Carroll Adams President Builds Culture of Volunteerism

ORLANDO, FL—“We recognize the world is bigger than what’s happening in the office,” shared Ted Carroll, president of Carroll Adams, based here. “Volunteerism is part of who we are and the company culture. It’s not something we do once a year as a volunteer day. For us, it’s bigger than that and it’s something we want to be known for—delivering great projects and strongly supporting our community.”

At the end of the day, a job well done can be extremely satisfying but, coupled with opportunities for personal growth and self-expression, you have something else—work that is deeply meaningful and purposeful. Employees at Carroll Adams are plugged into a higher purpose on a regular basis, beyond the typical workday, through community service projects they helm themselves or participate in as a group, and sometimes with their children in tow.

“Our first big initiative was the backpack giveaway, and we’ve been doing it for 10 years. This event is for a housing development owned and run by the Orlando housing authority for working-class families and single moms, who are working hard jobs and earning minimum wage to support their families,” explained Carroll. “We were working with the city commissioner and found out that the local eighth graders didn’t have the tools they needed to be successful in school. Items as simple as a backpack filled with school supplies. We got the supply list from teachers and filled the backpacks with rulers, pencils, paper and calculators. There were about 150 to 180 kids that needed supplies in that development.”

It was this initial foray into volunteerism that served as the catalyst for other community-focused efforts, some of which tapped into the firm’s wheelhouse—designing inviting spaces to work and play. Employees were able to lend a helping hand and their design skills to areas of dire need in the city.

“Once we were really in the community and able to understand the needs, we aligned ourselves with the city commissioner to redo the community centers from a decor aspect, adding new flooring, artwork and fun sofas. We made it a comfy place they’d want to be,” Carroll said.

Staff education is a key component of the firm’s philanthropic efforts, with informative lessons on human trafficking in a larger context and the significant impact on the local level.

“I was reading about how bad human trafficking is in Florida and the situation is particularly bad in Orlando, ranking very high in the nation. We had an educator come in to do a session with employees, talking about human trafficking here and nationally and what we can do to get involved,” Carroll said.

“We got together and assembled 300 backpacks of supplies filled with sweatpants, personal hygiene products, a gift card and a phone number to get help. When police break the trafficking rings, a support group is there to hand out the backpacks. The ladies will have something to get on a fresh start,” he said.

Volunteerism is deeply personal for Carroll as his early years were humble growing up in the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia.

“It’s a hard place and a lot of people are struggling, so I’ve always had this passion to help. I recently went back to my roots to do something there. At a shelter where women had been abused, I bought 32 new mattresses, sheets, blankets and towels—it’s the things we take for granted like getting a good night’s sleep,” he said.

According to Carroll, it’s about utilizing staff talents to help the community with design and supporting the community by listening to their needs. In support of the creative minds at his firm, he gives his staff the freedom to dream up their own community-driven projects and the room to execute them, allowing for a half-day off of work in some cases.

“After seeing how rewarding these experience were, it became a part of our company’s mission. We did split it up—one side focused on community, the other for using the talents we have for other projects and getting employees involved. We started doing different things near and dear to the employees,” he said.

Many hands make for light work and Carroll Adams employees are a living example of how a company can organize to make a difference in the lives of others.

“We serve food at the Coalition for the Homeless and, before the holidays, we send 15 people over to the shelters to clean all day. A small thing can make a big impact,” Carroll said. “It’s not always about money. A lot of people may think being philanthropic is about giving lots of money. A little money in a tough community goes a long way and hours spent can go even further.”

—Corris Little