This year I had the opportunity to participate in a week-long trip to Los Angeles with a youth group of 55 high-school students from Sunnyvale.  Our group spent time volunteering each day at a variety of local agencies and learning each night through guest speakers and activities. The experience was about more than preparing a meal at a soup kitchen or playing with children at a day camp. It was an opportunity to work alongside local community members, to learn from local leaders, and to listen to the stories of people from all different backgrounds.  Working alongside the local community and listening to their stories challenged our initial perceptions of the city and motivated participants to respond to the issues and concerns facing an increasing urban world such as homelessness, poverty, racism, and injustice.

 

I wouldn’t have had this opportunity if it weren’t for NetApp’s unique Volunteer Time-Off (VTO) program.  This program encourages and compensates all employees to take up to five business days (40 hours) of paid time-off each calendar year to volunteer with community services and nonprofit organizations of their choice.

 

Working with various agencies across Los Angeles County to support critical social issues left a tremendous impact on me personally.  In Skid Row we got an up-close look at the crushing weigh of homelessness and despair.  We heard heart-breaking stories of hard-working people who lost their job and suddenly had no home.  Without family, community, or tangible social support system to help them get back on their feet, they became stuck in a downward spiral with no hope of getting out.  Conversely, we also heard stories of transformation and reconciliation through the programs and services at the Union Rescue Mission and Los Angeles Food Bank.

 

At Homeboy Industries we heard stories of hope for former gang-members and previously incarcerated men and women welcomed into a community of mutual kinship and love.  With a wide variety of services ranging from tattoo removal, job training, anger management, personal finance, and parenting classes, they were able to re-identify who they are in the world.  Organization such as Project Angel Food provided a vital lifeline of hope and nutrition to people struggling with illness and unable to care for themselves.  MEND (Meet each need with Dignity) is focused on breaking the bonds of poverty by providing basic human needs plus education and training as a pathway to self-reliance.  Each of these organizations gave vital services to people in need.

 

Throughout the week I was amazed by some of the insightful comments I heard from the teenagers in our youth group.  “Homeless is a situation, not a person.”  “People do not fit into neat categories of Black, White, Asian, or Hispanic.”  “Words are powerful; they can beat you down or lift you up.”  Working alongside the youth taught me a great deal about vulnerability and humility during this trip.  We heard story after story of people who made it out only by the kindness and help of others.  Frequently we saw that those who had the least were the ones who gave the most.   Through the struggle and hardships, we also saw a sense of family and community as people would go out of their way to help others with food or shelter.

 

It has been very empowering for me to work with organizations that extend care, compassion, and concern to the most vulnerable people in our society.  As I reflect on my trip, I’m so proud to work for NetApp.  For the past 13 years NetApp has been honored in the FORTUNE 100 Best Companies to Work for List.  How do we consistently achieve these top rankings without offering free lunches and massages for our employees?  I believe it is the respect, candor, and trust we have for all our employees and customers as well as our corporate commitment to making the world a better place for everyone to thrive and prosper.

 

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