Volunteering Changes Lives

Oct. 22, 2020

BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina takes pride in being one of the largest corporate philanthropists in the state. But, truly, it is the company’s employees who give back regularly to the communities we serve. 

This October, BlueCross is focusing on thanking its employee volunteers who give so much all year. 

In 2018, nearly 6,000 BlueCross employees logged 18,000 volunteer hours in support of established nonprofits. This equals $444,420 in monetary value. On one day in 2019, 320 employees logged 1,300 hours of volunteer work for 28 organizations. That was our first Fearless Day of Service. The company and its employees gave back in countless ways in 2019. We continue to support local organizations this year. 

Susan Forrest, a community relations specialist, has been volunteering for as long as she can remember. She watched her grandmother regularly take food to elderly neighbors in her South Carolina town. 

“She was one of the original Meals on Wheels ladies,” she says. “I just kind of grew up with that.”

In college, Forrest volunteered to read to a blind student through the National Federation for the Blind. 

“You can make a difference in somebody's life just by being compassionate. That's what led me to volunteer because nobody else would, and I just felt so bad for him,” she says. 

Today, Forrest helps coordinate volunteer opportunities and other community projects with BlueCross. She also serves on two boards — Senior Resources and the City of Columbia’s Bike Pedestrian Advisory Committee

Forrest’s work in community relations has opened her eyes to the importance of volunteers for local nonprofits. 

“If it was not for volunteers, nonprofits couldn't exist just on the money,” she says. “They could not provide a service if it was not for volunteers.” 

Without volunteers, no one would be there to read to kids through the Midlands Reading Consortium or to work with the athletes at the Special Olympics. 

Volunteering changes employees 

Forrest has worked for BlueCross for 23 years, the last 12 in community relations. She’s noticed a difference. The focus on community outreach makes a difference for company culture. 

“Employees who have volunteered, either during a workplace campaign or outside in the community, I really think it's increased our diversity and inclusion at work,” she says. 

The community relations team at BlueCross focuses on a broad range of topics and nonprofits. Through this work they have found employees who are working with local organizations to make a difference here in South Carolina. 

One employee has volunteered for years at the Harriet Hancock LGBT Center. One employee cooks meals and serves the homeless at Finlay Park. Others serve meals at soup kitchens and sort food at food pantries. Many employees nurture and foster dogs and cats for several shelters. 

“These employees have found their passion and have acted on it to make a difference in people’s lives,” Forrest says. “There are many critical social issues and amazing people who find their calling by listening to what brings value into their lives and the lives of others.” 

The generosity of the company overall also influences the workplace culture. Recently, BlueCross announced an investment in five private, four-year historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to help with immediate financial needs to ensure sustainability and assist in getting as many students as possible to begin or continue their education with these institutions. 

“BlueCross’ leadership recognizes that its donations and support of nonprofits bring sustainability to our communities,” Forrest says. 

Susan Forrest Hover image

Volunteering during the pandemic

The pandemic has certainly changed volunteering. In March, Forrest had to stop her Meals on Wheels route because of the risk. Since the start of the pandemic, volunteer opportunities have been limited. 

“I've just been struggling because you know volunteerism is caring for humanity — feeding people, giving somebody a blanket, listening to someone and consoling them,” she says. “It is harder to do that virtually.” 

The need for help in the community has spiked, though, with organizations like the United Way of the Midlands seeing an increase in first-time assistance. There are ways to help out safely during the pandemic.

As for Forrest, she’s eager to get back to her Meals on Wheels route. 

As the holiday season approaches, Forrest recommends looking for organizations or issues that you care about when you are trying to find how to volunteer or where to give. 

“Discover what your passion is and then find an organization that aligns with that,” she says.

Attend a community event

There are many virtual, in-person and drive-thru events you can participate in this month. Check out these events hosted by local organizations and click the links to register: 

Susan Forrest says to use your passions to find local organizations or causes to give back to. Forrest, an avid biker, serves on the City of Columbia's Bike Pedestrian Advisory Committee and has volunteered with local bike races. 

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