A novel approach to team building at Worthington Steel last week had employees rolling up their sleeves to tackle community projects.
On Sept. 26, the Delta steel plant closed for a day as between 150-180 of the plant’s 200 workers fanned out in groups to paint, landscape, build, and repair during projects in Delta, Wauseon, and Archbold. It was an opportunity to give to local organizations and to demonstrate Worthington’s commitment to the golden rule of treating people well.
“We wanted to do something where we’re actually helping with our hands and our minds. Citizenship is a philosophy of our company,” said Jeff Leeper, Worthington Steel’s operations manager.
Rather than continue with past employee team buildings sessions that included off-site conferencing and fun, competitive events, the plant management “wanted to have more impact on the community, a bigger footprint,” he said. “We decided we wanted to do something new and different.”
The company’s Community Involvement Committee, comprised of six hourly employees, pitched the idea of community service projects, and asked each company department to generate ideas and elect a project leader. It was decided to keep the projects within Fulton County so that local organizations would benefit.
The idea was met with enough enthusiasm that even employees not scheduled to work that Tuesday volunteered to help. As a tribute to the participating employees, all were paid for a day’s work.
In all, six of the plant’s departments pitched in: slitter, shipping, maintenance and engineering, tech services and quality, front office staff, the galvanized line team, and the pickle line. Their projects included, respectively: painting a concession stand and power-washing and painting restrooms at Delta Community Park; painting a viaduct on State Highway 109; eliminating wooden stairways and benches and installing life rings at the Delta reservoir; increasing fence height in the dog exercise area of the Fulton County Humane Society, as well as donating dog toys and leashes; landscaping, painting, picnic table repair, and log cabin maintenance at Sauder Village in Archbold; providing a field day for students at New Horizons Academy at Sara’s Garden in Wauseon; and installing a disc golf course at Reighard Park in Wauseon.
The galvanized line team also presented New Horizons Academy with a $700 donation, money raised by allowing employees to shove pies in the faces of the plant’s management staff.
While the organizations receiving assistance provided some materials and equipment, Worthington Steel footed the bill for most of what was needed.
Despite a few nerves over leadership roles, and some apprehension about how their efforts would be perceived, the plant’s employees looked forward to the opportunity, Leeper said.
“We got a tremendous amount of feedback from our employees. They all did a fantastic job,” he said. “We all had a lot of fun. They were all very meaningful and impactful projects. As a team building project, they got a lot of value out of it.”
The day began at 8 a.m. and concluded about 3 p.m., when the employees met back at the plant for a recap of accomplishments and a celebration.
“They were overwhelmed, and just very appreciative for what took place,” Leeper said. “We’re wanting people to know the type of company that we are, and get a little more visibility in the community. One of our philosophies is to encourage our people to actively participate in community affairs, (so) we could accomplish two things at once: to have a nice team building effect and to have a positive impact on the local community.”
Troy Boze was the team leader for 30 employees who entertained students at New Horizons Academy and brought them T-shirts printed with the declaration “I am the MVP because I am worthy of it.” He said the smiles they elicited from the children, who are developmentally disabled, were worth the effort.
“The kids took to us right away, and the guys really took to the kids,” Boze said. “I don’t think the guys from our company knew the impact that just going to the school would have on these kids. I think it was a real eye-opener for a lot of us. But overall, I think the day was a huge success, and a very humbling experience.”
He said the reaction of the students, many of whom asked the steel workers to visit again, “was the biggest sign of gratitude we could ask for. We would absolutely love to go back again.”
Sara’s Garden CEO and Executive Director Matt Rychener said the day was a success for both students and Worthington workers.
“It was really neat to see them interact with the kids. It had impact on everybody,” he said. “They could see how amazing these kids are. I hope we have the opportunity to do it again.”
A 20-year Worthington Steel employee, Trevor Leininger led a group of 37 workers at Sauder Village in Archbold. They painted light posts and repaired picnic benches and part of a log cabin, among other tasks.
“Everybody was pumped,” Leininger said. “I think we got more out of it in terms of a sense of accomplishment, and I think it was money well spent. We got to give back to the community. In he future, if they ask us to do (community service) again, I think it would be a great idea.”
Leeper said Worthington’s management will discuss whether to make a community service day an annual tradition. He said feedback from employees indicated pride in what they accomplished.
“And they’ll have memories about what took place that day for many years to come,” he said.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.