Ernst & Young staffers get dirty, entertain kids at annual day of service

Correction: An earlier version of this article contained a misspelling of Bill Ahern’s name. This version has been corrected.

October 9, 2011

For the fifth year in a row, an army of Ernst & Young employees put aside meetings with clients to pick up trash, harvest a farm, teach elementary school students and lay mulch during the company’s annual day of service.

Nearly 600 employees from the company’s local offices participated in community outreach projects in 11 locations around the Washington region.

“I came home exhausted and filthy,” said Kevin Virostek, Ernst & Young’s Greater Washington managing partner. “But I never had a better day at Ernst & Young.” He and his group pulled weeds, planted crops and winterized Clagett Farm in Upper Marlboro.

Colleague Bill Ahern taught the economics of life to a bustling class of second graders at Mt. Vernon Woods Elementary in Alexandria. “This is a terrific outreach that really connects us to the community,” said Ahern, an editor in Ernst & Young’s communications department. “I forgot how physically demanding it is to work with kids this age. All my children are grown.”

There were stickers, games, role-playing, crafts and a contest to see which team could make the most doughnuts using different manufacturing methods, such as the assembly line.

Ernst & Young managers estimate they spent $50,000 for the supplies and services used that day.

“We’re a nonprofit, so the dollars we do have are devoted to taking care of kids so things like getting the yard in order or the fence painted just slide,” said Judith Dittman, executive director of Alternative House, a transitional home. “To have 35 people come and spend eight hours of work, we wouldn’t have been able to afford what that would’ve cost.”

Like many businesses over the past 10 years, Ernst & Young began asking itself how to expand community outreach. Senior management attributes part of this shift to changes in employment dynamics.

“It’s a known fact that the number of jobs a person has from the time they graduate to the time they turn 50 is much higher,” said Virostek, who has been with the firm 25 years. “Pressure to make the greatest impact when you are where you are has increased.”

In 2004, each office created a corporate social responsibility committee comprised of partners. A few focus groups revealed three desired areas of giving: education, entrepreneurship and environmental sustainability.

The local offices have partnered with nonprofits including the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship, Boys and Girls Club of America and Alternative House.

Vanessa Small covers philanthropy and nonprofits for Capital Business. She also spotlights newly appointed executives in the New at the Top column, which chronicles their journeys to the top. Small was raised in Orange County, Ca. and graduated from Howard University.
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