Irwin Telescopic helps local schools

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Fayette Faces

By Panzi Blackwell

Something special is going on among the employees at Irwin Telescopic Seating Co. in Altamont, previously known as Folding Bleacher Co.

They have a mission – “Mission Possible”– through which they reach out to help others. Heidi Boley and Zach Townsend, lifelong residents of Fayette County, explained that project.
In the Beginning
“‘Mission Possible” had its beginning in the fall of 2005, by a few of us who work (here),” Heidi said.
“Irwin does things all over the United States and globally, and we are just a small division of it,” she said. The corporate office is in Grand Rapids, Mich., and it is owned privately by an American family.
“We do a lot of different things, and corporately, they do a lot of different kinds of charity work.  So, we thought maybe we ought to start doing things to help people, too, at least help people within our factory,” she continued.  
The office area of the Altamont facility houses about 50 employees, and during the summer months, Irwin has about 125-150 employees overall.
“We thought there might be a need to help, if there was (something like an) illness in the family, and they might need to go somewhere, we could give them a gas card, something like that. We weren’t sure where we wanted to go at the time.”
The First Steps
The first year, they helped three families within the corporation.
The next year, they went to Altamont Grade School, and the mission began to grow year by year, every year.  In addition to the Altamont school, they now go to Brownstown and St. Elmo schools, and support SAFE, which has an office in Vandalia.
“We also help people within our company,” Heidi said.
Confidential And Caring
“We don’t know who we help,” Heidi said. “The schools and organizations outside our corporation fill out forms, and it gives the family size, what their needs are, etc.
“We focus mainly on Christmas. We take the forms we receive, we tally them up and get an idea of how many we need to shop for and the money that we’ve raised over the year. Then we go out and we buy the items on their wish list,” she said.  
“We also give them a basket of dry goods, with fruit in it, so they will get two big baskets, depending on the size of their families,” Heidi said.
"Some baskets will have laundry detergent, soaps … those types of things that families need.
"Then, we also will give canned goods, cereals, etc., and if a baby is listed, we will give diapers, wipes … those type of things,” she said.
“We also are in our third year of Back to School program. If they need backpacks, gym shoes, we deliver them."
Zach said that they help 20-25 families, on average, in the school program, so it is not quite as big.
“If they want to contact the families and the families want to be contacted, they can, but we keep it very confidential,” Heidi said.
“The Mission Possible Christmas Program has really grown. We did 22-25 families last year and it averages to about 100 children or more,” Heidi said.
“Obviously, the schools have mainly the children on the list, but sometimes it is the adults needing clothes, maybe some clothes for their jobs,” Heidi said.
Funding “Mission Possible”
There are individuals who want to help, so they are given the guidelines on what they can and can’t do.
“And then they really help spread it out (over Fayette County), but it is still very confidential. It has just grown and grown,” Heidi said.
“We do fundraisers throughout the year, to help support the program.  All the money that we raise to support the program is mainly through donations of our own employees at Irwin,” she said.
“Corporately, they will make a donation that averages about a thousand dollars a year, but the rest of the money that we raise throughout the year is either from employees or we will fundraisers. Sometimes a sponsor will give us baseball tickets,” she said.
“One of our big money-makers is our 5K run that we do every year. But we also do a lot of lunches at work. We don’t charge a lot, it’s mainly donation. We set an amount, but if someone doesn’t have it, it’s not like we are after them. We feed the whole plant, every shift.
“We try to focus on things needed, such as dry goods, laundry soap, food or clothes. We don’t get into paying their bills,” Heidi said.
“We know we can’t solve their problems, but our main goal is to try to take some of the stress off them during those hard times, during that period.
Summing Up
Heidi said that the first couple of years they hadn’t thought about advertising.
“Then, through Brownstown Elementary School, we have a coloring contest. It is our way of going to the grade school and talking about giving back and helping others.
“The kids will draw a Christmas card, and we have a Christmas card contest. They submit their cards, and the executives will narrow it down,” she said.
“The card that is picked is our corporate card that year, and it goes out all over the United States, to our vendors, dealers, anyone who has done business with us. And it gives us a chance to go to the school and touch base with the kids,” Heidi said.
What began as an effort to help their fellow employees through difficult times is still being done, but has grown to a mission that proved to be possible, to help Fayette County and Altamont schools.
In doing so, Zach, Heidi and their fellow employees at Irwin Telescopic Seating Co., and other sponsors, are giving encouragement to those going though difficult times through their compassion and generosity.