More than five years ago, UPS began to interview and hire at-risk and foster-care youths for part-time jobs at some of its Baltimore area locations. Those young people would first be prepped by an organization in Baltimore that helped them with job and interview skills. Then, if hired by the package delivery company, they would start at a job that paid $8.50 an hour, with benefits. If they stayed long enough, they could get raises and promotions. And tuition reimbursement for school.

The program was a huge hit. So much so that UPS allowed the program's originator to go on the road, showing other corporations how to do the same.

Over the course of the program, more than 40 young people have been hired, and they have Kevin M. Garvey to thank. Garvey, a local employee, asked management to stretch the company's program that introduced local high school students to UPS work to also benefit at-risk and foster-care youths. The company's Baltimore region agreed with him and allowed him to launch a pilot program.

"It wasn't hard to get UPS on board," said Garvey, who was a training manager at the time.

Many of us may think we, as the workers, have no say in how a company spends its money or volunteers in the community, but Garvey is a prime example of a worker making it happen. "It was just a matter of making the business case for it and saying, 'Hey, we could be involved in the community . . . and help youth. And at the same time, help fill some of the positions.' "

It's that time of year. Now that company volunteers have carved jack-o'-lanterns with sick children, picked up trash along the canal and sent socks to soldiers in Iraq, United Way pamphlets find their way to our desks. Our companies announce gifts and prizes to teams of employees who donate the most money to charitable causes. With the holidays around the corner, the first mentions of turkey dinner donations abound. And despite a rough job situation, the economy and an ongoing war, contributions to worthy causes increased by 24 percent from the country's largest corporations and foundations between 2002 and 2003, according to the Conference Board.

Beyond the typical United Way-type program, some companies have started volunteer efforts or donated funds to a certain cause because an employee had a good idea that was "sold" to the higher echelons of the company.

In UPS's case, one employee's idea changed its business and many lives.

Garvey started the program at the suggestion of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. He spoke at a local forum, talking about a school-to-work program at UPS. While there, the foundation (incidentally named for the mother of a founder of UPS) approached him to ask if he would be interested in helping to expand that school-to-work program into the foster-care system and for at-risk youths.

The program was so successful, it is now a regular part of the UPS Baltimore region's practice. And Garvey was permitted to be an executive on loan to the Annie E. Casey Foundation for a year while he took the same Baltimore model to places around the country.

Kevin Brockenbrough, 20, started to work for UPS in April 2003. He found the program after he returned to Baltimore from New Jersey, where, he said, he had "done some things I wasn't supposed to do." Back in Baltimore, he tried to get back on track, pay restitution and court costs, and help his many family members in the area. He called Living Classrooms Foundation, an organization that works to help youths make the transition from foster care and helps them with interviewing and job skills for work at places such as UPS. "They saw the ambition in me," Brockenbrough said. He was hired after being interviewed and now works part time sorting boxes and loading trucks in the UPS Laurel location.

The job has meant more than a few extra bucks in his pocket. Brockenbrough lives with family in Baltimore, bouncing among eight houses. "I'm the backbone. They need me around so things run smooth," Brockenbrough said when explaining why this job is important to him. "I gotta help them to make sure they're all right and everybody stays out of prison."

Meanwhile, he is also learning to take care of himself. Most of his co-workers know that he is quite the poet, and the people at Living Classrooms are encouraging him to pursue a life in writing. Brockenbrough plans to stay with UPS until he graduates from college. He wants to go to school for massage therapy and eventually open his own studio.

"I love it," he said of his job. "They give me the respect I want. They give me the right recognition. There's nothing negative going on. Whatever I do, they give me a positive outlook.

"They like my poems," he added, shyly.

The program has helped not only Brockenbrough and other ambitious youths, but also UPS. "We have ongoing staffing needs," Garvey said. "We face the same challenges in a competitive market everyone else faces: staffing, employee retention and attendance -- and job performance."

Living Classrooms aids in the performance aspect, teaching teens and young adults to get to work on time, among other things. UPS's tuition reimbursement covers up to $2,500 a year, and the participants are eligible for up to $25,000 in student loans that the company helps underwrite.

"UPS is an incredible company to work for. Most of the youths we see have never had a legal job," said Rochelle McGee, director of the workforce development center at Living Classrooms. UPS provides "a great starting wage, benefits."

"Some youth want to make a career out of it," McGee said.

Garvey, now district workforce planning manager for UPS in the Baltimore region, has been able to delegate much of the program's work to staff members now, but he still has his hand in it.

He said the program was an extra job for him -- "one that I enjoyed very much."

Join Amy Joyce from 11 a.m. to noon Tuesday at www.washingtonpost.com to discuss your life at work. Have an idea for a column? E-mail her at lifeatwork@washpost.com.