If you experienced an unexpected and unexplained warm and fuzzy feeling emanating from Northwest Arkansas earlier this month, we may have identified the source.
That was the day when 90 employees of Fayetteville-based PR firm Mitchell Communications Group were running around the region buying books for children, paying utility bills for strangers, and committing several other random acts of kindness as part of their annual one-day community involvement program, MCG Ignite.
Each holiday season since 2010, Mitchell employees have divided about $5,000 in company funds and then split themselves into teams before setting out for a full day of community service.
They have accomplished some pretty big things since then, too.
In 2012, an Ignite team payed the adoption fee for every animal in the Fayetteville Animal Shelter.
Other groups redesigned websites for local nonprofits, donated to local food pantries, and purchased books for local schools.
They’ve helped individuals in need as well. One team stopped strangers outside of pawn shops to help them buy back their valuables one year, while others bought groceries and paid past-due utility bills for people who were struggling during the holidays.
The tradition began five years ago, after company founder Elise Mitchell had returned from a trip to establish an endowment at her Alma Mater, Abilene Christian University.
“She came back from that trip on a high,” said Sarah Clark, company president. “She just felt so good being able to give back, and she wanted everyone to have that feeling.”
That year, Mitchell established the Ignite program to instill a culture of volunteerism and giving at her company, and to make sure every employee got to experience what it is like to help out in the community.
The idea, Clark explained, was to create a spark intended to “ignite” more acts of kindness.
Since it began, Mitchell employees have distributed about $25,000 to local nonprofits or individuals in need, but the benefits go far beyond the monetary contribution.
“For us, it has become that one time of year when we ground ourselves, and we really get a sense of what is important,” Clark said.
Spending the day out in the community can be an invigorating experience for her employees as well, Clark said.
“The smiles on the faces of everyone when they come back to give their presentation, you just feel an incredible sense of energy and compassion and excitement,” she said. “It is something that we all really look forward to.
Sheerah Davis, HR director for the company, said that over the years, several employees have ended up forming lasting relationships with the non-profits that they connect with during an Ignite session.
“I know several of our employees get inspired by it, and end up serving on the boards of some of the non-profit groups or get involved in other ways,” Davis said. “Several groups this year vowed to check in with the organizations they connected with periodically throughout the year to see if there’s more they can do.”
The sheer volume of good that a single company is able to do in one day, however, is pretty inspiring in itself.
Below is a list of all of this year’s MCG Ignite teams and what they accomplished as part of this year’s day of giving.
And this is just what we know about. Who knows what other acts of kindness were kindled by the spark these local folks provided this year.
Team Service Dogs
Team Service Dogs spent the day helping out Soldier On Service Dogs, an organization that provides service dogs that help detect seizures, disrupt nightmares, and mitigate anxiety and reduce stress for local veterans.
Team Service Dogs spent the day helping to redesign the company logo, business cards, and post cards, create a Twitter account, update the company’s website and Facebook page, and donated $500 to the organization.
Team Benjamin decided to help Northside Elementary School in Rogers.
The school, which has one of the highest percentages in the region of students receiving free and reduced lunches, had a goal to provide board games for kids to take home after their upcoming math and literacy night, and the team stepped up to donate $500 in games to the program.
Assistant Principal Katie Mays told the team that the game nights are really important to the school for encouraging family interaction, problem solving, and social skills.
Give it Away Now
Team Give it Away Now got in touch with CASA of Northwest Arkansas, an organization that provides advocates on behalf of abused and neglected children in the region, to find out what some of their needs were.
The group then went to work to fill those needs, purchasing storage bins for training materials, needed diapers and wipes, binders to help train their volunteers, and coloring books and stickers to help the advocates engage with the children.
They had a few dollars left over, so they bought breakfast for a homeless woman in Fayetteville.
Ignite the Fuse
Team Ignite the Fuse decided to help out at the Elizabeth Richardson Center, a child development organization, in Springdale.
The group stopped to help paint a new playground at the facility, and then donated the rest of their money to the organization to use as they saw fit.
Team Bookworms identified two first-year elementary school teachers who needed assistance on growing their classroom libraries.
They showed up in the classrooms at Reagan Elementary School in Rogers, read to the students, then purchased books for each teacher’s library.
Team Hikaru purchased paint and supplies, and painted a transitional housing unit at the Walker Family Residential Community at 7 Hills Homeless Center.
They then donated the rest of their money to purchase twin-sized mattresses to be used at the facility.
Team Super Novas decided to help Saving Grace, a transitional living home for young women who have aged out of foster care or group homes, and are facing homelessness.
The group donated $500 in household goods and gift cards for residents, and pledged to return to refill the food pantry later this year. One team member also offered to lead resume writing workshops for residents looking to enter the work force.
Team #Givesquad split their time and money between three organizations; the UA’s Full Circle Food Pantry, Faith in Action, and Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks.
The group donated food items to the Full Circle Food Pantry and to Faith in Action, and then created “buddy baskets” for the Veteran’s Health Care System of the Ozarks. The buddy baskets were filled with items to help veterans transitioning from homelessness into apartments.
The group also paid for groceries for a disabled person they met at a supermarket, as well as someone who had become homeless and was sleeping in her car in the store parking lot.
Team Red Hots decided to focus on helping keep people warm this winter.
They contacted the Agency on Aging, and were referred to two local ladies who needed assistance. The team then helped to pay their gas bills at home, and purchased warm socks, blankets, soups, and other items.
The group also purchased needed items for the Sprindale Animal Shelter, including bleach, dish soap, dog and cat food, and toys.
Team Compassion helped Springdale-based Compassion House, an organization that provides a shelter for pregnant teenagers.
The group created gift baskets for the girls, and used the opportunity to teacher first graders at The New School who were learning about community service.