their choice. Garrison said that often the individual’s choice is different from what the agency as a whole does. He said most employees take the time in two to three hour increments. With 57 employees in the Jackson and Memphis offices performing 40 hours of volunteer work each, that’s a considerable amount of time given back to the community.

“A lot of our consultants tell us they’re not aware of any other company that would offer this to their staff,” he said. “It’s amazing to look at how many people we’ve touched.”

The 40 hours of community service, in addition to personal time off, is hands-on involvement for employees on a personal level, he added. Employees sometimes learn about organizations through pro bono work the agency does for nonprofits.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.


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