I Just Work Here by Rex Huppke: Workers, firm build a charity to help employees in need

Workplace columnistAugust 20, 2013 


Rex Huppke


I spend most of my days toiling in the fields of workplace discontent, hoisting the yoke of America’s office imbroglios, looking up fancy words and praying I don’t run out of hyperbolic ways to describe my job.

But this week I take a break from the fancy words and the problems that need fixing to share a simple story of a workplace where something good is happening.

In 2009, a fire destroyed Scott Copeland’s Chicago apartment. His co-workers at The James Chicago hotel held a fundraiser to help him get back on his feet.

Around the same time, a beloved employee of the hotel’s restaurant was diagnosed with cancer. Again, employees hotelwide came together to raise money and help the man, Jeff Hemmings, with his medical bills.

Copeland was finishing a yearlong training program the company runs. For his final project, he proposed creating an employee-funded charity that makes money available to workers hit by costly medical or family emergencies.

Basically, instead of passing the hat every time a colleague at The James needs support, there would be a fund that’s always around. Employees who wanted to participate could contribute any amount per month, from $1 up, deducted from their paychecks.

“Our goal was to get a lot of people to donate a little bit of money, and that large amount of people adds up,” said Copeland, the hotel’s lobby coordinator. “It shows we’re all here to help each other out. We work side by side every day of the week. When you have something go wrong that you didn’t expect, you know there’s something that can help take that burden off.”

Hotel officials were quick to embrace Copeland’s concept and offered to facilitate the payroll deductions and set up an account for the fund. A committee with representatives from each hotel department makes decisions when requests for assistance come in, requests that can be anonymous.

“Sometimes people are embarrassed and don’t want to take action,” Copeland said. “This is a way people can ask without feeling embarrassed.”

Hemmings, the restaurant employee, died in 2010. Copeland and others thought it appropriate that their in-house charity be called The Hemmings Fund.

Nearly 50 of the hotel’s 275 employees make regular contributions, with many others pitching in as they can throughout the year. The fund totals about $12,000. You don’t have to contribute to apply for help, and people who do contribute can stop at any time.

The fund has helped employees buy plane tickets to visit sick relatives, cover medical expenses and deal with an array of other day-to-day tragedies.

LaTrice Thompson, who works in the hotel’s reservations department, received help a few months ago when she faced some problems at home. “It’s difficult to ask for help,” she said. “As a person, you might be proud, and you don’t want to take assistance. I thought about it long and hard before I came to a decision, but I was so glad it was available. It really helped me out.”

Too often we trudge along, focusing on bad things about work .It helps to remember that there’s good in the world, and in the workplace.


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