Giving Day: Lab celebrates gifts of time and money

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By Roger Snodgrass

The elements smiled on Los Alamos National Laboratory’s United Way employee giving campaign Wednesday.

After recent years of wind, rain and even snow, the annual kickoff for the lab’s United Way campaign, now including a volunteer recognition event, met with mild conditions and plentiful sunshine.

“We’ve always run these programs separately,” said Debbi Worsonick, community programs officer and lab lead for the United Way and LANL Volunteer program.

“But we saw there was a real interconnectedness between volunteer time and contributed money and we wanted to showcase all the employee giving programs at one event,” she said.

Along with direct donations, the community program raises about $100,000 from special events, including food booths, auctions, raffles and a share of sales raised from the Books are Fun fair, which ends today in the Otowi building.

In another tradition, Dan Pava displayed this year’s T-shirt, with the line, “And the Geeks shall inherit the earth.”

They sell for $20 apiece and raised $20,000 last year, he said. Pava works in the Environment Division,

“Of all the service volunteers honored, Boy Scout leaders have the most fun because we get to sleep on the ground with vermin and eat ‘breakfast’ prepared by 12-year-olds, said Lowell Christianson, who volunteers with Great Southwest Council, NNM District of the Boy Scouts of America and doubles as a humorist.

Spread out on the walkways in front of the cafeteria and the National Security Sciences Building, dozens of nonprofits put up information tables and did some soft recruiting of volunteers, out for a burger or a Frito pie for lunch.

Donna Schroeder, United Way executive director, said, “We’ve been having a really good year.”

LANL’s campaign runs through Oct. 3. The full campaign runs through Oct. 30.

The idea of combining the volunteer recognition with the United Way kick-off came from some creative thinking by people in the Community Programs Office, said the group’s director Kurt Steinhouse.

“We looked around the country to see what’s working,” he said.

Laboratory employees have long been mainstay contributors to the United Way of Northern New Mexico, which serves Los Alamos and Rio Arriba counties, and they are even the largest contributor to the United Way of Santa Fe County.

Under a program instituted when the laboratory changed managers, Los Alamos National Security LLC has essentially doubled support for the local United Way campaign by matching employee contributions, up to $1 million.

To take full advantage of the match, lab employees are being asked to dig a little deeper. For the 2008 campaign, they gave $852,000.

For 2009, the campaign motto, “A million reasons to give!” has a not-so-subtle double meaning, that there are not only lots of worthy programs and individuals to support, but there are incentives not to leave any matching money behind.

“Our company will match your contribution dollar for dollar,” said laboratory Deputy Director Jan Van Prooyen, introducing the recognition ceremony. “I support United Way and would hope all of you would support it as well.”

To encourage another form of giving, the laboratory announced an incentive for employees to keep track of their volunteer hours using Volunteer Match a national program for promoting civic engagement.

According to the laboratory figures for last year, 578 employees and retiree volunteers contributed 83,774 hours to nonprofit organizations. Using a formula based on the number of hours employees contributed, LANS gave out checks for another $52,708 to 132 organizations the employees had supported.

Van Prooyen found four main categories to describe these efforts – mentoring, caring, enriching and educating.

Steinhouse described another new element in the laboratory’s philanthropic efforts this year. A new grant program will award $1,000 to $25,000 to nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organizations in the seven-county region of Northern New Mexico, where laboratory employees are currently volunteering their time.

 A total of $265,500 is available from left-over funds from last year’s community giving commitment.