Refinery Employees Share Passion for Giving Back
Jan 23, 2018
While employees at Shell’s Puget Sound Refinery have volunteered in their communities for decades, the refinery launched a new program in 2016 called the Community Cup – it aimed to take community volunteering to the next level, and it did. Over the last two years, employees have volunteered over 10,000 hours.
Dan Snyder, a process engineer at Shell’s Puget Sound Refinery, and his wife serve as foster parents to children in Skagit County.
For process engineer Dan Snyder, giving back isn’t an extracurricular activity – it permeates every aspect of his life. Starting in 2016, he and his wife decided to foster babies and toddlers who were removed from their families of origin. While fostering a child who often has numerous emotional and developmental difficulties poses various challenges, it also brings new meaning to the word family.
Snyder and his wife live in Anacortes, WA and have fostered three children so far with the support of Fostering Together, an organization that’s dedicated to identifying and supporting foster families in Western Washington.
“Early on in our marriage, my wife and I discussed the possibility of fostering,” said Snyder. “After we had our first biological daughter (she’s now three), we knew we wanted to give other children a chance to grow and thrive – and ultimately give them a shot at a far better life than the one they entered the world in. We can also serve as their voice when others have let them down.”
Refinery launches second year of Community Cup
The refinery recently named Snyder the ‘Technology Department Volunteer of the Year’ as part of Shell Puget Sound Refinery’s Community Cup program for his volunteer efforts on behalf of the foster community. While employees at the refinery have volunteered in their communities for decades, the refinery launched the Community Cup in 2016. It aimed to take community volunteering to the next level, and it did. Over the last two years, more than 100 employees each year have volunteered over 10,000 hours and supported roughly 100 organizations across Skagit County.
The goal of Community Cup is to promote healthy competition between departments at the refinery while making a visible difference in the community through volunteer activities. The competition guidelines are simple. Employees fill out simple documentation to track their community volunteer service throughout the year. The more an employee volunteers, the more points his/her department receives. The more points a department accumulates, the better odds they have at winning the Community Cup drawing.
At the end of the year, a drawing occurs based on the points each department accumulates throughout the year. As a reward for winning the Community Cup, the winning department receives an opportunity to select a local nonprofit organization to provide a $10,000 charitable contribution to on behalf of the refinery.
James Steller serves as the refinery’s Reliability & Refinery Excellence Manager and is the creative brain behind the Community Cup. He describes it as a cross between the NFL’s ‘Man of the Year’ competition and the NBA lottery – with a twist.
“I wanted to recognize all of the incredible work our employees do for their communities, and this seemed like a great way to bring their efforts to life while encouraging others to give back,” said Steller. “Volunteers have the power to make such a significant impact, and our employees inspire me. I’m excited to see this competition grow even bigger in the years to come.”
Local nonprofit supports foster parents 24/7
Last year, the production department won and selected the Growing Veterans organization as the recipient of the $10,000. This year, the technology department won, and it selected Fostering Together as the recipient of the funds. Each department also names departmental volunteers of the year to recognize individuals who have gone above and beyond on behalf of their communities.
Fostering Together – a program of Olive Crest – works closely with the Washington State Department of Social & Health Services to ensure foster families have the support they need to care for children at the most vulnerable point of their lives. The state places many children in foster care due to parental neglect and/or abuse – often a result of drug and alcohol addiction.
“We are so grateful for Shell’s contribution, and the funds will go toward providing our foster parents with more training and support on an ongoing basis,” said Christina Urtasun, a Fostering Together liaison for Island, Skagit and Whatcom counties.
“The gap between the number of kids who need homes and the number of families willing to care for them is huge, and we are frantically trying to close that gap and identify healthy homes for every child,” she said. “Kids’ futures are on the line.”
Giving back is part of employee’s DNA
For Jim Walker, who serves as a senior production specialist at the refinery, giving back is part of his DNA. He was a member of last year’s winning production department that selected Growing Veterans as the funding recipient. This organization serves veterans in Skagit County and in several nearby counties and provides the support they need to live successful lives post-service.
Walker – who lives in Burlington, WA – serves as the vice president of Burlington-Edison’s Little League baseball program, a Major’s coach, a 12U All-Star coach and a North Cascade youth football coach. In addition, he and his wife Carol and their three sons Ryan, Wyatt and Tyler support the Burlington-Edison Backpack Program. Every week, they fill backpacks with donated food for the children at Allen Elementary and Lucille Umbarger Elementary. The sorting can get complicated due to frozen food logistics and allergy precautions, but it’s all worth it.
“Without those backpacks, these kids would go hungry every weekend when they’re not in school,” said Walker. “That has so many negative implications for their growth and development – in addition to their ability to learn.”
He then added, “A lot of people are just one paycheck away from losing everything, and they struggle to make ends meet. I want to help by leveraging my strengths and talents, and it’s important that my boys learn how to help and support their community.”
Walker loves the Community Cup program.
“At Shell, we don’t just show up to work for the paycheck – we are blessed to have jobs that empower us to give back and strengthen our communities, and we can impact them in so many positive ways simply by donating our time and skills.”
Supported veterans leads to stronger communities
Michael Frazier serves as the executive director of Growing Veterans, and he is a veteran himself who served in the U.S. Marine Corps. Growing Veterans began in 2012 and directly serves about 200 veterans each year. The organization’s mission is to empower military veterans to grow food, community and each other to end the isolation that leads to an average of 22 veteran suicides per day in the United States.
“When people leave the military, they’re leaving their family and home in a way – in addition to a common purpose, and they bring back experiences and challenges that most folks have trouble relating to,” said Frazier. “Overcoming these challenges and building a community around returning veterans can help turn their service skillset into transferable skills that appeal to civilian employers.”
At Growing Veterans, veterans engage in ‘dirt therapy,’ which combines veteran reintegration with local organic farming. The organization also delivers peer support training so veterans and civilian community members can learn effective communication skills.
“A lot of veterans come home and they’re hurting, although they may not show it. They have been trained to hide emotions, so they hide themselves. This leads to isolation, which can then lead to unemployment, depression and suicide,” said Frazier. “As a community, we can honor our returning veterans by creating a community of support where military service and leadership can be redirected to community service and leadership that will benefit all of us.”
Partnerships enable greater success
“Having Shell as a partner in our mission is amazing,” said Frazier. “Veterans know that other people care and want to help, and many of them wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the support they received from our organization…and we simply wouldn’t exist without partners like Shell.”
While it’s clear that many refinery employees share a passion for giving back to their communities, perhaps Snyder sums it up best.
“My wife and I are blessed with a good job, beautiful house, wonderful daughter, plenty of food, and so much more. We feel like we have an obligation to give others a leg up and practice more empathy and compassion in our daily lives.”
He paused before adding, “Fostering provides us with an incredible opportunity to make a meaningful difference in a child’s life at such a critical time. That’s a gift that just keeps on giving long after they leave our care.”
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