THE BLOG

Lessons From Harvey: We Can All Be A Hero To Someone

09/06/2017 13:14 EDT | Updated 09/06/2017 14:05 EDT
Marcus Yam via Getty Images

As the rain fell and the flood waters rose, those safe from the devastation that racked coastal Texas watched in disbelief as displaced mothers were forced to wade through waist-high waters with infants desperately clinging to their neck, and as chair-bound seniors held their heads above an encroaching floodplain.

The devastation sustained was historic by all measures and the scenes witnessed were heart-wrenching. But as the crisis deepened, as the flood rose to crest even bridges and attics, something remarkable was sparked by the misery the storm wrought: ordinary folk demonstrated extraordinary grace and kindness in an unprecedented private, humanitarian and relief response.

Some, still fresh with the memory of Hurricane Katrina twelve years before, towed boats from nearby Louisiana while others inflated dinghies. With thousands still trapped in their homes, these private citizens stepped into the breach as they began floating drowned streets in all manner of watercraft to save the lives of people they've never met and who couldn't possibly repay their kindness.

Asked why, they responded it was simply the right thing to do: people needed help, and it didn't matter their color or creed.

In her first television interview after the 1980 parliamentary elections, Margaret Thatcher, the former prime minister of the United Kingdom, famously said, "No one would remember the Good Samaritan if he'd only had good intentions; he had money as well."

But the tenderness demonstrated by the heroes of Hurricane Harvey, ordinary people with a unique resource that met the call of an extraordinary challenge,  proves that you needn't immense wealth to help others, only a willingness.

We're all capable of accomplishing feats of goodness, both ordinary and extraordinary. If just one person with a boat could save a hundred stranded flood victims, imagine the magnifier effect of a mid-sized business serving the communities in which it operates.

In 2015, The Home Depot piloted a basic tool skills workshop for at-risk Atlanta youth, ages 11 to 18. To teach the children tool competency, program participants learned to build a table, which was later donated to military veterans and their families through another local nonprofit's furniture distribution operation.

Other companies have taken a less direct, but no less impactful, approach to corporate philanthropy. The Bank of America awards its employees two hours of paid time per week to volunteer. Here in Atlanta, nearly half (49 percent) of the bank's employees, including senior leadership, participate in volunteer programs. On the aggregate, their pro-volunteerism program logged more than 48,000 volunteer hours in support of more than 700 nonprofits.

Bank of America and Home Depot aren't alone in paid-release time volunteer programs: in fact, more than 56 percent of companies had a similar program, according to data from the CEO Force For Good.

But a business needn't notch upwards of $100 billion in retail sales to make a profound impact.

Like the boat owners of the Gulf Coast, small and mid-sized businesses should approach corporate philanthropy with some creativity. In the same way that home improvement retailer The Home Depot launched a tools competency program, smaller operations should leverage their unique resources (primarily time and talent) to make a difference through skills-based volunteering.

Harvey's heroes taught us that we can all make a difference. They didn't need extravagantly orchestrated operations or millions of dollars. Instead, they recognized they possessed a unique resource, and maybe not much else, that could help others in a moment of need. Businesses can and should do the same.

Rick Jackson is corporate philanthropist who serves as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Jackson Healthcare.  Eric Tanenblatt chairs the public policy practice at the global law firm Dentons and served as vice chair of the board of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency the administers AmeriCorps.