Thursday, 05 April 2007 15:44

Giving back is not a money matter

Written by Michelle DeCrescenzo
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Ronny and Jessica Flores put thier body shop skills to good use in the community on a recent visit to a women's shelter. The shop owners nearly overlooked thier potential for giving back, until they caught wind of a great opportunity to connect.

  Jessica Flores is always dashing about. Just ask the body shop owner and she will tell you how her days are spent finishing one task and then quickly moving on to the next. That doesn’t leave much time to give back to the community, but she found a way.
  For nearly 20 years Ronny and Jessica Flores have owned and operated Paint Care and Body Inc. at 4826 E. Cesar Chavez St. in Austin, Texas. They have given to organizations such as the church and little league baseball in the past, but the husband and wife team never thought of themselves as particularly charitable — until now. That  changed when they caught wind of a program entitled “Good Community is Good Business.”
    “All small business owners want to feel like we’re contributing but who has the time,” Flores said. “Donations are easy. But time?”
 The program is designed to link up small businesses with local charities in need. Flores volunteered to be on the executive committee and also attended a preliminary meeting open to those interested in charitable giving. The crowd in attendance represented a much different demographic than at her body shop, Flores said. With 10 employees, many who live paycheck to paycheck, Paint Care and Body Inc. was a stark contrast to the many white-collar companies represented, Flores said.
 “I thought, you know I can give them a dose of reality,” Flores said. “Our side of the industry isn’t represented well.”
 But given how hard it had been for her to break away from the shop to get to the meeting in time, she understood the disparity.
 “It could very well be that when you’re small you wear so many hats you don’t have time to break away for things like that. Your priorities are what they are,” she said. In the end, she realized that she did have one thing that she could pass on and that was useful skills.
 “Big software companies can donate much more than we can,” said Flores. “But more than donating money, what stuck out at the meeting was donating time.”
 Flores toyed with one of the ideas suggested in the meeting, which was to volunteer time and skill.
 “I thought, that is so basic,” she said. So basic yet so effective, yet it had never crossed her mind. In the end, she decided she would team up with a charitable organization where she could go along with her employees and teach a class on automotive maintenance and repair.
 She suggested the idea to her employees at a regular staff meeting and their initial response was fitting.
 “At first they looked at me really surprised – but when I explained to them how they can really contribute, they started to get it,” Flores said.
 She chose to work with the local charity Safeplace, a safe house for women who have experienced abuse and are trying to restart their lives while still caring for their children.
 “The women are at a very vulnerable, sensitive point in their life, what better way to empower a human being,” Flores said. “They’re at a point where they don’t have a man in their life and they still have to support their family. They have a car. We empower them when they are able to take care of it themselves.”
Ronny Flores has been involved with the auto body industry since he was a little boy, and it is something that his father and brother have always loved as well. He  did his part to pass that knowledge on to the women at Safeplace at the end of March. Given the demographics of the shelter, they decided to present the material one evening in English and another in Spanish. After the initial session, they will offer a follow-up session as well. Overall, the plan is to commit to multiple visits a year to really follow through with the commitment, Flores said.
 At their first visit to Safeplace on March 26, Ronny taught the class along with technician Alfred Rojas and painter Obbed Salinas.
 This “Good Community is Good Business” program is ongoing and interested Austin businesses will have the opportunity to link up with charities through the program at different times throughout the year. Flores was part of the pilot program, and she has been working directly with Kimberly Caldwell from the Greenlights organization ever since.
 “You are with your peers in the small business community in town and you all go through the experience together in developing a plan to help engage the community,” Caldwell said.
 Through the committee, Flores learned that more than 90 percent of businesses in Austin are small businesses. She said this surprised her but it also inspired her to be an active participant.
 “Our community is what we collectively make of it,” Flores said. “If you support this community—which is where you work and where you live—then it all ties in. You get involved and make sure your community is healthy, and you do that by giving back.”
 Flores recommended the experience to other body shops that may be interested in participating.
 “With the economy being what it is, you have no control over what the future holds,” she said. “Nothing really is a sure thing anymore. As long as we feel we are giving back, we are benefiting our community. By donating, giving time, you get your name out there. Not in a selfish way of free marketing. You establish yourself in the community. You are the name that they think of. If they ever need that type of service, they will come to you. And you are helping develop a very healthy community.”
 For more information on the “Good Community is Good Business” program, visit www.greenlights.org or email Kimberly Caldwell at caldwellk@greenlights.org.

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