Tuesday, December 4, 2007

corporate volunteers galore

Well, the Phillip Morris employees smoked a lot. No big surprise. Especially considering that the 30+ volunteers we had at Ms. Evelyn's house were not just any Phillip Morris employees, but were the people in charge of ensuring that Phillip Morris cigarettes were prominently displayed and actively sold throughout the Gulf Coast region. They loved their jobs. They loved "pushing tobacco" (their phrase, not mine). They had some rather amazing ethical blinders on, and I spent most of the day wryly smiling and keeping my thoughts to myself.

They were perfectly nice people, of course, who got a lot of work done (I was in charge of reinforcing the structural supports of the 2nd storey floors), and who donated a big pile of money to keep the work going. Much appreciated. If big businesses are going to make money in evil ways anyways, they might as well give a lot of that money to worthy causes. I'd rather take money away from evil businesses than from companies whose money could be used within their own fields in good ways. For instance: Monday was another big corporate project. 100 environmental consultants from a company called RMT came from all over the country to help out at another public school. They didn't donate additional money, though, because they are constantly reinvesting their money into researching better environmentally-friendly technologies. I like that. I think that in many ways that's just as important as investing money directly in these houses. So I'm glad Phillip Morris gave Hands On a big cheque and RMT didn't.

The RMT employees were absolutely fantastic workers. Remind me that if I'm ever doing a volunteer project, I want to recruit engineers. By lunchtime we burned through all the scheduled projects for the day (I was in charge of a raised-bed planter), and they improved our plans and processes the whole time.

With the extra time in the afternoon, Petra set the horde of un-tasked volunteers to creating sidewalk murals. She did an absolutely amazing job pulling great easy mural ideas out of nowhere, managing paint and brush supplies, preventing paint spills, doing quality control, and directing ongoing cleanup. I don't think many people could steer 80 strong-willed, intelligent grown men (and 2 or 3 women) toward painting the alphabet, the solar system (with proportional distances), the water cycle, hopscotch, a creative calendar/clock, etc. with such success. The kids and teachers were thrilled with her project far and above everything else we did. They called the main sidewalk "the new information superhighway," and thanked her for giving the kids a fun way to play, for making it so "the kids can't help but learn, just by walking around," and most touchingly "for making this look like a real school now, not like a prison camp."

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