StoneTurn, a forensic accounting and corporate compliance firm out of Boston, was already booked into the luxury Casa Marina Key West, A Waldorf Astoria Resort for an early December meeting when the news spread on Sept. 9, 2017, about Hurricane Irma’s devastating hit to the Florida Keys.

The company decided then to forgo its usual on-site teambuilding activity and instead looked to work with and help the Keys community. 

“Once we learned about the devastation of nearby islands, it became evident that we needed to host a community service project instead of our traditional teambuilding event,” said Patricia Smaldone, vice president of human resources at StoneTurn.  

The United Way put them in touch with Crane Point Hammock Museum and Nature Trail, a nonprofit museum and nature preserve on Key Vaca in the heart of the Keys, where they needed help to clean up debris. 

“Sixty team members, including our chairman, partners and staff, participated in the community service day,” Smaldone said. “It was eye-opening for everyone involved.” 

StoneTurn attendees also went the extra mile when they realized Crane Point didn’t have proper tools; they went out and bought work gloves, chainsaws and supplies to leave behind.

At the end of the day, those who participated said it was heartwarming to hear the appreciation expressed by the executive director and staff of Crane Point, according to Smaldone. 

“Our group was grateful to contribute in a small way and the hotel staff at Casa Marina and the bus drivers who assisted us in getting to the site also expressed gratitude for taking time away from our meeting to contribute to their community,” she said. “But hearing all of their stories added to our own experience as well. Several employees who participated in this event are from Houston and personally suffered much of the same devastation in their hometown.”

The Regional Airlines Association (RAA) also answered the call after Hurricane Irma, canceling its golf outing during its annual meeting to lend their support to those in need. On Sept. 24, 2017, RAA, with help from Discover the Palm Beaches (DTPB), created a CSR project to purchase essential travel-size hygiene products: toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap and shampoo. 

Creating an assembly line in the Palm Beach County Convention Center, in less than 30 minutes they assembled 477 bags of essential toiletries. The bags—printed with “Courtesy of RAA”—were then collected by DTPB staff and distributed to those affected by Hurricane Irma.

Food for Haiti 

When Foot Locker recently met at the Caribe Royale Orlando for a sales meeting, the company was looking for a unique teambuilding event. Tammi Runzler, executive vice president of Dunedin, Fla.-based CSRconnections, a company that works with organizations to incorporate CSR into their programs, thought she had the answer. 

She suggested No Child Hungry/Hygiene for the World, an organization that sets up—in an assembly line—meals and hygiene kits to be assembled and then shipped to areas with the most need. 

“We had about 200 sales managers who put together four different meals: rice and veggies, mac and cheese, apple and oatmeal, and rice and beans,” said William Lowry, president and executive director, No Child Hungry/Hygiene for the World, based in Orlando. 

“Foot Locker supplied the room, the tables, the people and a DJ, and we provided the supplies,” he said. 

The group initially planned on assembling 50,000 meals to ship to Haiti, but in their enthusiasm, they exceeded their goal.

“The group was so excited and it was such a wonderful teambuilding event that they came back the next day and ended up putting together 17,000 more meals,” said Eileen Leddy, Foot Locker’s manager for travel, meetings and event planning. “They wanted to finish what they started. Overall, it was a great event. We all put on silly hairnets, got to work and it left everyone with a great feeling,” she added. 

In fact, the event was so successful that No Child Hungry set up another program in Foot Locker’s home base of Hershey, Penn. 

“This time, the employees from the finance department prepared 75,000 meals,” Lowry said. 

Now Runzler has discovered that corporate groups from all over the country want to work with her to set up all kinds of CSR events. 

“We talk to organizations that are looking to do a CSR activity and we find one that is right for them,” she said. “We work with any size group, any budget and in any location. We not only find the activity, we help execute the program as well.”

For the Kids 

For Wells Fargo, every meeting is an opportunity to incorporate CSR, said Mariana Ordaz, community support representative for Wells Fargo, based in Orlando. 

“No matter where we are in Florida, we like to support the community we’re in,” Ordaz said. 

For a project with Foundation for Foster Children in Winter Park, Fla., Wells Fargo provided a grant for bicycles and helmets. Together, Wells Fargo employees and police officers from the Winter Park bike unit helped build bicycles for 27 foster children—with the children’s help. 

“We had to read the directions and build the bikes together, so it was an opportunity for us to become mentors to the kids and teach them life skills,” Ordaz said. “The police officers then talked to the kids about bike safety.”

The event concluded with a bike parade; spirits soared as the kids took two big laps on their new bicycles while the Wells Fargo volunteers cheered them on.

“It’s really important to Wells Fargo to get involved in the community, whether it’s for disaster relief or any critical social issue,” she said. 

CVB Collaboration

Most CVBs have ongoing liaisons with charitable organizations and stand ready to connect meeting professionals with the organizations right for them. 

Visit Jacksonville works with groups that give back to the community by participating in organized activities in various areas, including veterans services, children’s needs, literacy, education, health, homelessness and the environment,” said Patty Winters, communications manager, Visit Jacksonville. “We facilitate such activities by connecting groups to the local United Way chapter; this also helps develop a meaningful community service project appropriate for attendees.” 

But doing good is a statewide affair. Visit South Walton works with Habitat for the Humanity of Walton County, Food for Thought and the Children’s Volunteer Health Network. 

Discover The Palm Beaches has turnkey options available for organizations to participate in CSR projects with Habitat for Humanity of Palm Beach and Clean the World, another company that sends hygiene kits to needy communities worldwide. 

The Naples, Marco Island, Everglades CVB embraces conservation and sustainability and works with such groups as American Association of University Women, Greater Naples, promoting equity, lifelong education and positive societal change for women and girls. 

And finally, the American Red Cross, Florida’s Southern Gulf Chapter, and The Greater Miami and the Beaches CVB also encourage local meeting planners to work with the Miami-Dade County Parks Foundation to get involved in one of their four signature clean-up and beautification projects.

Click here to view more of the 2018 Meetings Today Florida supplement.