Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Paid to volunteer

Local business donates labor to nonprofit groups

Express Staff Writer

Clearwater Landscaping donated the services of one of its trucks last summer to deliver thousands of plastic ducks to the annual Wagon Days Duck Race, a benefit event organized by the Ketchum-Sun Valley Rotary Club. Photo by Willy Cook

Clearwater Landscaping in Ketchum is no stranger to supporting community nonprofit groups—the company's been donating money and equipment to organizations such as Rotary International, the Carey Rodeo and Sun Valley Youth Hockey for years.

But when this winter's slow start took a dent out of their snow removal business, owner Matt Hoskins and chief financial officer Dave Lipman decided their company could do more to help the area.

"The dry spell is what sparked this," Hoskins said. "But it's an evolving process."

The company has nine full-time employees and 20 hourly employees during the winter. The full-time employees are on salary, and due to the dry spell, these employees found themselves sitting in an office due to the lack of snow.

As Clearwater has a tradition of helping the community, Hoskins and Lipman said, they put their heads together and figured out a way to keep their employees moving while helping local nonprofit organizations.

"When there's no snow, instead of having them sit at home, we said, 'Let's do something productive,'" Lipman said.

The first project was moving 10 truckloads of stone from the Wood River YMCA building to the Clearwater lot near Bellevue. The stone had originally been purchased to build an ice rink, but when the project fell through, the Y was left with an enormous amount of stone that no one knew what to do with.

Lipman said the Y called him and asked if Clearwater could use the stone for landscaping. Though the company couldn't use it, Lipman said the company would haul it away for free—it was mid-December, and it hadn't snowed in almost four weeks.

The company donated 70 work hours and a combination of salaried and hourly employees to help haul the load. The effort was a success, Lipman said, and he and Hoskins realized that they could take on similar projects across the valley.

"Then it snowed for a week," Lipman said with a laugh, a storm that kept the company busy with snow removal for a while.

Now, they say they're ready to help nonprofits accomplish the "low-priority" items on their to-do lists that often get pushed aside for other, larger projects.

"These nonprofits have all of these little tasks they want to do, but they just don't have time," he said. "So when we have some downtime, we think, what can we do?"

Hoskins said the program could be good for both his employees and for nonprofits in the valley experiencing funding difficulties.

"Rather than lay people off, if we can help nonprofits, that's the goal," he said. "With all the cutbacks, all these organizations that do good in the community are struggling. If we can help them in some small way, then they can continue helping others."

Clearwater Landscaping already provides free snow removal for Blaine Manor throughout the winter and landscaping to the Wood River YMCA, which Lipman said has been happening for years.

In addition to yearly donations to the Road Apple Roulette in Hailey for the Fourth of July and lending a truck to the Ketchum-Sun Valley Rotary Club for the annual Great Wagon Days Duck Race, Clearwater also donates to the Blaine County School District athletic department and gives turkeys to needy families at Thanksgiving.

The new program will focus on donations of labor, not supplies or funding. For example, Hoskins said his people have already helped move bleachers and cabinets at Blaine County schools, and the company is working with Blaine County Director of Operations Char Nelson to repaint a few rooms at the Blaine County Courthouse.

"If you supply the paint and the brush, we'll supply the hand," Lipman said.

Hoskins said the company will try to help whoever calls with prospects—but of course, he can't forget the company's real wintertime occupation.

"We have to be flexible around snow removal, and I think people understand that," he said. "There's no favoritism. It's first-come, first-served, depending on the weather."

Of course, Hoskins said, there is a limit to what his company can do, and he will have to keep an eye on what projects his employees can handle. Lipman said Clearwater is more than willing to take on labor, but won't take on mailings or other organizational tasks

"We don't want to end up running a not-for-profit ourselves!" Lipman joked.

Katherine Wutz:

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