It was a quarterly “Day of Caring” that first brought staff from Oswald Companies to the Pope Francis Center in Detroit, Michigan.
After just one visit, though, it was clear that the company and its people would be back far more often than every few months.
“We were looking for a nonprofit to support on a regular basis, because we wanted to develop a deeper relationship with both the organization and those it serves,” said Beth Larson, branch administrator for the Oswald office in Bloomfield Hills. “We scheduled our first volunteer day with the center in March 2018, and haven’t missed a month since.”
Heath, hygiene, and beyond
The Pope Francis Center serves both the immediate and longer-term needs of Detroit’s homeless and underserved populations. Hot meals, showers, hygiene essentials, clothing items, and laundry facilities all are vital for someone living on the streets or who has difficulty caring for themselves—while access to legal, social, and medical services can put individuals on the path toward better health and a better life. In emergencies, the facility is able to open its doors for about 100 overnight guests as well.
‘At the center, they’re recognized as people, as fellow Detroiters. They’re part of a family.’
—Cathy Kosin, senior VP and market leader at Oswald Companies
“Many people here are struggling with substance addictions and mental illnesses in addition to extreme poverty,” said Cathy Kosin, a senior VP and market leader at Oswald. “Most feel that no one cares about them. But at the center, they are recognized as people, as fellow Detroiters. They’re part of a family.”
Oswald employees have become part of that family as well. A team of 3-5 visit each month, serving meals, doing laundry, handing out hygiene kits, and more. Others who can’t be on site support the company’s monthly donation drives, participate in fundraisers, and help in other ways, Larson said.
Adapting to meet new challenges
The center serves as many as 200 people on any given day, although the COVID-19 situation has necessitated changes, according to Joe Zakens, development officer and mental health program coordinator.
“We’ve suspended in-person volunteering to limit exposure, installed new restrooms and hand-washing stations outside, and increased our medical rotations to identify and isolate those who are ill,” he said.
“These people already face significant challenges every day—but this is unprecedented, and we have to find ways to continue supporting them.”
A 2020 Make More Happen Award will help. The award typically includes a donation of $5,000 and the opportunity to win another $5,000 through engagement on social media; however, in light of the current crisis, Safeco and Liberty Mutual are donating the full $10,000 immediately to the Pope Francis Center on behalf of Oswald Companies.
A company-wide commitment
“We are so fortunate to have Beth, Cathy, and the Oswald team in our corner,” Zakens said. “They always seek new ways to boost their support, which is both encouraging and inspiring to others.”
That giving is ingrained in the culture at Oswald, where everyone gets paid time off to volunteer in the community, Kosin noted. “This commitment is real—it’s not just something we bury in the company handbook,” she said. “We want to help ensure that as Detroit rises, its most vulnerable citizens can, too.”