Brightspot was founded with giving back to its community core to its mission. For more than a decade, we’ve set the standard for community involvement by engaging our employees in efforts to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others. This past year was no exception, as evidenced by our ongoing actions to better the futures of our local youth, people with intellectual disabilities and wounded veterans.
“The goal of building a more inclusive world is more than mere conversation,” says Parker Ramsdell, Brightspot communications ambassador. “It’s immersing ourselves in the perspectives of people from different backgrounds. When you have a chance to play a round of golf with a soldier who was wounded in combat, you expand your worldview.”
Employees are committed to getting off the sidelines and getting to know the individuals affected by our mission efforts. In fact, learning people’s stories by meeting them in person and getting to know them lies behind all of the company’s mission work. “Long-term change only comes about by connecting people,” says Ramsdell. “Building an inclusive world means connecting people whose paths might not naturally cross.”
Building Connections Through the “Sport of Self-Report”
Brightspot CEO David Gang loves golf, which makes it a great choice for the company’s mission work—but that’s far from the primary reason Gang’s company takes part in an eponymous Pro-Am, held since 2013. When you’re out on a golf course, you’re out for four or five hours, walking around, riding in a cart, standing to watch your colleagues, and these things make unimpeded human interaction possible. You get to spend time with people in a way other events don’t allow. “There’s a reason golf is called ‘the sport of self report,’” Ramsdell notes. “No one gets to hide their strengths or weaknesses on the links.”
Events during the Brightspot Unified Challenge include members of The First Tee, Special Olympics and Troops First Foundation. Teenagers, wounded veterans and individuals with intellectual disabilities bond through their love of golf. In 2018, guests played alongside PGA Professionals like Jason Gore, Joaquín Niemann and Ben Crane in the Brightspot Pro-Am at TPC Potomac. They also participated in evening team-building sessions, learned about our region’s technology sector, toured the monuments and museums of Washington, D.C., competed in a Ryder Cup-style team tournament, celebrated with teammates at Top Golf, and watched the pros from earlier in the week compete at the first round of the Quicken Loans National.
The relationships formed between strangers made the week a memorable one. At Monday's Pro-Am, retired U.S. Army Sgt. Scott Adams was paired with Tyler Burkam from The First Tee of Three Rivers Park District. The pair discovered that they live in the same city, just minutes down the road, and made plans for a future round. After sinking a birdie putt to win the first hole at Wednesday's team tournament, retired U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. Skip Knowles and his teammate, Grace Kehoe from The First Tee of Greater Charlotte, lost two matches against golfers from The First Tee, but as Knowles reflected, "I was a winner for having the opportunity to share a round with these great golfers."
A New Look and Feel for Perennial Good
While Brightspot has been involved with the Special Olympics for some time, we accomplished a major achievement this year by completing an overhaul of their website, SpecialOlympics.org. Being able to give the Special Olympics a new look and feel on the organization’s digital platform is a powerful example of Brightspot’s commitment to in-kind pro bono work.
Working on the 2019 World Games website was truly a labor of love. My time spent was a show of appreciation toward the athletes, who overcome their obstacles with so much strength and courage, and toward the families and volunteers who support them. I’m very proud to say that I’ve taken part in a world-class event that cultivates a spirit of acceptance. I wish each of the athletes and volunteers success in the upcoming World Games.
Tom Hoppe, front end technical architect, says the Special Olympics overhaul was the most fun he’s had on a project because it carried the most meaning. What’s more, it offered him a chance to use his own skills and the company’s resources to help build a better world. “Thinking about how someone might volunteer because our work on the site made it easier—that’s really special,” he says. Knowing how much Brightspot is committed to making a difference enables employees like Hoppe to model company values.
That’s why sending a team to the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle meant so much. A group of 10 employees, from developers to project managers, spent the weekend of July Fourth supporting “a community that is not only committed to inclusion but thrives because of it,” says program manager Sabrina Wilbern. By participating in basketball, soccer, volleyball and football events involving more than 400 people, overseeing 431 awards ceremonies, and presenting more than 3,200 medals and ribbons, the Brightspot team didn’t simply observe the joy and triumph of the athletes—they felt it, too. In 2019, Brightspot will send another group to the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi.
It’s difficult for me to put into words just how much this entire experience meant to me. I spent a week surrounded by the most inspiring athletes, giving of my time, my energy and my spirit and getting so much more in return. But the biggest highlight for me was working alongside some of kindest and best people you could ever hope to meet. We were a team in every sense of the word, and as a newer employee, it was amazing not only to walk away with new memories, but also with new friends. I’m so grateful to Brightspot for giving me this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Take Your Child to … Do Some Good
For five years, the children of Brightspot employees have accompanied a parent to the office on the fourth Thursday in April for National Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. This year, a new activity was added to the day’s agenda. After sitting at mom’s desk or watching dad get his mid-morning macchiato, kids had the chance to take part in mission work. Under the supervision of Ramsdell, they spent an hour packing lunches to be taken to homeless shelters. “It was a neat way to drive home the importance of our mission work,” says Ramsdell. “They weren’t just listening; they were doing something for somebody else.”
I believe it's important to teach children what it means to work. Helping them practice skills and experience the value of working prepares them for the future. For [my son] Matthew, this opportunity has been an effective teaching tool in communication, collaboration and time management skills.
The YMCA of Metropolitan Washington's Thingamajig Invention Convention is another youth-focused mission program Brightspot supports. The annual invention challenge inspires students to think about careers in STEM. Rob Irvine, content director, notes that this year’s contestants inspired the judges but also each other through their acts of compassion. “One of the challenges was to design a game or toy, and the one that caught everyone’s eye was a ‘Stop Bullying’ game: Players would draw a card describing a scenario and work with teammates to respond to it in a positive way.”
National Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day
The Salvation Army Angel Tree Program in Washington D.C., benefits children in this region, and for the second year, the company took part. Last year, the company sponsored 100 Angels. This year, the ante was upped to 110, but the sheet filled so quickly that not everyone was able to get an Angel—so another 12 were added. Of our 165 employees, 93 purchased gifts for 122 Angels. Once the wish lists were received and the shopping completed, a group spent a morning at the Angel Tree warehouse sorting and bagging gifts for some of the 6,000 children whose holidays are made brighter by this program.
Participating in the Angel Tree provides us all the opportunity to bring the spirit of the season to every child who looks forward to the magic of the holidays. In a way, I see Angel Tree as a gift for the parents, as well. I can only imagine how hard it is to not be able to give your child or loved one something that they want, even as simple as a baby doll or a scooter. A program such as Angel Tree allows the whole office to rally together for an amazing and special cause. Participating in this program lifts the spirits of not only those we help, but of Brightspot, as well.
Our mission work has an impact beyond its recipients—it also inspires and changes our employees. In 2018, the company participated for its sixth year in giving out scholarships to YMCA Camp Letts. Instead of selecting scholarship recipients at random, a committee reads all of the applications and picks the “winners.” By reading the personal stories of the hopeful campers, our employees are able to really connect with those they’re helping.
Looking Ahead to 2019
Given the enthusiasm Brightspot employees demonstrate for the programs they support, 2019 promises to be a banner year for mission outreach, as well as for new partnerships made between individuals, teams, and organizations who believe in encouraging a more inclusive world.