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VOL. 125 | NO. 164 | Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Corporations See Added Value in Volunteer Hours

JONATHAN DEVIN | Special to The Daily News

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The value of a corporate dollar may have seen some decreases in the last few years, but the value of a corporate hour – a volunteer hour that is – is going up.

In 2009 one volunteer hour was equal to $19.51 in labor value, up from $17.55 in 2005, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2009 the Independent Sector, a coalition of national charities, raised the figure to $20.85.

Although corporations have been harder-pressed to give financial donations in a down economy, they see added value in their employees volunteering for local building projects as away of investing in communities.

The ServiceMaster Co., for example, built three homes for Habitat for Humanity of Greater Memphis and will build a fourth this fall. The company provides 480 volunteers locally for each build totaling more than 1,400 volunteers and some 7,200 volunteer hours.

“Local companies really want to make a difference right here in Memphis, and ServiceMaster has long been one of our greatest supporters,” said Dwayne Spencer, executive director of the local Habitat for Humanity chapter. “To date, Memphis Habitat estimates that ServiceMaster’s volunteers have provided us with labor costs valued at more than $136,000. That savings, the benefit of volunteer hours, is integral to us continuing on in our mission.”

Memphis-based Hampton Inns & Suites, part of Hilton Hotels Worldwide, also is hanging onto building projects on the national level.

It may not be on the historic register, but to residents and racing enthusiasts a rare dirt racetrack in West Memphis is the stuff legends are made of. Recently Hampton gave it a makeover.

“It’s the longest continuously-run dirt race track in the country,” said Clay Allen, who along with his wife, Sherry, owns the Riverside International Speedway, just off of Interstate 55 near the “old bridge.”

The track was chosen by Hampton’s Save a Landmark program for refurbishments to help keep the track racing form.

If the word landmark doesn’t immediately conjure images of racetracks, the program throws a wide net, said Sheryl Shelton, manager of public relations for the Hampton Brand.

“We have done everything from the world’s largest teapot to the National Civil Rights Museum,” said Shelton.

Shelton explained that since Hampton customers are often traveling in order to see landmarks around the country, it made sense for the hotel conglomerate to volunteer to support landmarks.

Guests and hotel employees submit nominations on the program’s website, hamptonlandmarks.com, and vote for their favorites. Specific states have been targeted for projects so that Hampton will have refurbished landmarks in all 50 states.

“We will hit four states next year and that goal will be complete,” said Shelton. One of next year’s projects, meant to celebrate the program’s 10th anniversary, will be the refurbishment of Abraham Lincoln’s cottage in Washington, where he drafted the Emancipation Proclamation.

About 25 volunteers from the Hampton Inn and Suites Beale Street, Southaven Hampton Inn, and the corporate office gathered recently to paint retaining walls and rusted beams.

“I feel like I’m being purified,” said Michael Grandi, Hampton’s Southaven sales manager, referring to the broiling heat. “But sometimes a break from the office is good. I’ve never seen the track before, and I think it looks great.”

Others installed fans, lighting and a rooftop over a walkway from the east side of the track to the west side, which had been previously unearthed from 60 years of dirt flung off the track.

“The dirt surface is what is unique to anything else in the country,” said Allen. “It’s the amount of clay content that just happens to where the track is located. It gives more traction to the cars. It’s a very heavy track with a lot of bite, which makes them go fast.

“As drivers develop here, they hone their skills and go off to different types of surfaces, it’s slower reacting. This is a hot bed of sprint car racing.”

Notables who cut their teeth on the track include local racers like Hooker Hood of Memphis, a member of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame, and three-time World of Outlaws Champion Sammy Swindell from Bartlett.

The quarter-mile oval track seats about 2,000 in wooden stands. Races begin at 7:30 p.m. every Saturday night from March to October.

Allen has made improvements to the track, including the park-like plaza with a wrought iron fence, since buying it three years ago, but said that the help from Hampton was greatly appreciated.

“Not only has the economy gone bad, but the weather conditions give you a bit of an obstacle,” said Allen. “When they told me about the other landmarks around the country, it’s really humbling. We’re very proud that they selected us.”

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