January 31, 2008
OCEAN SPRINGS --Habitat for Humanity's latest Gulf Coast home dedication was held Wednesday in conjunction with a different kind of corporate retreat.
About 200 senior managers of Schneider Electric pitched in to work on six Habitat houses in Ocean Springs, including the one dedicated for Anika Davis, 32, and her 12-year-old daughter, Alexis, who will move in sometime in March. Davis, an ophthalmologic technician who was displaced from her apartment by Hurricane Katrina, will be a first-time homeowner.
"Just to come out and see this many volunteers and people, it just feels great," Davis said. "We are very blessed and very happy."
The volunteers came from Schneider Electric's North American Operating Division, which held its annual national leadership conference Monday and Tuesday at the IP Casino in Biloxi. However, instead of playing golf or hitting the slot machines Wednesday, the managers gave the day over to volunteer construction.
Dave Petratis, the division's president and chief executive officer, said it's important to give back to the communities the Palatine, Ill.-based company serves, noting construction is its lifeblood.
"It's our business. It's easy to give a hand," he said.
Schneider made a $7 million, four-and-a-half year commitment to Habitat last year and provides the electrical distribution equipment for all homes the charity builds in North America. The company also worked on Gulf Coast Habitat projects last year.
Joe Mulvey, Habitat for Humanity's Midwest regional development director, said commitments like Schneider's are vital as the group works toward its commitment to provide housing throughout the nation, not just on the Gulf Coast. He said the company's approach, involving managers and not just blue-collar workers, is unique and worth repeating.
"I think what they're doing in terms of getting the leadership out first is going to be a blueprint for corporations for the future," he said.
Petratis said although the volunteer crew consisted of managers rather than front-line workers, each brought valuable skills to the project. "Our people are in the construction industry," he said. "I didn't have to borrow tools because I brought my own with me."