Social Services

Nurturing connections to the natural world

When XL Catlin launched its first Global Day of Giving back in 2006, Michelle Sawyer loved the idea of a company closing its doors for a day to volunteer in communities all across the world: “The company and its employees not only talk about giving back to the community but act on it by providing labor and funds for nonprofits.”

Michelle works in the Stamford, Connecticut office and commutes from Brewster, New York, about 50 miles each way. She thought there would be plenty of projects in the Stamford area, so she concentrated on looking for a project closer to her home. “I researched nonprofits in the area by checking out the website for Putnam County. That’s where I saw an opportunity literally a half mile away from my home. As I read more about Green Chimneys, I knew that was the project I wanted to work on.”

Michelle thought Green Chimneys stood out as an exemplary nonprofit for the Stamford office to work with because of their focus on special needs children. Founded in 1947 as a multi-faceted nonprofit, Green Chimneys’ mission is to provide special needs young people with residential, educational, clinical and recreational services that create and nurture connections to the community and the natural world. In addition, Green Chimneys has become a worldwide leader in animal-assisted therapy and operates a residential treatment center and a special education school.

Every year since 2006, Michelle’s team of volunteers returns to work on Boni-Bel Organic Farm, which is a working farm sitting on two acres of Green Chimneys land. The farm produces vegetables, fruit, flowers, maple syrup and honey which are used in the Green Chimneys’ kitchen and classroom. All the produce — including the maple syrup — is sold at The Country Store, which is located on the farm. The farm and store offer students life skills such as learning how to cook the food they grow and vocational training around the store operations, including customer service.

According to Michelle, “Team work and collaboration are critical skills when working in a large group. Whether it’s building bee-hives, weeding gardens, pruning trees, installing fencing or painting, Green Chimneys offers a truly wonderful experience. Feedback from my colleagues has been very positive year after year. Some of the volunteers have been working alongside me since 2006. Initially, there were 10 to 15 volunteers. Now, we have double that. I truly enjoy leading this project and working with people I might not otherwise interact with in my everyday role.”

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