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Posted: July 27, 2011

The business of giving back

It can help recruit and retain quality employees

Yana Vishnitsky

Adam Agron goes to work each morning as a corporate attorney in one of Denver's largest firms. The work, while gratifying, is just one aspect of his routine.

Agron serves on the board of Jewish Family Service (JFS), a Colorado based non-profit serving 23,000 people a year. The services at JFS range from feeding the hungry to homeless prevention, mental health counseling for families and individuals to services for seniors to ensure their safe aging in place to employment serviced for people with barriers to employment. Lay leaders like Agron and corporate partners like his employer, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, keep Jewish Family Service strong.

"Everyone wants to work in an environment that they enjoy day-to-day," Agron says. "But what makes some businesses stand out is what they are doing in the community."

For young entrepreneurs, lawyers and business people, a 9-to-5 job isn't enough anymore. Corporate social responsibility and the philanthropic philosophy of a company are playing a larger role in recruiting quality employees and in maintaining long-term employee job satisfaction. At a place like JFS, the hands-on approach helps corporate employees see the importance of giving more than just dollars.

JFS corporate partners bring volunteers, ensure the success of fundraisers and keep the organization tuned into what's happening in the community. JFS President and CEO Yana Vishnitsky says that business leaders understand the importance of giving back not only as individuals but as a part of their corporate philanthropy.

"When a business contributes to or partners with JFS, JFS will do everything and anything to leverage the corporate financial investment and the investment of volunteer hours," she says. "That makes everyone feel good at the end of the day."

At JFS, business groups coming to volunteer are commonplace. At the JFS Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Food pantry, about 100 volunteers work in the pantry each week, helping to serve about 2,000 clients each month. Often times, teams of businesses come to volunteer together as part of a team building.

Whole Foods, which gives more than 150,000 pounds of food each year to the JFS food pantry, has sent teams from their bakery and produce department to volunteer at JFS. Groups from Wells Fargo, and Kroenke Sports have also worked in the food pantry as part of corporate philanthropy. Many law firms around the city, including Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck and Holland & Hart, buy gifts each year for families who would not be able to celebrate the holiday season.

"This kind of philanthropic giving is a win-win," Vishnitsky says. "At JFS, we win because we are able to better meet the needs of the people we serve. We are able to bring joy to their lives at the time of hardship. Our corporate partners win because they made somebody's life happier and brighter. Their work makes a visible difference in the lives of others."

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As CEO of Jewish Family Service of Colorado for 11 years, Yana Vishnitsky is a leader in providing services for the elderly, the disabled and people in crisis. The agency currently serves 23,000 people a year with an annual budget of $9 million. Yana's innovative and collaborative thinking was instrumental in the design of a revenue-generating division of JFS, JFS at Home, which provides 24-hour home health care.

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