Some call it the ripple effect: Do something good and that goodness will often ripple forward and manifest in other acts of kindness. Such could be said of the scene at Success Preparatory Academy in New Orleans on May 2, 2012, when a team of Kaiser Permanente Gulf Coast volunteers had the opportunity to build and deliver 40 bicycles to a school full of wide-eyed children living in the Hurricane Katrina-affected region.
The bicycle donation stemmed from the success of an employee engagement campaign at Kaiser Permanente known as Tread Lightly. The campaign encourages Kaiser Permanente employees to be better stewards of the environment by pledging to reduce their use of automobiles and fossil fuels and engaging in more active forms of transportation such as walking, bicycling, and taking public transit.
For every 25 employees who took the Tread Lightly pledge in the first month, a bicycle would be donated to a child living in the Gulf Coast region as part of Kaiser Permanente's Gulf Coast Rebuilding Effort.
For Cynthia Atkinson, an RN in at Kaiser Permanente, a former Gulf Coast volunteer, and a winner of Kaiser Permanente's 2011 David Lawrence Community Service Award for her dedicated service to others, the Tread Lightly incentive was an immediate call to action.
"I had that real connection with the Gulf Coast region from having been there." said Atkinson. "When I heard making a pledge to Tread Lightly and doing something good for the environment could result in giving a bicycle to a disadvantaged child living there, I just said to my colleagues, 'We can do this.'"
Atkinson promptly got to work, rallying her Kaiser Permanente colleagues at the clinical contact center in Fair Oaks, Virginia, where she serves as a supervisor. She enlisted champions to help her reach out to other contact center colleagues. One by one, they shared the vision, shared personal stories about the changes they were making to reduce the use of their cars and to walk more, and encouraged others to take the Tread Lightly pledge.
In all, Atkinson helped garner 300 pledges — nearly 75 percent of the employees who worked at her call center.
"We drew up thermometers on poster boards and updated them weekly with the number of pledges we collected and the number of bicycles we could give away with those pledges," Atkinson said. "Before long, the poster boards showed that we had generated enough pledges to bring 12 bicycles to children in the Gulf Coast."
The ripple effect of Atkinson's actions were felt that May afternoon in New Orleans as Gulf Coast volunteers gathered to build and give away the sturdy and stylish bicycles, helmets, and bike locks—40 bicycles in all.
All of the gear had been donated by Kaiser Permanente, in partnership with Bay Area-based Specialized Bicycles. Bayou Bikes of New Orleans provided two mechanics to supervise the assembly process, and a volunteer from a local cycling advocacy group, BikeEasy, led a bike safety class for the students.
Alan Villatuya, senior public affairs representative for the Northern California Region, had been a Gulf Coast volunteer in 2011 and chose to return to New Orleans this year as a project leader.
Alan Villatuya taught Nigel how to ride a bike.
"When it came time to give the bicycles away, I got paired with a first grader named Nigel. He was just beaming with smiles and excitement at getting his very own bicycle," recalled Villatuya.
"But as we were preparing for his first ride, he looked down at his feet and told me he'd never really ridden a bicycle by himself before. He couldn't figure out how to get both feet on the pedals without tilting and almost falling."
So Villatuya spent the rest of his afternoon working with Nigel and teaching him how to push off one pedal and catch the other one with his free foot. He would run alongside Nigel and catch him if he was going to tumble. They spent the whole afternoon together.
By the end of the day, Nigel was doing laps all by himself.
"This was personally the most rewarding volunteer experience for me," says Villatuya as he reflected back on that day. "I had to keep reminding myself that I don't cry as I watched Nigel ride off on his own yelling 'I did it! I can ride my bike now!'
"As I was ready to go, I gave Nigel a high five. He leaned in to give me a hug and told me 'Don't worry. I won't forget anything you taught me today.' Yeah, I kinda loved that day."