Benefits from business
The story begins...
It begins with an idea; one to do something for the community, an organization or a cause.
One that will be of benefit to a group of people in an area as a whole.
The idea is one thing, but when it blossoms it turns into many more.
And then some.
It is when a business gets involved in some kind of benefit or project involving community.
It can be something as simple as a drawing for a prize with the proceeds going to a charity or needy group.
It can also be a huge event that generates large amounts of money to get something done, take care of a problem or solve an issue.
But sometimes the rewards are far from monetary for anyone. Sometimes it is just for the satisfaction of doing something special or unique. Something that benefits a community in a way that binds them together.
Regardless, when a business decides to take on a community project, it is a lot of work. It also has to invest a lot of time.
Managers and employees alike have to pull together to get it to happen. Then they need to involve others as well; maybe hundreds of others.
It takes a plan and people to enact the plan. Shortcomings will be found, some difficult to overcome.
Last year when the Sun Advocate took on the project of putting at least one flower on every grave in Carbon County, it seemed a dream. At first it seemed impossible.
From the beginning we assured ourselves that even if we couldn't get to every grave, we could do a lot.
And if not that, at least a few.
The idea sprang from my childhood of going to my grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins graves with my parents each Memorial Day as a kid. I don't think we ever missed it.
My memories of that were those of preserving honor, respect and a sense of who we were as a family.
But each time we went to the cemeteries (and there were about five of them we visited each year) I spent some time also looking around at other graves. I found the visit to be a history lesson, of lives lived and of contributions that I could not imagine or measure.
So when I came to work at the Sun Advocate in 2000 my eyes were really opened as an adult as to how many people were not honored by family or friends on the day that my family had called Decoration Day. I walked through cemeteries after the veterans had held their ceremonies, and found some graves beautifully cared for, others neglected seemingly since the headstones were erected. All I could think about was the people who were buried there that built this community, built this county and made it possible for us to live in this great community.
Each year I came back to the office thinking about these people. How could we honor them? What could we do?
Slowly an idea hatched in my head about seeing every grave with at least one flower on it some Memorial Day in the future. And by 2009 I had a pretty good idea of what could be done.
I passed the idea by many people, and they thought that my idea of No Graves Unadorned was a good one. But no one had ever heard of anyone doing anything like that before on a county wide basis. I researched and as far as I could find, no one had, anywhere. Some small towns had done it in different ways but no one had done what I wanted to see done.
That was the beginning; little did I know what it would entail over the next two years. Little did I know the logistics, the costs, the work, the trials and tribulations.
I also didn't know the warm feeling you get when you know over a thousand people are working toward the same goal you are.
At first there were a lot of details to work out; later there would be even more.
First it started with how to get enough flowers, and then enough volunteers to put them on nearly 30,000 graves.
Initially we thought we could do fund raisers to buy cut carnations and put one on every grave. At about 50 cents a piece it would have cost about $15,000 for flowers alone. No one had that kind of money, even with a big fund raiser.
So we looked for other ways. Our sales manager Jenni Fasselin started exploring a million options for flowers. First we found a video on YouTube that showed how to make paper flowers. We tried doing that, making them out of tissue and other kinds of paper. They looked good, but when placed outside the wind and the rain played havoc with them in short order. We needed something that would last at least a couple of weeks.
Then we tried recyling plastic shopping bags, but they also came apart in the wind. We needed something heavier.
Finally we found for one dollar we could buy table cloths at discount stores, in various colors and make up to 30 flowers out of each one.
We found that the local florists were more than willing to order us wooden picks to put the flowers on. We mounted them there with paperclips.
We put some samples out in the weather and they held up. We had found the creation, now we needed creators.
Because of the business we are in, advertising to the masses was easy. We put ads in describing in a very sketchy way what we wanted to do. We kept it sketchy because we were still learning if it really could be done.
We also talked it up. Many of our advertisers heard about it and started to donate a few dollars here and few dollars there. People started calling to sign up to make flowers. We went to schools and showed students how to make the flowers. We visited civic groups and they came to us.
As important though, were the individuals who came to us and said they wanted to make flowers. Dozens of people began making them in their homes, with neighbors and with family.
Some bought the materials themselves and made the flowers.
There were so many that we can't even count them. Slowly the project began to take shape.
Initially we had a substantial financial commitment to make it work; then it seemed to take on a life of it's own.
Getting volunteers to put flowers on graves was just as satisfying as having people make the ornaments. Hundreds volunteered. The word spread like wildfire, and soon we were on our way. The material supply couldn't keep up with the demand.
Finally the week before Memorial Day we started to decorate graves. It was amazing.
Families adopted sections of cemeteries and whole cemeteries. Organizations came in and said "We'll do that." For a few days we worried about whether all the graves would get covered even though by that time, we knew we had enough flowers.
We worked from the outer areas of the county to the big cemeteries in Helper, Wellington and Price. Finally on the Friday night before Memorial Day, Shayla Winder and I sat in the back of the Sun Advocate box truck, in the Price Cemetery parking lot passing out flowers to a never ending stream of volunteers to finish the project.
We were done putting out flowers by 6:30 p.m. and we looked around proud of our accomplishment.
What we thought...
Originally we wondered if the project could get support. We did enought pre-interviews with a number of people do know that we had some good support.
We thought people would make a few flowers and then that would be it. We were wrong. Many made flowers for the whole year since the first project.
We thought that young people might not be as interested in doing the project as older people. We were wrong about that too. Probably half the people that made flowers and placed them were under 25.
We worried that after the first year the enthusiam would die down. Actually we had people calling our office since the first of the year asking when we were going to get started for this Memorial Day.
What we learned
It's hard to pinpoint all the things we learned last year, and into this years project but there are 10 basic things anyone or business wants to run any kind of benefit should know.
*The earlier you start on the project, the better off you are. We didn't start early enough last year and almost didn't make it. This year we started at the same time but we already had some flowers that had been made after the project finished (yes people kept bringing in flowers) and we knew what we could do.
*Details are very important. They just don't "work themselves out." We learned training flower makers was very important, because a botched flower that wouldn't stay together took more time to fix than one that was made from scratch.
*Help comes from the most unlikely places. We discovered groups of people who were willing to give that we never even knew about. People also saw what were were doing while at cemeteries and often handed one of us money to help defrey costs.
*Trust in your community. It is amazing what will come out of a good project, when it is run consistently and well. The volunteerism in the Castle Valley is truly unique as far as we are concerned.
*Not all ideas are good. We tried a lot of things, but didn't get set in our ways because so many people had better ideas. Don't let this become such a personal project that you can't see clearly.
*Be willing to bend and encourage creativity. Many people brought us new ways to make flowers. Many of those ideas improved the product. So found better ways to place flowers or divide up a cemetery to get the job done. Let people do their own thing and don't worry that they are not doing it "your way." What you are doing is everyones project, not any one persons private world.
*Be organized. Know where you are headed and when problems present themselves think about how solutions will tie into the entire project.
*Plan on spending money. Don't think you will get donations that will cover everything you have to buy or pay out. Plan on using some company time to work on the project, whether it be you or employees.
*In the end review your successes and learn from your mistakes. The best time to do this is as soon after the project as you can. Get all the leaders and important players together to find out what they thought and how the project could be improved.
*Keep good notes for the next time you do the project or something similar to it. Even after a couple of months details start to fade in our minds and even the biggest traumas get drowned out by everyday thoughts and tensions.