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Lehigh Employees Give and Gain at the Holiday Season

Tuesday, December 18, 2018
 
 
Note: We know that acts of kindness and generosity take place across our campus throughout the year, including blood drives, Holiday Hope Chests, the Relay for Life, Challah for Hunger, and the St. Baldrick’s Foundation head shaving event. This article could have been 10,000 words long because our Lehigh community is filled with amazing people. If you want to highlight a program we missed, please share in the comments and give it a shout out!
 
The act of choosing and purchasing a single gift for one child at the holidays may not change the world, but for many employees at Lehigh, it has changed them. And while growing a beard for a month won’t cure cancer, it can help connect police officers with the community.
 
Every year these and other acts of giving and outreach from Lehigh’s employees connect the university to the families of our Bethlehem neighborhoods. Many giving traditions have grown organically out of colleagues’ desire to do something that brings them together in their offices. As time has gone on, some have become established programs.
 
We All Have Enough
 
Linda Harbrecht recalls how University Communications and Public Affairs started an annual partnership with Northeast Ministry, an agency serving families in the Pembroke public housing community. 
 
“About ten years ago we started talking about whether there was something we could do as a department. We felt that we all have enough, but some people don’t,” she explained. “Now, each year, Northeast Ministry gives us a list of about 25 families and the items the kids would like,” 
 
Members of the UCPA team choose a specific child on the list and shop for their requests. They then wrap the gifts individually and put the child’s name on them. As the gifts start piling up (photo right) it adds to the holiday feeling in the office. The office also gathers food donations for local food banks prior to Thanksgiving and at other times of the year.  
 
Linda says that the act of giving as an office impacts the group as a whole. “There’s something about everybody in the office being involved and embracing it. It’s a shared experience that’s very positive,” she said. “Nobody has to do it, but everyone is very enthusiastic and takes it seriously.”
 
 
Breaking Down Barriers
 
As stubble began appearing on the faces of many of Lehigh’s police officers last month, there were mixed reactions in the department. “A lot of the officers consider it a privilege because we have a no facial hair policy the rest of the year,” said Chief Jason Schiffer (photo right). “For me, personally, it’s a massive annoyance. I would much rather shave!”
 
Light-hearted discussion of scratchy beards aside, LUPD officers put down their razors for the third year in November to raise funds and awareness for cancer treatment and prevention through the national “No Shave November” campaign.  Chief Schiffer hopes to increase the impact of the event in future years. 
 
“We could hopefully engage the community more by having people sponsor officers who are participating. I’d also like to do a breast cancer awareness month activity as well, for instance a pink uniform shirt or patches that we could sell to raise money,” he said. “It’s especially fun when you can do something that is out of the norm or unexpected, like officers not shaving. It helps humanize us, breaks down community barriers, and improves public perception of the university.”
 
The police department is probably better known for its 16- year tradition of taking local children on a shopping trip to pick out presents for themselves and their families. “Shop With A Cop” began as an idea to have the department interact with area children in a positive manner. The LUPD was the first police force in the region to develop the program.
 
 
“The first time we did it, we took over Wal-Mart and brought in the police cars and everything and at first people thought something was wrong. They were asking what was the matter,” recalled Administrative Specialist Elizabeth Miller Coleman
 
Once people heard about why they were shopping with the children, though, they started handing them money. One family that happened to be there even began an annual practice of paying for a bicycle for a child. 
 
Over the years, the department has raised money through golf tournaments and donations from area organizations. More recently, Wal-Mart, Crayola, Sam’s Club, Ahart’s and others donate everything from art supplies to turkey dinners.  Sodexo donates breakfast with Santa the morning of the event.
 
“For me, it’s the satisfaction of the kids, the happiness of picking out something they wanted or saw on TV that they didn’t think they could get,” Liz noted. “Their eyes open wide when they find out how much money they can spend. Most of them want to buy something for their parents first.” 
 
It’s exciting, but it’s not without stress. “I’ve seen kids who literally refuse to spend a dime on themselves. We have to beg them to spend money on themselves,” Assistant Chief Chris Houtz said. “Breaking through to a kid who refuses to spend any money is really special.” 
 
 
The Right Thing To Do
 
A conversation overheard by softball coach Fran Troyan at a convenience store about tough times at the holidays was the impetus for one of the university community’s largest annual charitable initiatives.  Now in its twentieth year, the Adopt-A-Family program provides about fifty families a year with gifts from toys and winter coats to grocery gift cards. All of the funds are raised and spent by student athletes, fraternities, sororities, and numerous university departments.
 
Public Relations Coordinator Roseann Corsi (photo right) has managed Adopt-A-Family since its inception. She runs the COACH program within Athletics which organizes service opportunities for student athletes. “The first year, we just raised the money and dropped the gifts off,” she recalled. “We thought perhaps the families might feel uncomfortable receiving the items from us. But soon, we were asked if we would consider holding an event where our families could have a fun holiday evening and also receive their gifts.” (see photos from this year's event below)
 
In his role as executive director of Student Auxiliary Services, David Joseph (photo below left) oversees dining services. His department supports the Adopt-a-Family program by providing food for the party, including donations from Lehigh vendors like Pepsi. Still, he wondered if there wasn’t more he could do. 
 
“I asked Roseann if departments and offices could participate by taking a family, too, and she immediately said yes, because that would be more families we could help,” he said. 
 
Soon, in addition to his own department, David enlisted other offices across Finance and Administration. Now, each year, about nine F&A offices participate. Development and Alumni Relations recently joined the effort as well.
 
David thinks employee involvement is simply the right thing to do. “We’re part of this Southside community,” he said. “The kids in the neighborhood walk through and around our campus every day.”
 
A list of families is provided to Roseann each year by the university’s community school partnership coordinators at Donegan Elementary and Broughal Middle School. Roseann works to ensure that each department, team or Greek organization is given a family that fits with the size of the group doing the giving. After that, it’s up to them to raise the funds and buy the items. 
 
Many of the athletic team members will write letters to their friends and families asking for donations. Offices sometimes get creative in how they collect the funds they need. Human Resources, for instance, offers their employees a chance to wear jeans on Fridays for a modest fee. The money collected over the course of the year from that activity serves as the foundation of their giving fund.
 
The Adopt-a-Family program has the direct benefit of supporting families in Bethlehem at a special time of year. It also offers a reminder to the Lehigh community that our neighbors are sometimes struggling.
 
Roseann remembers a family who asked for a bed. The group supporting them raised funds to buy the bed as well as linens and pillows. “When we went to deliver it, we found that they had been sleeping on the floor,” she said. “It was emotional for all of us. It may be a temporary thing, but at least you know you’re helping someone out for the holidays.”