Sue Shuman-Collins, technical support engineer in Unum’s Portland office, coordinated efforts for Unum to provide 30 residents of the Pine Unit of the Long Creek Youth Development Center with holiday gifts, essentials and a meal.
Here in a Q&A with WorkWell, she talks about the special way she and her family give back during the holiday.
What’s the purpose of this holiday giving project? We partner with the Long Creek Youth Development Center, a juvenile detention center, every holiday season and coordinate a gift drive and serving of a holiday meal. This year, we ‘adopted’ the Pine Unit, one of the male residences. The first thing we do is collect gifts of various essentials for the residents as part of a gift drive. The residents can select from a list of what items they’d like most; many employees choose to adopt a resident and get everything on their list. We also pool donations from the Portland campus and make a donation to the center. This year, we donated $500 for the center to use toward an outing for good behavior.
I also go with a group of employees to serve a holiday meal to the residents and their family members. We serve food that has been prepared by residents who participate in the center’s culinary program. Family members of residents are invited to join for this meal, and my family volunteers with me to serve. It’s a special way we give back every year.
Why do you give your time and effort to this project? I’ve always wanted to be involved, so that’s why I expressed interest in coordinating this project four years ago. I feel a connection to the residents because my son was once in their age group, and as a local student, some of the kids we knew ended up there. That’s what started my interest in helping those guys out. Other employees tell me the same things. Whether they’ve had relatives or children in that situation, they feel compelled to help. We get a lot of repeat volunteers year after year.
The sad thing is that some of the residents don’t have anyone. Sometimes during holiday meals, I notice them looking up at the door hoping someone will walk in. It just reinforces the importance of what we do there. When I retire, I’ll probably continue volunteering at the center.
What’s the most memorable part of this project? This may be corny, but every time we serve the holiday meal, we count to three and all say “Merry Christmas” to the residents. We get a lot of smiles afterward. After we’re done serving, we get to go and sit with the residents. It can be challenging to engage teenage boys in conversation, but I always try to talk about things my son was interested in and they usually come around. Obviously, we always hope that someone doesn’t have a long sentence, but there are a few residents who I recognize year after year, so we have an opportunity to reconnect.
What’s the result of Unum’s partnership with this organization? The employees at the center always go above and beyond to express their thanks each year. Every person who served the meal or donated to the gift drive receives a personal thank you note. It’s also nice to see what the center is able to do with our monetary donations – one year they purchased a Playstation, to be used on good behavior, of course. It may not seem like much to serve one meal, but for residents who otherwise wouldn’t really have any family interaction during the holidays, it’s special for us to give them that. The same goes for gifts; it’s great to know that we were able to give something that the residents can have and use.