As a new Securian Financial employee, Rob Strange was struck by how many of his coworkers volunteered in the community. Wanting to get involved, he initiated a new opportunity to help those in need.
With his manager’s encouragement, Rob contacted the Dorothy Day Center in St. Paul — just blocks from Securian Financial’s headquarters — about coordinating a volunteer program for fellow employees.
“This all started back in 2001, and it has become an ongoing commitment where a group of our employees volunteer at the Center over the lunch hour,” Rob explained. “It’s always on Thursdays, which makes it easy to build into your schedule.”
While the Center’s downtown location makes volunteering there convenient, it also brings visibility not only to the Center itself, but also to homelessness as a whole.
“It’s a clear need in the community,” Rob said. “Every time I leave there, I feel like I’ve taken away more than I gave because it’s an eye-opening experience. I never regret going.”
Addressing the need
The Dorothy Day Center, operated by Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, opened in 1981 as a drop-in center that served coffee and rolls to 50 people a day who faced homelessness.
By the early 1990s, a prevalent need arose to turn the Center into an overnight shelter, which eventually offered 6,000 people shelter, meals and other services each year.
When a fire destroyed the original building, a more robust Center opened in 1993 with funding help from a community campaign. Securian was one of those community donors.
“Securian has supported Dorothy Day for a number of important reasons, one of which is that homelessness is a problem in St. Paul, just as it is throughout the country,” explained Lori Koutsky, Securian’s community relations and foundation manager.
The tipping point for the Center came in 2011 when, for the first time, staffers had to turn people away due to overcrowding.
It was clear the community needed a better solution.
A new home
Located on and around the existing Dorothy Day Center site in downtown St. Paul, the answer is a two-building campus designed to prevent and end homelessness for those most in need. It focuses on two key components: more affordable permanent housing and dedicated self-sufficiency services.
Recognizing the contributions the Center makes in supporting those in our community, the Securian Foundation recently committed $600,000 to Catholic Charities Capital Campaign for Dorothy Day Place. Construction is underway and slated to be finished in 2019.
“We can feel proud that our company has a long history of stepping up to be a good neighbor by providing funding support for the Dorothy Day Center and now Dorothy Day Place,” said Lori. “Now we have a new opportunity to help our neighbors most in need by building dignified shelter, housing and, most important, pathways out of poverty.”
Continuing the support
Since the day Rob Strange coordinated the first group of Securian volunteers, the interest to help those in need has only grown. Today, 15 Securian employees take turns volunteering to serve lunch twice a month at the Center, and more are on a waiting list to participate.
“The Dorothy Day Center offers such a great environment,” said Securian Financial employee Rachel Dorsey, a 10-year volunteer at the Center. “Everyone is welcome and everyone appreciates the food they’re getting. It’s a really nice exchange as people pass through the line.”
“There is a constant stream of ‘thank you,’ ‘bless you’ and smiles as they come through for lunch,” Rob said. “It's a humbling experience.”
When volunteers arrive at the Center for their shift, they suit up in hairnets, aprons and gloves. They fill trays and help clients get everything they need for a healthy meal. In just one hour, they serve 250 to 350 people.
A cultural norm
Faulata Wathum-Ocama has been with Securian Financial for 18 years and has volunteered for Dorothy Day Center for the past six. She says that thanks to the encouragement Securian Financial gives employees to volunteer in the community, she sees her workplace as her second home.
“My parents had me start volunteering when I was just 7,” Faulata remembered. “It feels good to work for a company that has strong community values and truly wants us to volunteer. It’s what makes this a great place to work.”
For Rachel, being able to volunteer during the workday makes volunteering possible at all.
“Our time outside of work is so precious these days,” she said. “It’s very important to me that I can come to work, leave, contribute to the community and come back to pick up my workday. It relieves the pressure of trying to fit it all in.”
Securian Financial’s support for its employees’ community involvement is intentional.
“Community is a core value at Securian Financial,” Lori said. “Our volunteers are an outstanding example of our commitment to community and those in need.”
Rob added that volunteering on a consistent basis with the Center has helped established a mutually beneficial relationship.
“Having volunteered there for now for 16 years, I do get recognized by people,” he said. “They’ve come to know that Securian supports them and we’re there to help. I feel good about donating that time, and I can tell it’s making a difference.”