For Dell database administrator Michael Sawyer, a recent morning spent beautifying a meadow at the Lady Bird Wildflower Center helped re-spark a love of working with his hands.
"I come from a farm background where you work fields and so on," says the Texan who spent summers as a teen helping at family farms in Kansas and Nebraska. "It's nice for me to get back out of the office where you sit at a desk all day, and it was a beautiful day for being outside too."
In late October, Sawyer and 21 of his colleagues in the local database administration team of Dell Inc. spent a Friday morning on company time cleaning up landscape near the Wildflower Center's Visitors Gallery. Staff at the Wildflower Center had conducted a prescribed fire in the meadow last August to promote regrowth of plants adapted to natural wildfires. Charred evidence of that fire needed to be cleared so it would not detract from the enjoyment of wedding parties and other Center guests.
The Dell employees used handsaws and loppers to chop down dead shrubs and remove scorched lower limbs from trees in the Savanna Meadow. They also cleaned out about 10 trailer loads of brush, some of which was trapped within Live Oak mottes. "We went out there and went to town," Sawyer says.
That clearing made room for native Texas grasses and wildflowers to grow in what is now a more open grassland. Staff member Travis Gallo, who coordinates the Center's invasive species program and helped oversee the Dell volunteers, said Sawyer and other staff from Dell were a great help. "They worked really hard, and as the day went on, you could tell they enjoyed seeing the impact of the work they'd done."
Earlier this year staffers at NRG Energy Inc. cleared out brush at the Center's Texas Arboretum now being developed. Corporate workdays also can focus on prepping for major public events or indoors activities. For example, employees from Motorola have joined regular gatherings to clean native plant seeds that are being frozen for future use. "We love it when corporate volunteers help kids with craft activities at an event or in other ways," says Carrie McDonald, volunteer coordinator at the Wildflower Center. Volunteers are needed, for instance, to help decorate or put away decorations on the Center grounds at events like Luminations during the second weekend of December.
"Our setting really lends itself to getting groups out of the office and using their teamwork skills toward something that's more relaxed than usual," McDonald says, noting that their participation is instrumental to the success of major Center projects. In labor costs alone, for instance, the Dell volunteers saved the Wildflower Center $4,000 it would have paid a clean-up crew during challenging economic times.
McDonald adds that corporate volunteers seem to get a lot out of the volunteer time. In some cases, the relationship continues beyond an initial visit. Despite living in northern Round Rock, for instance, Sawyer may soon spend Saturdays helping out at the Center's greenhouses, where 100,000 plants are grown annually for fundraising efforts and to populate the gardens. He's also considered bringing relatives to visit the Center gardens when in town. "After being there, I realized I need to bring my mom down," Sawyer says. "We toured the Center grounds when we were done working, and it's a real nice place." To learn more about corporate volunteer opportunities at the Wildflower Center, visit volunteermatch.com, or contact Carrie McDonald at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 512.232.0102.