Author and civil rights leader Howard Thurman once said, “Community cannot for long feed on itself; it can only flourish with the coming of others from beyond, their unknown and undiscovered brothers.” A community must be intentional about being inclusive. While a community may be founded on certain beliefs and values, it must also be open to new and innovative ideas. It takes people to form a community, but it’s what the people bring to the community that makes it thrive. Although a community shares common interests and goals, it’s the different talents and skills of its members that help that community succeed.
As individuals, we find that we belong to several communities, which come with perks but also with obligations. Some of the communities we’re members of can be based around family, friends, religion, and other categories. As facilities professionals, however, two of our main communities are determined by the neighborhoods we live in and the campuses we work on. Some of the privileges of being a member in either of these communities may include a sense of safety and protection, access to goods and services, and the benefit of being rewarded. On the other hand, being a member of these communities may come with the responsibility of investing in them, representing them, and maintaining them.
In Facilities Services (FS) at the University of Chicago, we understand the importance of engaging with the community. Several times a year, we volunteer and participate in community projects. We collect food, toys, coats, school supplies, and care packages for men and women and donate the items to our community members. We purchase food and prepare hot meals for families living at the Ronald McDonald House and for those who have children in a hospital. We also help disadvantaged families in the community by rebuilding their homes to make them warm, safe, and dry.
How it Works
Through the nonprofit organization Rebuilding Together Metro Chicago, FS selects a house based on the family’s need and the department’s ability to deliver. FS tradespeople donate time and labor prior to National Rebuilding Day (a day that unites volunteers across the country to rebuild homes) and make significant improvements to the home. Repairs have ranged from building an accessible ramp, rewiring electrical systems, floor installation, and so much more. Some of the chores on National Rebuilding Day include landscaping, cleaning and organizing, painting, and other small tasks. This event tends to stir up a lot of emotions among volunteers and homeowners alike. Volunteers usually walk away proud of their contributions and feeling privileged to have participated. Homeowners express their gratitude and like to keep in touch to remind FS of the great impact they have made on their family and community.
Additionally, FS sponsors a paid summer internship program for high school students in the community who are interested in pursuing a career in facilities and in the trades. Close to 70 students have participated in the program; exceptional students were invited back a second year; and two have been hired as full-time employees. At the beginning of the program, interns are required to take a safety training class. They are provided with personal protective equipment (PPE) and all the necessary tools to succeed. During the six-week program, FS hosts a weekly lunch-and-learn mentoring session where the interns can have in-depth conversations about facilities as a profession.
Being a part of a great community certainly has its benefits. Whether on the giving and volunteering end or on the receiving and flourishing end, it feels good helping others. FS maintains good relationships with its community partners by letting them know that the university is not just a landmark, but an institution with staff members who are passionate about the services they provide not just internally, but to those outside the university.
Networks and Resources
Being a member of APPA has also proven to be beneficial. Being a part of a larger network with so many resources affords its members the opportunity to explore beyond their normal boundaries. Leadership in educational facilities is a commonality, but how each institution leads can look somewhat different. APPA allows its members to share with each other, learn from each other, and ultimately develop more professionally by utilizing access to a unified standard of best practices and to the diverse knowledge and experience of other members. A new and growing resource for engagement is the APPA Community Page on the APPA website.
Additionally, members of the APPA community have the opportunity to increase their professional competency by enrolling in and completing certification programs. APPA membership helps individual members where they are by helping them do their jobs better, and certification programs like the Certified Educational Facilities Professional (CEFP) help to propel them higher. And not only do individual members benefit, but educational institutions as a whole can benefit from services such as APPA’s Facilities Management Evaluation Program (FMEP), which provides institutions with a customized evaluation conducted by a team of institutional peers and based on a comprehensive set of criteria. So get engaged, and experience the richness of the APPA community.
Tiffany Grant is executive administrator at the University of Chicago in Chicago, IL. She can be reached at [email protected]. This is her first article for Facilities Manager.