The Service Award: Freedom Auto Group
Austin always wanted a car. Freedom Auto Group made it a reality.
That scenario doesn’t sound out of the ordinary for a dealership. After all, that’s what most dealerships do—they provide individuals with cars. However, in this case, the car Freedom Auto Group provided was not a traditional vehicle that most young adults get. It’s a small cart that Austin uses to roll around the shop to deliver popcorn. And, should anything happen to that cart, the service team is there to fix it.
Let us explain. Austin is an employee at Freedom Auto Group and a part of its partnership with John Paul II Center for Special Learning, an organization that helps build up life skills for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“[Austin] said he had always wanted a car,” Evelyn Chatel, vice president and partner of Freedom Toyota, part of Freedom Auto Group, says. “So, the techs rigged up a cart that he rolls around. A couple of weeks ago, he told my husband that the car was broken, so the techs put it up on the lift.”
That’s typical behavior for the Freedom Auto Group. Austin and the three other individuals that work there in partnership with John Paul II Center are an important part of the community that’s been developed at Freedom Auto Group.
“Anyone can hire them, but they become family for us,” Chatel says. “Austin is a part of the Freedom family.”
The Boys & Girls Club. Animal Rescue League. Central PA Food Bank. Special Olympics. The Wounded Warriors Project. The list goes on and on (read even more below) for the organizations that Freedom Auto Group makes a point to partner with.
“The benefit that we find is that if you’re giving back to your community, you feel more grounded and connected,” Chatel says. “If they [staff] feel like they’ve done good work, they do good work. We’re giving our people a chance to do good work in their communities as well.”
The group makes it very easy for its employees to feel good about themself. Any time an employee at Freedom Auto Group wants to give back to the community doing non-profit work, Freedom pays for those hours.
“I think there’s great people everywhere, they just need the opportunity to feel comfortable where they work to be able to be free to express themselves,” Chatel says. “If you give people that, they will do amazing things. Freedom is able to do that and give them [employees] a platform to be able to do that.”
Read more to find out why Freedom Auto Group is this year’s FIXED Community Service award winner.
Encouraging Staff Involvement
Freedom Auto Group not only encourages its employees to give back to the community, it also provides them with the resources needed to make it as convenient for them as possible. The Leadership Harrisburg program is just one example of this. Freedom Auto Group partners with Leadership Harrisburg and Leadership Reading to provide nominated individuals within the Freedom organization an opportunity to work with a non-profit group of their choice. The course offers college credit and Freedom pays the tuition for its employees [For more information, read the Rising Star Q&A with Ian Shreve]. The tuition is $3,000 per employee and typically four people (two from each the Harrisburg and Hamburg locations) end up going, Chatel explains. Employees are nominated and then the leadership team makes the final decision on who gets to go.
For anyone else that wants to give back, Freedom Auto Group allows its staff to take time off while still being paid. As of right now, Chatel explains there are no limits on how many hours they can take off because “nobody has taken advantage of it [in a negative way],” and it’s been such a positive benefit for the working environment.
Being Visible in the Community
With active participation in over 30 organizations within the area, Freedom Toyota has a well rounded variety of community service programs and is always looking for more—that’s where it Freedom Giving Thanks program comes in.
During the months of November and December, non-profits are nominated through Facebook and each week, one organization is selected through both Harrisburg and Hamburg and given a check for $5,000. Once an organization has won, they cannot win again for that year.
“All of the non-profits we work with are notified [when it’s time] and they can go on and post it to their Facebook and encourage people to nominate them,” Chatel says. “We do an awards ceremony with all of our winners, which is typically held the first or second week of January.”
Also around that time, Freedom Auto Group holds its Holiday Helpers program. What started out as adopting a few families and holding a food drive has evolved into a banquet with over 200 families that are nominated by local non-profits.
“Every child under the age of 18 gets a gift that’s wrapped. We have a Santa, we take pictures of the family and they get to take that picture home with them,” Chatel explains.
At the celebration, families can take home gently used clothes, $125 worth of groceries, and enjoy a warm dinner. There are also games, hot cocoa and a cookie and candy station. Last year, Freedom even set up a pet food station.
“It’s just a way for them to have a party for the day,” Chatel says.
In 2017, the party had more than 900 people in attendance.
To encourage employee participation, Freedom offers payroll deductions so giving back doesn’t set them back during the holidays.
Recognition for Participation
To thank its employees for their contributions to the community, Freedom Toyota hosts a luncheon once per month for employees who were "Caught in the Act" are honored. The award calls out two employees (along with their nominators) for extraordinary acts of kindness or generosity displayed beyond their work, such as helping a non-profit or fellow employee.
Nominations are put in a box and then two are selected and given a gift of gratitude, such as tickets to a local amusement park. The luncheon is a potluck and anyone can bring something. Birthdays, anniversaries, and other special announcements are made during the luncheon.