Clearing the Path

How a Handful of Employees Sparked a Thriving Corporate Volunteer Program in Shenandoah

In 2017, a small band of S&P Global employees sparked what was to become not only a major corporate partnership, but a legacy of corporate volunteer opportunities in Shenandoah. 

When the employees approached Shenandoah National Park about using their paid volunteer days to help take care of trails during the company’s Community Impact Month, our Program & Community Outreach Manager, Julie Shuren, set them up with the Park’s backcountry team to rehabilitate trails in the burned wilderness area around Rocky Mountain. 

“Our team improved a heavily used section of a trail,” S&P Global volunteer Phil B. explained, “approximately two miles of water bar improvements.” 

In addition to volunteering, the employees also requested a mini grant from S&P Global to help the Park purchase gear and tools for future volunteer efforts. Over the next few years, the group continued to take on trail maintenance projects and increase their mini-grant requests to benefit the Park’s volunteer program. 

Since 2017, the S&P Global volunteer group has made gifts to grow the volunteer program’s supply cache, impacting the Park’s ability to host volunteer groups, said Julie. Those mini grants laid the foundation for what quickly grew into our corporate volunteer program, sparking numerous future opportunities for local employees to get into the Park and give back. 

“The national park concept is a uniquely American concept that’s spread around the world. What better way to give back to an entity that provides so much joy to so many?” asked volunteer Phil B. “Giving back to SNP as a company is a great way to bond with fellow employees and perform much-needed work in our nearby national park.” 

It was, in fact, such a great way to give back and bond with coworkers that within two years, S&P Global’s volunteer partnership with us had inspired two more companies – Salesforce, KPMG, and Merck – to host volunteer days in Shenandoah for their employees!  

Then, as our Corporate Volunteer program was beginning to flourish in September of 2019, we made connections with the S&P Global Foundation, the keystone of the company’s philanthropic efforts. Within a month, the S&P Global Foundation had awarded the Trust a grant to fund our Play, Learn, Serve program, reaching young people through educational field trips and summer programming.  

With that first gift, S&P Global became an official corporate partner, but before another volunteer day could be planned, COVID-19 swept into the U.S., closing both of our offices and severely limiting Park volunteering and programming.  

Over the tumultuous first year of the pandemic, we lost contact with the employee volunteers, even as S&P Global Foundation’s funding made it possible for us to rent a distance-learning studio and offer virtual programming for students not only in Virginia, but across the globe.  

“Little did we know that when we got that first grant in November 2019, it would allow us to move our education program online,” said Julie. “Before, the only options were to bring kids into the Park or to send Rangers out to schools. This allowed us to stand up the virtual programming and reach thousands of kids that couldn’t come into the Park.” 

That impact rippled far beyond lockdown. “Fast forward to 2022,” Julie explained, “and we have more than 9,500 participants taking part in Shenandoah’s distance learning programs.

In the last three years, that move to virtual learning opportunities has more than doubled the reach and impact of the Park’s educational programming through Play, Learn, Serve, from 5,800 young people served in 2019 to more than 12,400 in 2022. 

“For me, it is always about introducing the next stewards to Shenandoah,” said Julie. “I want young people to feel welcome and excited to learn about the resource, so they are empowered to protect it in perpetuity.” 

In the spring of 2022, we were finally able to reconnect with S&P Global’s employee volunteers. They returned to the Park that summer, again tackling urgent trail maintenance needs in Shenandoah’s South District and reconnecting with one another as they emerged from the pandemic. 

“Volunteering was actually a really good way to get to know my fellow employees,” said volunteer John Frazee. “As we worked and broke out into different, changing groups, I learned a lot about how my colleagues spend their free time at Shenandoah National Park and elsewhere. Since they work in different parts of the company, and the return to office has been sporadic, it turned out to be a great ‘team-building‘ exercise.” 

Reflecting on the last six years of partnership with S&P Global, Julie summarized the company’s impact, saying, “What started with a relationship with one person led to a group of volunteers doing real work to clear/maintain Shenandoah’s trails, which eventually lead to a true partnership with the Foundation. Through the Foundation’s support, we have made real impact in introducing kids near and far to Shenandoah.” 

Last week, almost exactly three years since Virginia locked down in the face of the pandemic, our Corporate & Foundations Development Manager, Ethan Serr, returned to S&P Global’s Charlottesville office to get to know employees and talk about Shenandoah at a Community Spotlight event. And next month, a team of S&P Global employees will join us for the second-annual Show Your Love for Shenandoah volunteer event, a massive cleanup effort attended by many volunteer groups that came to the Park through the Corporate Volunteer program that S&P Global inspired! 

“I always had a wonderful time connecting with people while hiking and putting in the work and I would definitely do it again.said Waqar Azam, who has been volunteering in Shenandoah with S&P Global since 2017. “If you get this opportunity, sign up!”

Thank you to S&P Global and the employees who took the time to answer questions about their time volunteering in the Park – we’re so grateful for your continued partnership! 

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