A Perfect Fit – Community Centers

July 1, 2009

3rd post in a series (see one and two) on our journey to create ARAMARK Building Community, the company’s signature community initiative to strength the capacity of the country’s local community centers.

With firm guideposts in place and a decision made on the issues we wanted to address, we started on partner identification.  We searched for organizations that would be most aligned with ARAMARK’s social issue priorities and goals. 

Our research revealed that there are essential, yet under-recognized and under resourced places in nearly every city where individuals and families go every day for help on a wide variety of needs.  Local independent community centers, also known as “neighborhood centers” or “settlement houses,” address some of the nation’s toughest challenges, especially during difficult economic times.  Whether it is providing food to the hungry, emergency shelter to families that have lost their homes, job training to people looking for better opportunities, or clothing for those fallen on hard times, these centers work to improve their local communities and offer much-needed help to their neighbors. 

Like many of our clients, community centers often operate and manage large buildings, prepare meals, provide recreation facilities, run charter schools, deliver after-school enrichment activities, care for seniors, and much, much more.  Their employees share our passion to positively impact peoples’ lives. 

What we learned is that community centers’ largest areas of need are ARAMARK’s greatest strengths – expertise within nutrition and wellness; workforce readiness; and basic services and facilities management.  By focusing our efforts on working with local, independent community centers, we would be able to use what we’re best at to make a difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of individuals and families in each city. 

We knew that we were taking a risk by proposing an idea as complex as this, rather than a simple “find a cure” or “stop hunger” type of call to action.  To vet the concept and build support, we took the concept on the road, meeting with our executives, stakeholders from the various business units and departments, and non-profits, in formal meetings and informal discussions.  Through consistent storytelling, we refined the best ideas and program elements, keeping the theme consistent but flexible.  By further involving additional stakeholders in the program development process, we were able to generate buy-in, support and awareness that would be necessary to produce results.  “We knew that if we could get people to truly understand the opportunity and the need, they would support the effort,” said

Rick Martella, Vice President of Corporate Affairs.  “We turned strategy into story and told it over and over again…constantly sounding, refining and educating.”

After identifying a strategic concept, framework, cause, and partners, it was time to pull the pieces together.  We developed the programmatic elements and branded the initiative as ARAMARK Building Community.  The umbrella would unify and leverage the company’s professional support, philanthropic donations, and volunteer activities with community centers.  To further guide our work and inspire others we created a mission statement: Enrich the lives of individuals and families in need by partnering with local community centers that help people of all generations learn, earn, and thrive.