By TRAVIS HANDY
Fairlawn Walmart employees set out to raise money for a good cause and in the process, volunteers managed to gain a $1,000 grant for Pulaski County Humane Society (PCHS).
The volunteer events performed by Walmart associates, “Event VAPs,” as they are called, use the combined efforts of several volunteers and turn their volunteer hours into grants for deserving charities. Event VAP participants have a choice in what cause they support and Debbie Burton, one of the volunteer organizers, feels especially passionate about the humane society’s cause. Burton became involved with PCHS through the experience of taking in a stray dog named Bowser.
“You always hear about neglected dogs, but until you live it, you don’t quite get it all the way,” said Burton. “I mean, when he showed up and I picked him up and put him in my car and all I could feel was bones, it just changed my heart.”
Bowser turned up at Burton’s home in January 2011, emaciated and neglected. Burton said the sight of the dog changed her heart. At first she didn’t want to keep him, but after showing some pictures to associates at work, Cindy Todd, a board member with PCHS who also works at Woodforest National Bank inside Fairlawn Walmart, told the humane society about Bowser’s condition and they offered Burton some assistance with shots and neutering for the sick dog, who has made a full recovery.
“When they heard the story, they stepped up and helped me a little,” said Burton. “So then I thought, ‘I need to give back to them,’ because I knew Walmart had this program.”
Walmart’s program is called “Volunteerism Always Pays.” The Walmart Foundation’s website says “through the VAP program, the Walmart Foundation awards grants to eligible organizations where associates volunteer.” The foundation says since launching the program, associates have volunteered more than seven million hours of their time and in 2011, associates generated more than $13 million in local grants.
Burton has organized two volunteer events for PCHS. At the first event in May, five associates gave 25 hours and got the humane society a $500 grant. She wanted to push the next event over the top and on Oct. 27, 11 associates volunteered a combined 60 hours, earning them the right to request a $1,000 grant from the foundation for PCHS. Burton couldn’t be more pleased with her fellow associates’ volunteer efforts.
Burton said the experience has been a “life changer” for her and the reasons she feels so passionate about supporting the humane society’s cause are Bowser and her two six-year-old children.
“I just thought, ‘what a good way to give back,’ because the company I work for will give them money if I just give a little bit of time,” said Burton. “It’s that, and I’m trying to teach my kids about giving back to the community and helping animals.”
PCHS is excited to have received the Walmart grant, and according to Executive Director Candice Simmons, the funds will help meet needs like cat litter, cat and dog food, cleaning supplies and medical supplies for the animals.
“We’ve been pretty lucky this year to have gotten some (grants), but the grant from Walmart is awesome and plus it’s local,” said Simmons. “Part of the conditions of the grant is that the Walmart associates have to put in so many volunteer hours, so that helps even more. It’s more than $1,000, it’s also volunteers and exposure for our (animals)—the whole nine yards.”
Simmons said after the October event at Walmart, which included community involvement and a hot dog and baked goods sale, volunteers donated proceeds from the event, bringing the total of Walmart’s contribution closer to $2,000. Two dogs were also placed in adoptive homes as a result of October’s event.
PCHS recently celebrated several successes from 2012 at the society’s annual meeting. Simmons said they have done fundraising they were unable to do before, thanks to the help of new volunteers, many of them from Radford University and Virginia Tech. They also formed a partnership with Pulaski County High School, pairing students with dogs to teach them basic obedience skills and socialize them, and another program with volunteers socializing dogs.
“What we’re trying to do is calm them down, get them ready for the home setting and ultimately make them more adoptable,” said Simmons.
PCHS has some goals they hope to meet in 2013, which include doubling the number of spays and neuters—this year they have performed 731—and trying to boost their adoption numbers from this year’s total of 366 to more than 1,000.
About the Walmart volunteers, Simmons said they were “absolutely wonderful. I can’t say enough good things about them.”
Simmons also pointed out Burton was recognized at the annual meeting as PCHS’s Fundraiser of the Year.
“She keeps telling me that she wants to do more next year, so we’ll see,” Simmons said. “We’re excited and we’re really lucky to have her.”
Fairlawn Walmart associates continue to do good work through the VAP program. Their final event of the 2012 has involved volunteering with Radford/Fairlawn Daily Bread, helping fight hunger in local communities.