by P. Andersen
Team building. It is a catch phrase used throughout the business world to describe off-site meetings where employees and managers are required to work together to complete a task. It can be something silly like building a balloon pyramid, or more difficult like an obstacle course. The end goal is the same: to accomplish something as a group that would be difficult or impossible to accomplish as an individual.
Each year, Levitt-Fuirst looks for a project that will build this team philosophy. Since I joined Levitt-Fuirst nearly 5 years ago, the projects have included days of learning, fun, adventure, and more recently, volunteerism. In 2013 and 2014, we joined Habitat for Humanity working to rehabilitate two houses in a Yonkers neighborhood just to our south, to benefit two military families. Working on the Habitat houses was an amazing experience, and we all felt great pride in seeing the families prepare to move in after all of our hard work. Levitt-Fuirst cannot take all the credit for renovating these houses – The two families contributed continuously, many of our business partners joined us in our work, and several other organizations also volunteered their time and energy – many hands make light work. But we were proud to be a part of it, and happy to know that two very deserving families were getting the opportunity to buy a small home that would otherwise be out of reach.
With that project completed, Ken Fuirst and Jason Schiciano took us in a different direction, literally. Just to our north, abutting our office building’s property, the Andrus School thrives in their goal of helping the kids that most need help. Andrus offers both residential and day programs for nearly 150 students ages 5 to 17. These kids have seen more hardship than I will see in my entire life, and Andrus offers a safe haven to live, learn, grow, and imagine a brighter future for themselves.
There are many Andrus centers, from pre-school programs to nursing homes, and each is devoted to improving the lives of those most in need in our area. The Andrus School is housed on over 100 beautiful acres off of North Broadway in Yonkers, and on a bright, sunny morning in July, the employees of Levitt-Fuirst arrived to help with whatever Andrus needed us to help with.
One of the goals of the school is to empower their students to work hard and succeed, and many of the programs are centered on the land. With beautiful greenhouses and gardens, resident animals (sheep, chickens, honey bees, and a pair of Alpacas coming soon!), wooded trails, and more, our task would be to work on the upkeep of the property. My co-workers broke into groups to work on 5 or 6 projects, with several Andrus students joining each group to assist.
My love of forest and trails made me choose the project in the woods, clearing a current trail and blazing a new one. That morning, about 8 Levitt-Fuirst employees, Andrus supervisor Stephan, and three students marched into the woods to clear trees, dig out rocks (boulders!), clear the path of leaves, and re-mark the trail. I personally got a chance to dig out a big, heavy boulder with the help of two of the students, and when I was ready to give up, their refusal to do so resulted in a very big rock being rolled out of the path. Work hard and succeed, a good lesson learned.
The afternoon was filled with the more difficult task of trail blazing. Battling pricker bushes, bugs, branches, stumps and weeds, we developed a path where there was none. A hot afternoon made for hard work, but the results were a great success. The final path was explored, marked, and prepared for a more thorough cleaning in the near future.
Away from the woods, other projects included weeding the lavender and vegetable gardens, digging trenches to keep pesky wildlife from the gardens, deck repair, painting birdhouses, and making weighted stuffed animals. The work was hard and the day was long, but it was productive and fulfilling. My co-workers and I met up for some well-earned food and drink at the end of the day, and everyone seemed an equal measure of exhausted and satisfied in a job done well for a great organization.
Every so often, I need to remove myself from the bubble of a life that I have created. I have been unbelievably lucky in life, and these projects give me insight into the needs of others, which makes me appreciate all that I have. From building a house to clearing a trail, I can’t wait until next year to see what project our office will be doing. Whatever it is, we will work hard and we will work together, as we strive to make Levitt-Fuirst your preferred insurance vendor.