This week, freshly tiled bathrooms, restored oak floors and new paint greeted visitors at the new northern Montgomery County home of Our House, a residential program for at-risk teenagers.
But Our House's new home at the bucolic 140-acre farm near Olney could not have happened without outside help, officials said. Last spring, as Our House was trying to finish renovating dilapidated farm buildings, the program fell short about $200,000 when anticipated government funding evaporated.
Local companies stepped in, donating thousands of dollars plus building materials and labor, said Jeannette Mendonca, president of Our House's advisory board.
"When you have a corporation taking the time to do [those things], it's not only helping in a tangible way, it's giving a message to our students that they count," Mendonca said.
Traditionally, the holiday season produces an outpouring of volunteer activities and donations. But businesses increasingly are paying more than lip service year-round to helping others, said Michelle Rubenstein, director of the Volunteer Center Serving Howard County.
Some businesses have found that volunteerism improves teamwork among their employees and boosts their morale, she said.
"It makes sense," Rubenstein said. "Nationally, there's been a move toward actual [community] involvement. I think people have started to take an active interest in being part of the solution, working with a nonprofit as a partner and addressing pressing needs of the community."
For the past year, the Chapman Group, a 12-employee sales consulting firm, has worked with the teenage residents of Our House, taking the young men on field trips to Baltimore's National Aquarium and an Orioles baseball game, said William J. Ganz, a company senior consultant.
But this year, the company also wanted to help the program complete its move to Montgomery County. During a business trip to Atlanta, Chapman officials asked one of its clients, the Amtico Co., a flooring business, to donate tile worth about $5,000 to Our House's new facility. The flooring was installed before Thanksgiving, Ganz said.
"I think that as companies grow and become successful, it's their responsibility to give something back to the community," Ganz said.
Chapman Group's contribution is just one example of corporate generosity, said Richard "Benny" Bienvenue, Our House executive director. The program has received $80,000 to $90,000 in donations from companies. Home Depot's Expo Design Center in Columbia plans to hold a special open house Jan. 30 to collect money for Our House, which is now home for eight young men, who include juvenile offenders as well as foster children.
Our House needed to expand to accommodate its growing number of residents, which may double to 16, Bienvenue said.
"This is the last stop for these guys," Bienvenue said. "Our waiting list is phenomenal."
Elsewhere in the county, other companies have actively supported community groups. LeTip of Howard County, a local chapter of an international business networking group, teamed up with students and faculty of Atholton Elementary School to buy food, coats, gloves, boots and toys for families, said Laurel Holland, the group's vice president and a Columbia graphic designer.
In Laurel, employees in the customer service center of Verizon Wireless collected an office full of Christmas gifts, including three bicycles, for the Salvation Army of Montgomery County. The presents were delivered this week to about 200 children, said Verizon corporate communications director John H. Johnson. The company also held a collection drive for coats, hats, gloves and canned goods for children at the Howard County Domestic Violence Center, Johnson said.
At Columbia real estate development firm Rouse Co., employees participate in community programs, from mentoring local schoolchildren to donating food to the Maryland Food Bank, said Margaret Mauro, executive director of the Rouse Co. Foundation, which manages the company's volunteer programs.
The company also recently bought gifts, including dictionaries, for the 130 students of New Song Academy in West Baltimore, as part of its mentoring program at the K-8 school.
"Employees have always expressed an interest in reaching out during the holiday season," Mauro said. "They actually look to us for a place to be generous and to feel good about everything they have by sharing it with others."