By Kayla Green, Vizient
Twenty years ago, Susan Tench hopped on a plane and flew from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Dallas, Texas, for Vizient's first Community Day. That year, she — along with the entire company — helped paint a local men's shelter, launching what would become an annual cornerstone activity in Vizient's volunteer program.
"I think they were really taken aback that the whole company was there to volunteer," laughed Tench, Vizient onboarding and employee connections director. "The whole experience was very enlightening and a ton of fun, because we were all getting to know each other while also helping such a wonderful cause."
Afterwards, employees were bussed back to the office for a catered celebratory dinner. Of course, back then, there were only a few hundred employees, but today, that number is in the thousands.
"Vizient's Community Day is truly special, and it's unlike anything I've seen anywhere else," said Jennifer Lind, Vizient senior director, ESG and social impact. "The event is a coordinated day of service nationwide where employees are so engaged and excited to volunteer, that they strategize their registration process to ensure they get their favorite volunteer site."
Lind, and her tiny team of three (herself included), organize more than 130 projects across 48 states, finding spaces for Vizient's more than 4,000 employees to participate in. They also coordinate about 160 employee volunteers who help with Community Day logistics such as handing out box lunches or helping get team members on buses.
It's an immense effort, but one that's paid off. This year alone, 2,310 employees volunteered 12,334 hours at 297 nonprofit organizations across 193 cities. And Lind says she has an actual waitlist for organizations seeking our help.
"While there are so many organizations that we want to help, we make an effort to ensure our employees continue to grow and build relationships with previous sites or nonprofits to further the longevity of partnerships as well as continue to be purposeful with our resources," Lind said. "We strive to be mindful of how Community Day connects to our North Star at Vizient — helping people and communities become healthier."
Tench has volunteered for nearly all 20 years — from Ronald McDonald and hospitality houses to high schools and shelters for the unhoused. She's made Halloween gift bags, served meals and redesigned the landscaping of a local school. During the past few years, she's volunteered for one of her favorite organizations, Bright Blessings, dedicated to serving unhoused and impoverished children.
Susan Tench (center back) and team volunteer at Bright Blessings in 2022.
"Community Day is part of our culture at Vizient. If we are helping our communities, we're helping our hospitals and our providers," Tench said. "I volunteer for Community Day each year because it feeds my soul, and I know that the service is trickling down to our healthcare providers and the patients they serve."
Other projects throughout the years have included volunteering for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Chicago, the Dallas Zoo and Mile High Rescue in Colorado, among many others. Projects span a wide range: cleaning up beaches and parks, sorting food at food banks, helping prepare or host events, caring for animals and planting trees. Employees who are fully remote, like Tench, are encouraged to participate in Community Day in their local communities and can utilize the services of Lind's team to help find an organization. In fact, of the 262 sites this year, more than 130 were independently joined by Vizient employees across the country.
Joel Castillo, Vizient director, customer relationship management business process, fell in love with Community Day five years ago. He said that his experience at Vogel, a Dallas organization that helps children cope with the trauma of being unhoused and gives parents the support they need to improve their families' lives, was so inspiring that he had to go back.
Since then, he's done everything from helping in the classroom and making "bye bags" (sack lunches for the kids) to cleaning out their shed and laying fresh mulch on the playground. He's also a classroom "birthday buddy," providing a birthday cake for each of the kids on their special day.
"What I love most about Vogel is that it gives the kids a chance to work through their trauma and shows them they're cared for," said Castillo, who volunteers there throughout the year. "For me, the volunteering isn't just about the giving, but also the receiving; the kids are so loving. The little bit I give, I get back ten-fold."
Joel Castillo (far left) and team in front of the Vogel shed they cleaned out for this year’s Community Day.
Marissa Castro Mikoy, president and CEO at Jubilee Park and Community Center, says the annual day of service is incredibly beneficial for their organization, which serves as a catalyst for community renewal and enrichment to the Jubilee Park neighborhood in Southeast Dallas.
"The relationship between Jubilee Park and Vizient has become stronger year over year. To have Vizient employees on campus is a joy and brings such a benefit to the community and to the organization because the people show up with such a lovely spirit and energy," Castro Mikoy said. "It's uplifting and incredibly powerful for our kids to spend time with volunteers from different industries and see people who look like them or have similar backgrounds and learn about their journeys."
Over the past three years, Vizient volunteers have taught forensic science via a murder mystery to Jubilee teams, painted pumpkins with the kids, created crafts for future educational lessons, chaperoned field trips, helped out with summer camps and decorated for the annual Ju-BOO-lee (that was attended by 400 people this year).
"The incredible thing is that the Vizient partnership grows and evolves beyond just Community Day," Castro Mikoy said. "When I shared some of our challenges and goals with Jennifer (Lind), she listened and connected me with others at the company. Vizient helps us achieve our big, strategic goals, and that's not something you usually see from a funder."