True to the core values of the company, Roots launches a new program for employees to benefit the community at large

By Robert Sarner, The Source, June 2009

As “special guests” go, this one was certainly most deserving of the label. It’s not every day that one of the world’s leading humanitarians and environmentalists (who’s also a UN Messenger of Peace) spends a morning in a Roots store, taking part in the launch of a new initiative for the company’s employees and the community. But that’s exactly what happened in mid-April when Dr. Jane Goodall helped with the official kickoff of the Roots Cares employee engagement program at the flagship store in Toronto.

The event took place in the store’s upstairs Algonquin Lounge where journalists, customers, and staff of the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada joined Roots directors from the Head Office, managers of Roots stores in Toronto and company co-founders Don Green and Michael Budman for the official introduction of Roots Cares. The MC was Peggie Pelosi, founder of Orenda Connections, an expert on such initiatives and who has worked closely with Roots on developing the new employee engagement program.

It was the culmination of a process that began last year when Don and Michael approved the concept of developing a company-wide community related program that Roots would develop and promote in partnership with a specific charity. In the fall, a committee comprised of 11 Roots employees was formed representing various departments and stores across Canada. Its purpose was to develop a community-giving program that all employees could participate in, with the support of Roots.

After reviewing presentations from several non-profit organizations, the committee selected the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) of Canada, specifically the JGI’s Roots & Shoots program, as their charity of choice. Roots & Shoots is an environmental/humanitarian education program and global network of youth from more than 100 countries.

The new partnership will see Roots employees raising funds and providing volunteer time, with the support of Roots, to help the JGI develop Roots & Shoots projects throughout Canada. Employees will also be directly engaged in initiating and contributing to projects that address issues in their own communities.

At the launch, Dr. Goodall gave a moving and engaging speech, exuding her typical warmth, compassion and belief in the ability of people to make a positive impact. She explained that despite the current state of the world, she was full of hope, based on four main reasons: the human brain; the determination of young people; the indomitable human spirit; and the resilience of nature.

She also paid tribute to Roots for embarking on this new employee-based initiative. “It is very exciting to see a major company like Roots adopting the philosophy of the Roots & Shoots program, and empowering their employees to make a difference in their communities and to act as role models for other young people,” said Dr. Goodall. “Roots and its employees across the country and around the world are to be congratulated. It is initiatives like this one that give me hope that we can and will overcome the huge problems that the world faces today.”

Addressing the audience, Don said there was little mystery behind Roots Cares. “For all the success that Roots has achieved since it began, the most gratifying aspect for Michael and I has come from what Roots has been able to do to help others,” Don explained. “Roots has always had a commitment to giving back to the community, especially in places in which we operate. To add another dimension to those efforts, we recently decided to engage and support our employees more fully in our charitable initiatives through the creation of Roots Cares. It represents an opportunity for Roots employees to link arms and make an impact in their own communities. Appropriately, it’s focused on one of the fundamental core values at Roots: respect for nature and concern for the environment.”

Longtime Roots employee Liz Doggett, Director of Wholesale Operations, has been a key player in the Roots Cares employee committee from the outset. “As a member of the Roots Cares committee, I can say it was a privilege to be involved in helping create this new program for the entire Roots team,” she told the audience. “We are inspired by the work of Dr. Goodall and excited to support her Roots & Shoots initiative.”

Even ahead of the official launch of Roots Cares, employees reacted enthusiastically to it. “When I first heard of plans for this project, I was not surprised,” says Debbie Barnes-Scallion, manager of a Roots store in Vancouver who has worked at the company since 1997 and is a member of the Roots Cares committee. “The ongoing commitment to community and the environment are one of the many reasons I chose to align myself with Roots. As an employee, it’s very important to me that the company I represent holds the same morals and integrity that I do. I’m so proud to be helping develop a program that every member of the Roots team can participate in.”

The first major Roots Cares project for employees to get involved in this year is The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, a hands-on conservation program in late September. It’s part of Project Blue, the Roots & Shoots 2009 national water campaign. Each employee will be invited to participate for one day in a local shoreline cleanup during the week of September 19-27. Roots will pay each employee their normal salary for the day of volunteering.

At the same time, all stores and employees have the opportunity to create their own Roots & Shoots group, or to connect with an existing one in their community (if applicable).

Roots will also be raising funds for Roots & Shoots activities including through the sale of specially produced Roots merchandise and will give employees the option to support the program through an automatic payroll deduction.

In early June, all stores and departments at the head office, distribution centre and factory will receive a Roots Cares handbook which will explain in detail how the Roots Cares program will work and how employees can get involved in the project.

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