It’s not every day you get the chance to give someone a gift that changes their lives. A group of 12 Arista employees recently did that when we traveled to Puerto Rico with Convoy of Hope to build a new house and repair other homes that were damaged in Hurricane Maria.
Before the trip, we knew we would be giving a family back their home, which would certainly make a big impact. And we knew it would feel gratifying to help. But we never expected to be so profoundly affected by the experience, and in so many ways.
It’s not like we are strangers to helping people. In fact, it’s a big part of what we do everyday in the air conditioning service business, and it’s what makes our work rewarding. But the outcome of this project went far beyond providing comfortable conditions in homes and businesses.
What we set out to do, and why we did it
Arista is a family business and each and every one of our 175 employees is part of our family. One of our most deeply-rooted values is a commitment to giving back. Every year I’m on the lookout for ways we can do so as a company that will make the biggest impact.
For me, that means more than just donating money. Some time ago I realized that doing along with donating multiplies the benefits of what we have to give. I knew Arista had something valuable to offer: a skilled workforce with experience in many aspects of building construction. In the places where those skills are desperately needed, like Puerto Rico, they are both hard to come by and prohibitively expensive.
To find out how we could best leverage that skill and talent to help others, I reached out to Convoy of Hope, an organization that’s often first on the ground after natural disasters. Arista had already worked with Convoy of Hope earlier in the year, when 150 of our employees spent a morning packing 4000 hygiene kits for people in need. (It was amazing, watch the video!)
As it turned out, Convoy had a team in Puerto Rico who were still helping to rebuild homes devastated by Hurricane Maria. They offered us the opportunity to send a group of 12 people to Puerto Rico for a week to rebuild a home.
To me, this was a perfect opportunity for two reasons. First, it seemed like the victims in Puerto Rico were being left behind. More than a year after the storm, the devastation was no longer front and center in the news, and many relief efforts were drying up. Families and entire communities had lost everything and there was no help in sight. Also, this cause was personal for us. Arista has quite a few employees with Puerto Rican heritage and some who still have family there. So there were many who were eager to help in this crisis.
At Arista, we make a point of hiring people who care about helping others. It’s one of the intangible qualities that make people well-suited to work in this business. So, when I asked for volunteers to join me in traveling to Puerto Rico, giving a week of their time, and doing hard manual labor to help a family in need, I knew I’d have plenty of takers. In fact, we had a hard time choosing only 12 to participate out of everyone who wanted to do it.
Our experience in Puerto Rico
Let me start by saying that without Convoy of Hope, we’d have no chance of managing all the logistics of doing a project like this! Convoy had already built many homes in the area and had the process down to a science. They even sent us packing lists and orientation videos so we would be completely prepared. Convoy’s husband and wife team, Paul and Noelle, took care of all the planning so that we could accomplish as much as possible in our time there.
Convoy had a rented house to accommodate relief workers, so there was a place all ready for the 12 of us to stay. They picked us up from the airport in a large van and drove us to and from the construction site every day. They even provided catered meals: breakfast and dinner at the rented house, and lunch at the job site. And because Convoy hired neighborhood businesses to do the catering, we got to support those businesses and enjoy the most amazing local food.
The family whose house we were building, and their neighbors, regularly stopped by to express their appreciation… again by feeding us! Every time we turned around, someone was handing out empanadas, local coffee, and other treats.
The team earned it by working very hard in hot and humid conditions for long hours each day. Paul did an incredible job as project manager, directing the work and keeping up with the pace of 12 skilled workers. The supplies we needed were staged and ready. When we worked faster than expected and needed more supplies or batteries for our tools, Paul drove back and forth from the rented warehouse where he had staged donated supplies. He worked even longer hours than we did!
What we were able to accomplish made it well worth the effort.
When we arrived at the job site on the first day, there were foundation posts with three box beams attached. By the end of 5 days, we had built the entire house, complete with plumbing, electricity, and paint. The homeowner even got to choose the paint colors. The house was fairly small and basic, but well constructed and superior to what the surrounding community is living in.
Normally, Convoy works with church groups and others with big hearts but not as many construction skills as our group had. They told us the amount of work we were able to finish in 5 days would have taken their usual crews about 6 weeks. We were even able to help with a couple of additional projects, including trimwork, paint and electric for one house, and foundation work for two other houses.
What we took away
Here’s what spoke volumes to me: every member of our team came to me at some point and said “we have to do this again, and I want to be a part of it!”
Everyone was deeply moved by the poverty and conditions people were living in, and we were keenly aware of how fortunate we are to live where we do and have everything we have. One of our team members, John, was born in Puerto Rico and his parents live there. John decided to coordinate our trip with his family’s visit to his parents house, so his kids could visit the neighborhood we were working in and experience a very different lifestyle first-hand.
Our team was also touched by the kindness and generosity of everyone we met in Puerto Rico. I already mentioned the food, but it was so much more than that. Owners of the houses we worked on came to help us work on the next project. People who had very little were ready and willing to give whatever they could. Seeing that motivated us to work hard and work together so we could help them as much as possible. The result was a team that was willing and able to move mountains to accomplish their goal. The outcome was truly everything I hoped it would be.
I fully expect that mindset to stick and make Arista an even stronger and more cohesive team. Since we’ve returned home, word about our experience has been spreading throughout the company. We also shared photos and some thoughts in our company newsletter. Every day, people are expressing their pride in what we accomplished.
Thinking about how you can give back? Some tips from our experience
Identify the valuable resources you have to give. Whether it’s space, equipment, or skilled people, every company has something to offer to those in need (or to organizations who support them).
Find an organization like Convoy who can put your resources to good use, while handling all the logistics and planning maximizing your impact.
Get everyone involved in raising funds. While Arista paid for most of the cost of this project (including paying salaries for the week they spent in Puerto Rico), I asked everyone on the team to raise a portion of the funds. Doing that got people more invested in the project, encouraged them to talk to friends and family about it, and extended the reach of our efforts even further.
Want to get inspired? Watch this video about our experience.