Pay it Forward: USOC Medical Makes Strides in Community Awareness
In 2015, USOC Medical of Irvine, California, decided to craft a mission statement “to be a company that does more than just make money,” said marketing director Fariah Jiva.
“We wanted to make a change in our community,” she said. “Sometimes you want to help people [affected by] the war in Syria or in Africa, but we also wanted to do something in our community. People in Orange County, we’re aware, but we don’t speak for them as much as for [people in] the countries that are at war.”
In a region of California in which 20 percent of all children live in poverty and one of every 11 homeless persons is a U.S. military veteran, there are people affected locally by the same issues that plague nations torn by conflict. The systemic issues of poverty include food and housing insecurity, a lack of income and education, and the absence of opportunities for people in such conditions to improve their quality of life.
“There’s a huge gap between people who are very wealthy and the ones who need medication for diseases, or a basic income,” Jiva said. “We feel very fortunate to live in Orange County; to have good jobs.”
“All the employees are very aware of this issue,” she said, but a part of the problem in combating these social issues is that the people most affected by them are largely unseen by those with the means to help.
So when, on April 19, the United Way of Orange County held its WALK UNITED event — a public gathering designed not only to raise funds to combat such circumstances, but to increase awareness of the prevalence of those issues in the community — USOC Medical seized the opportunity to display the clarity of its vision.
USOC Medical CEO Ali Youssef saw WALK UNITED as an opportunity to put his company in line with his personal values, which include compassion for neighbors and a belief in the upward mobility earned through effort and education. So he covered the entry donation for every employee who wanted to participate, and contributed an extra $2,000 from the company as an event sponsor.
“What I have built today is thanks to my education and my hard work,” Youssef said. “Unfortunately, many kids do not have the chance to go to school … and that is why helping [with] education is the best bet we can do for future generations.”
When he moved to America from his native Lebanon, Youssef used to work 12-hour days as a security guard — a job he took, he said, because he could do his homework at the same time.
“Everything can be taken from you, but nobody can take your education,” he said. “I offer flexibility and internships to my employees because it is the best thing I can do for their future.”
USOC sent a team of employees to Angel Stadium in Anaheim for the 90-minute WALK UNITED event. They were among about 3,600 participants, Jiva recalled, enjoying live music, food trucks, and plenty of interaction among fellow volunteers. All told, the participants raised about $250,000, she said.
“It was a very nice team-building [exercise] because everyone was joining the event for a unique cause,” Jiva said.
USOC sales representative Meagan Freeland said she joined WALK UNITED because community involvement is important to her, and she felt that the United Way offered the best opportunity to participate locally in a larger cause with roots close to home.
“United Way reaches out immediately to people in need,” Freeland said. “They are simple and concrete. They are ground-level.”
USOC customer service representative Natalie Morales said that for her, paying attention to the lives of those who have fallen on hard times is of critical value.
“There is a story behind each homeless person,” she said. “Don’t judge. Try to help them.”
“It is very important to care about each other,” agreed USOC customer service representative Daisy Morales. “There are a lot of homeless people in Santa Ana. I was raised humble, and I know what it is like not to have [enough], because I was very close to people who were in difficulty.”
Walkers used markers to add slogans to their T-shirts to let others know why they were participating in the event. The one that caught Morales’ eye during the walk was “It could be me next.”
“Helping other people is something very important for me,” said USOC business development manager Pranil Singh, who brought his three sons with him to the walk so that they would become more aware about the local impact of poverty in their community.
“There is not a lot of exposure to poverty in Orange County, but the paradox is it does exist,” Singh said. “It was very touching seeing the community get together from all kinds of companies and backgrounds. This bonding was really amazing!”
Jiva said that the event was a big success, not only in terms of its fundraising achievements, but also as a way of boosting morale in the USOC workplace. She said that Youssef plans to offer a chance for the company to participate in another such event soon for those reasons.
“There’s a real advantage for our employees to feel like they work for a company that cares about others,” Jiva said. “We feel like it’s something that needs to be deeply rooted in your mind.”