On Friday afternoons, Hilda Rosario-Escher, president and CEO of the Ibero-American Action League Inc., sits down with young children in city schools to work on their reading skills.
"I enjoy working with the kids," Rosario-Escher says, "and they look forward to me coming in. To me that means that they really value the time that they spend with me."
Sometimes the children just want to talk, and she listens and offers support. She says she knows many of them lack positive role models.
"With the stories that you hear, you can count your blessings, because some of what these kids go through is very sad," she says.
With the level of success in the business world that Athena Award finalists have achieved, their schedules are packed. But Rosario-Escher and other previous finalists make the time to give back to their community through on-the-ground volunteer efforts.
Dawn Borgeest, senior vice president and chief corporate affairs officer of United Way of Greater Rochester Inc., says giving back to the community keeps her grounded and strengthens her perspective.
"We tend to get in our little lives, and then suddenly you're at a board meeting for Mary Cariola and they've invited the parents of a child suffering with a disability. It's a good reality check," she says.
Borgeest has volunteered with Mary Cariola Children's Center for years.
"In some ways it can be very self-serving," she says. "While you are giving, you are also getting just as much back."
To volunteers, the extent of their community can stretch around the corner or across the country. Rosario-Escher, a native of Puerto Rico, gives time in Rochester and elsewhere.
"This country has given me a lot, and I need to give back to the community," she says.
Rosario-Escher traveled to Alabama with the American Red Cross to help after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It is a time she will never forget.
"That reward, that sense of accomplishment, that sense of doing something for someone else is very important for me," she says.
Closer to home, she is drawn to help children and teenagers in Rochester. She believes that education is the key to helping people emerge from poverty. In addition to tutoring little children, Escher mentors city high school students through a leadership development program sponsored by the American Red Cross.
Some volunteers say they learned the importance of helping out early in their lives.
Laura Saxby Lynch, director of corporate communications for Paychex Inc., was raised by parents who demonstrated their beliefs in giving back, and she has a long history of community service.
"It's part of the fiber of my upbringing, and I feel very strongly about it," she says.
Saxby Lynch is a member of the Stewardship Council's executive committee for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester.
She also is a member of the board of trustees and the executive committee for the Strong National Museum of Play.
"It's a fabulous organization, but it also has a huge personal significance because my husband and I have a 5-year-old," she says.
As a board member for the Ad Council of Rochester, where she brings her communications and public relations background to the table, Saxby Lynch surrounds herself with marketing and communications professionals.
"The non-profit organizations I have been involved with call upon me to share my communications expertise," she says. "I find great satisfaction, being able to take my professional skills and capabilities into the community and share that knowledge with non-profits."
But just as her professional life contributes to her efforts in the community, her volunteer work enhances her professional life.
"For me, I think that community service and involvement make a more well-rounded professional. It gives you an ability to bring the exposure that you gain from community service back to your job," she says.
Saxby Lynch says board-level involvement in organizations has made her a better leader.
"As a professional, you are very focused during your day on your job, but what volunteer work does is it brings perspective on how the community in which you work benefits from your volunteering and sharing your expertise."
"Volunteering gives you the opportunity to flex your muscles and connect with people that you might not in your day-to-day work," she says.
Meeting people outside of her usual routine, people who share her interest in giving back, has led to friendships, Borgeest says. Volunteering allows for individuals to network at a deeper level.
"I've got to meet people who I am still aligned with professionally and very good friends with."
Through her volunteer work, Borgeest believes, she has developed both leadership and teamwork skills.
"Even if you don't aspire to lead, it's a real practical exercise in teamwork," she says.
When a new school was opening, Bridget Shumway, owner and president of Generations Child and Elder Care, was able to help because of her experience in starting an organization.
"When the Genesee Community Charter School opened, they were a new organization trying to grow and they needed help starting up. Maybe the most important things I had to offer were the mistakes I made-what works and what doesn't work," says Shumway, who launched her firm in the 1990s. "Based on your professional life, you bring things to the table."
Shumway looks to match her interests and skills when she's evaluating a volunteer opportunity. These days, she focuses her efforts on the charter school and on the YWCA of Rochester & Monroe County.
"My interests lie in women, children and education," she says. "I've always been involved with advocacy issues with kids."
Working effectively as a volunteer requires a balance of resources and a healthy knowledge of one's limits on energy and hours to give. Shumway keeps three things in mind when it comes to giving back-time, talent and treasure.
"You have to be careful about balancing your time," she says. "If you overcommit, you don't do anything well-whether it's your business, your volunteerism or your family."
She has found that when she gets involved, she meets very talented individuals.
"You can't help but learn from them," she says. "They can be a source of advice. If something comes up and you need an expert, you might be able to call on someone that you have met."
In the end, says Rosario-Escher, volunteering is personally rewarding as well as beneficial for the community.
"It opens my eyes as to what is really happening in our community." n
Nicole Briand was a Rochester Business Journal intern during the fall semester.
1/8/10 (c) 2010 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.