This is article four of the series we started this year about differentiating your company and making a difference in the lives of those around you. We have discussed treating others as you would like to be treated and being truthful in all you do. Next was taking the extra steps. This month's topic is "Give and it will be given back to you."

One casualty of the economy the past several years is "free time." We have all had to work longer hours to maintain our businesses and to practice the principle of "doing more with less." Our trade association as well as local charities have seen an evaporation of volunteer hours. For certain, free time has become a precious commodity and not taken lightly. The subject of giving one's time in volunteerism is to look at a clear principle in nature. It is about sowing seeds of your kindness and caring in order to reap a harvest of contentment and good will.

Giving of your time to a local food kitchen or charitable outreach will bring into your life a perspective and meaning that will eclipse your expenditure. Looking for ways that your company can participate in community outreach will give returns of coalescing your team and will differentiate your company from ones that are only focused internally.

AWI has two programs that facilitate individual company volunteerism. The Adopt-a-Shop program provides a great template for company outreach. High school and vocation school wood shops are short on budget, so there are many ways to help. Gifts of machinery or materials are always greatly appreciated. The voice of a community businessman can underscore the teachers’ appeals to principals and school boards regarding the importance of their woodworking programs. There is also opportunity to actually assist students. For more information contact Steve Waltman at Stiles Machinery,

Another opportunity for company outreach is the Skills USA program, which AWI has supported over 25 years. Its purpose is to develop better opportunities for skilled trades and boasts over 300,000 students and instructors. AWI member companies design items to build, provide materials and machinery for the contests, provide judges and prizes for participants. To learn more go to

The opportunities are all around us, but easy to ignore with the urgent need to get the next job out or complete the next bid. Look for a place you can volunteer some time. Test out this principle: Give and it will be given back to you. You will be pleasantly surprised to see a return on your investment and many times in ways that you could never predict or plan out. It could be a great contact you make that brings in business to your company. It could be discovering a talent you didn't know you had or an interest that adds richness to your life. There will be a return that will far outweigh your investment.

Michael Bell is a 38-year veteran of the woodworking industry. He was deeply involved in the two-year project of melding the AWI/AWMAC Quality Standards Illustrated with the WI Manual of Millwork which resulted in the new Architectural Woodwork Standards. In addition to his work for AWI, he serves as a Woodwork Inspector for the American Arbitration Association. Bell studied Design at Southern Illinois University in the early 1970s under the noted futurist R. Buckminster Fuller. He has conducted numerous seminars for national and regional CSI and AIA meetings on the subject of specifying architectural woodwork and on the Architectural Woodwork Standards. He is also a member of the AWI Speakers Bureau and presents AWI Advanced Estimating Seminars. Bell is Director of Estimating with Allegheny Millwork & Lumber of Lawrence, Pa.

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