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Building a Longer Table

Written by Peggy Stebbins, Chief Accounting Officer & Controller

As people in any industry know, maintaining a consistently high morale when things aren’t going well at work, especially as the holidays approach, can be a challenge. About five years ago, a former colleague and I were brainstorming fun ways to bring our team together while relieving some stress. Naturally, we thought a Thanksgiving potluck within our department would be just the thing. And, as two math aficionados, we were really proud of ourselves for coming up with “Banksgiving” as our event title. Our first Banksgiving was a huge success. My colleague and I were awash in the positive feedback from the event — it truly was a memorable experience that brought our small department together during a tumultuous period. I quickly started dreaming of pstebbins_candidall the ways I could make it bigger and better. As the years went on, it turned into an annual tradition that I took with me through different job transitions.

Four years later, just a year ago when I started at First Business, I told my new coworkers about Banksgiving and what a heartwarming experience it had been. As expected, it was another success within our department but I was still longing for something more. Right about that time, I heard the phrase, “If you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a taller fence.” That simple life lesson really hit home for me, so I knew 2017 was my year to make it happen — I was going to plan an office-wide Banksgiving with a fundraiser for a local food pantry. I began campaigning for it early in the year, even embedding it, and donation goals for the event, into my own yearly goals. I was very determined, and frankly I knew my coworkers would not disappoint. They were clearly generous, community-minded people working for a company that promotes celebrating our shared, welcoming culture of gratitude.

Just two months before our first Banksgiving celebration, our IT department, led by Adam Nieves, donated 21 gently used iPads to the Lussier Community Education Center, a local nonprofit dedicated to helping the youth on Madison’s west side. First Business has a long relationship with the Lussier Center, spearheaded by First Business’s Senior Vice President Dave Shaw. The iPads are integral for several of their ongoing educational initiatives, including their Reading Buddies program. The kids are much more motivated to read using the iPads and having a smart tool that will grow with their reading abilities is key. Brian Squire, Elementary Programs Manager for The Lussier Center, says he wrote grants for four years trying to fund iPads, and was astonished at the gift and the educational possibilities he sees for their kids.

To expand on our involvement with the Lussier Center, I decided Banksgiving would include a fundraiser for their food pantry. Our first office-wide Banksgiving in the Madison office did not disappoint, and our Kansas City and Milwaukee offices joined in, as well. With a conference room full of 20+ crockpots, we had a wonderful lunch together. I did not expect to see so many people staying in the conference room to eat together. People are busy, and often bring food back to their desks. However, I saw so many people sitting and eating, chatting, and smiling. It felt like a true Thanksgiving meal surrounded by family.

Even more, our employees, who are always so generous, gave more than their time, food, and friendship during our Banksgiving event. That day, our Madison office raised $325 for the Lussier Center and collected a large tote of food to help stock their food pantry at this critical time of year. The monetary donation was enough to cover almost a month’s worth of food purchases for the pantry! And this event was right on the heels of our company’s United Way campaign, which raised more than $110,000 for United Way of Dane County.

In our first year, our company-wide Banksgiving was more of a success than I could have imagined. Building a longer table instead of a taller fence is a conscious choice that, for me, has personal rewards that pay dividends all year long. I’m proud to work for a company that emphasizes volunteerism and giving back — it’s so rewarding to be a part of a work family that’s encouraged to make a difference.

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