At Blue Cross, Young Employees are Passionate About Giving Back

Julie Bitely

| 5 min read

Little girl holding food at a soup kitchen.
Plenty of ink has been spilled about the millennial generation, adults born roughly between the early 1980s and mid-1990s. While it’s impossible to make general assumptions and observations about an entire segment of the population, one interesting trend that’s been observed is this cohort’s desire to give back and to find meaning in their work and in life. This Forbes article declares that “millennials are leading a revolution in corporate volunteering efforts”, choosing to work for companies that foster a sense of giving back to their communities. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan has long been a champion of community service and our millennials and younger employees are a big driver in continuing to foster that spirit. Young and old(er), a total of 3,566 Blue Cross employees have donated more than 10,000 hours of their time this year alone, to numerous charitable organizations across the state. Popular volunteer destinations include the Capuchin Soup Kitchen in Detroit, Degage Ministries in Grand Rapids, the Boys and Girls Club in Lansing, and the Salvation Army in the Upper Peninsula. Many volunteers also donated their time this year to ongoing water and nutrition distributions to Flint residents. Beyond opportunities provided by Blue Cross to volunteer, many employees choose to give time and money to organizations and causes they’re personally passionate about. Here’s how three Blue Cross millennials are giving back to their communities.

Breaking the stigma of addiction

A family history of alcohol use disorder in her family makes Angela Hernandez’s volunteer work at Mariner’s Inn meaningful to her. The organization provides 24-hour residential substance abuse treatment for adult homeless men of southeastern Michigan. Mariner’s also offers a wide range of social service programs to help adults achieve the best possible outcome, while also supporting the families and youth affected by addiction.
Angela Hernandez volunteering with Mariner's Inn (she's wearing the Detroit Tigers hat). Hernandez, 30, has been involved with Mariner’s Inn since 2012. She currently serves as a member of the board of trustees and is also a member of the marketing and development committee for the organization. She uses her skills as a social media team leader at Blue Cross to support communications, public relations and social media efforts that help raise awareness of the organization and drive participation in events. “The disease of addiction is something that unfortunately affects most people in some way or another throughout their lifetime,” Hernandez said. “When I was young my father was in recovery for alcohol and was sober for more than 15 years, so I have a personal connection to the work that is done by organizations like Mariner’s that provide lifesaving help to those in need. It’s important for me to help raise awareness that addiction is not something to be ashamed of, and that seeking treatment should not be difficult or confusing. I want others to know that organizations like Mariner’s are a critical part of our community.” Blue Cross has supported Mariner’s Inn by sponsoring the organization’s annual River Rhythm Gala for the last four years. The Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation also provided grant funding for an on-site psychiatrist as part of the treatment programs offered.

Advocating for cystic fibrosis patients and their families

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder that can severely damage the lungs, digestive system and other organs in the body. Brandon Erhart knows the realities of cystic fibrosis because he lives with the disease. He’s fortunate to be in great health and chooses to use his personal experience to advocate for those who can’t.
Brandon Erhart at a Friends and Family of Cystic Fibrosis event.
Brandon Erhart at a benefit event for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The 27-year-old is an account manager for Blue Cross’ West Shore sales team. He volunteers as a member of the Adult Advisory Board for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in Bethesda, MD. Locally, he donates his time to raise money and awareness for the Friends and Families of Cystic Fibrosis (FFCF), a West Michigan organization devoted to working with families and individuals in the community affected by cystic fibrosis. “This may look different for different families, but it may include financial assistance with medical bills, helping to pay utilities and other bills for cystic fibrosis adults who may be out of work due to illness,” Erhart explained. “The other thing Friends and Families of Cystic Fibrosis does that truly makes the biggest impact is hospital “drops” where they bring in care packages to kids who are in the hospital.” Erhart said it’s not uncommon for kids and adults to spend several weeks per year in the hospital, so the drops are a way to lift spirits during what could be a long hospital stay. Erhart also devotes a lot of his volunteer time to raise money for FFCF’s flagship event, “Bid for Bachelors and Bachelorettes.” “Anytime someone volunteers their time for charity it is a beautiful thing but when it is for a cause or purpose you’re passionate about it becomes so much more meaningful,” Erhart said.

Fighting for civil rights and societal equality

Picture of Farida Islam.
Farida Islam Farida Islam’s reaction to injustice isn’t to wish for change, it’s to get involved to support the direction she’d like to see her community, on a local and broader level, grow in. After attending a program on criminal justice reform put on by the American Civil Liberties Union, Islam joined the organization as a member and volunteer about two years ago. She remembers being outraged by the injustices that families go through in trying to visit and communicate with their loved ones while incarcerated. The 27-year-old enjoys the work because it “truly represents my core values and beliefs.” She’s passionate about the ACLU’s history of “fighting on behalf of Americans for constitutional and civil rights.” Volunteering with the organization gives her a sense that she’s doing her part to educate and inform the community about complex issues that are hard to tackle, while bringing about positive change. It's not just young Blue Cross employees giving back. Read about our inspiring executive team and the causes they're passionate about in these posts:
Photo credit: Steve Debenport

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