A flood in the Midwest helped LimnoTech find its charitable purpose.
by Cynthia Furlong Reynolds
From the February, 2020 issue
"We're not just a place to work and earn a wage," says CEO Paul Freedman, who co-founded the environmental consulting company in 1975 after working on water issues at the U-M. ("Limno" is Greek for "fresh water.") With projects that range from cleaning up PFAS contamination in Michigan to restoring rivers in Texas, "our firm isn't always visible within the community," he says. "But we're a part of this community, and we want to be engaged within our community."
So in 1991 the company challenged its employees to come up with creative ways to contribute to local charities. "For two years, we batted around ideas," recalls volunteer coordinator Kathy Hall. "Then in 1993, when the Midwest had widespread flooding--and water is our focus--we started a fundraising campaign to help the people affected by the floods.
"We found we really liked having a vested interest in a charitable project," says Hall, an environmental scientist. The result was what they call an "employee-seeded" giving program.
Approximately fifty people work at LimnoTech's headquarters in Avis Farms, and another twenty-five are scattered between offices in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and Minneapolis. "At the end of each year, employees submit proposals for projects they are passionate about and would like to champion," Hall explains. "We select twelve, one for each month." Often speakers are invited into the office to discuss the focus, organization, or need.
"Our priorities are to get involved," Hall says. "We like to do something together--serve a meal, rehab a house, walk in support of a cause, paddle a canoe along a river. I give Paul and our management team a lot of credit for their support. Several times the company has matched donations."
"Not everyone sponsors a charity, but everyone takes part," Freedman says. "I would guess that over the year, the majority of employees has at some time sponsored and/or helped organize at least one of the monthly charities ... We're not trying to replace people's individual giving programs or replace
United Way. Our goal is to engage the staff in community interests and feel connected to each other and the community."
Last year LimnoTech held barbecues and build days for Habitat for Humanity, then donated supplies, household goods and clothing for the home's new occupants. At the suggestion of the company's L.A. office manager, a literacy tutor, they raised money and awareness for local literacy programs. Every other April their efforts support the Humane Society; they've worn pajamas to work and been served milk and cookies while enjoying Puppy Play Time.
In 2019, they also learned about how the B.A. Rudolph Foundation works to empower women and how the Hope Clinic's Hope for Hearing program helps community members who have lost their hearing. They enjoyed crockpot soup lunches while they supported Food Gatherers, provided funds for Christmas gifts under the sponsorship of SOS Community Services, and walked in support of the Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
"One colleague's brother took his life, so we had a speaker visit us to discuss signs of suicide," Hall explains. "He came up with the idea of a silent auction for singing telegrams. Many of our colleagues joined him in the Out of Darkness Walk, in Detroit and other cities."
In addition to the monthly fundraisers, twice a month employees deliver meals to the elderly and infirm as part of Meals on Wheels. And their daily coffee and tea donations have raised more than $7,000 for other local charities.
In recent years, LimnoTech has averaged between $15,000 and $20,000 in annual contributions beyond United Way, Hall estimates. Since the program's beginning, Freedman says, employees have poured more than $500,000 into their communities--"and we have no idea how many volunteer hours have gone into projects and programs."
In February, volunteers will help out at the MISSION/Purple House homeless center. Every March, they support the March of Dimes, an event championed by an employee who lost a child at birth.
"This family has raised more than $55,000," Hall says, "and serves as an ambassador for the program."
[Originally published in February, 2020.]
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