Giving back to the community: Aegis Living’s Potato Soup Foundation
Aegis Living is focused on helping seniors find meaning in their golden years and maintain cognitive function for a happier healthier life, but it also puts in the effort to give back to the employees that help make that possible. This is precisely why Aegis Living runs the Potato Soup Foundation – to help staff members who find themselves in times of need.
The beginnings of the Potato Soup Foundation
Chief executive officer and founder of Aegis Living, Dwayne Clark, had a difficult life as a child. Raised largely by a single mother struggling to get by, there were times when he and his mom went without food or money. In fact, as Clark divulged in a moving interview, they once went an entire week surviving on nothing more than potatoes.
“When I was probably about 16 years old, there’s about a week in my life where my mom and I didn’t have a lot to eat,” Clark said. “And so she actually stole some potatoes from her place of employment and we lived on potato soup for about eight or nine days. During that time, she would say, ‘Now I don’t want you to forget, employees have needs just like we’re having this need right now and, you always need to be there for their employees and they’ll always be there for you.’”
Clark never forgot his mother’s words. As conditions got better for him and his mother and he grew into a young man, he would keep the sentiment close to heart. And when he went on to found Aegis Living, he began looking for ways that he could help his own employees during their time of extreme need. That’s when, in 2005, he began the Potato Soup Foundation.
“We’re an organization of people helping people,” Clark said. “When we can do that for our staff, that’s really a great thing and I think that’s the message my mom was trying to convey. There are just so many opportunities to help, and this is such an important cause for us.”
How it works
This non-profit organization works to benefit employees going through crises or dealing with emergencies. Its reach extends to Aegis Living staff at its about 30 communities in the U.S. Donations are collected both within those communities – for example, employees can choose to give 25 cents out of each paycheck to the foundation – as well as from outside organizations and donors. The amounts may be small, but every little bit counts and adds up quickly.
As Clark explained to Seattle Business Magazine in October 2013, it’s all based on the principle of empathy.
“If you [an employee] can’t eat, we’ll feed you,” Clark told the source. “If someone needs emergency dental surgery and can’t afford it, we’ll pay for it. Employees making $11 to $13 an hour will give 25 cents a week from their paychecks because we’ve created a culture of caring for each other. I also tell all my senior executives to ask everyone [we do business with] what they can do for our employees.”
Each year, about two dozen Aegis workers in need of financial assistance receive help from the Potato Soup Foundation. One such employee is Griselda Galvan, who works at Aegis of Aptos. She explained during an interview that she had been going through a rough time. Her husband had just been laid off from work began to experience heart problems and was in need of an urgent triple bypass surgery. Meanwhile, her young daughter was going to the University of California, Santa Cruz, and needed her tuition payments made.
“Everything was going wrong. Everything was bad,” Galvan said. “When we received that help from the Potato Soup Foundation, it was like a light at the end of the tunnel. Everything started changing after that. Our daughter graduated last month from UCSC with a double major. My husband got a job and he’s healthy now – he looks much better. And I was promoted. … This is a company that we can count on whenever we need help.”
Other Aegis Living initiatives
The Potato Soup Foundation is just one of the many ways that Aegis Living gives back to its dedicated employees and the communities in which they’re located. The company also presents the Charlie Clause program, which allows each community to nominate one employee to receive food, clothes, toys and other items during the holiday season. Also during the holidays, Aegis hosts Winterfest, which lets employees shop from items that were donated and purchased by the company for them. Other initiatives include a competitive compensation plan and benefits package, extensive education and training and financial assistance programs during the holidays. It’s all a part of the company culture of Aegis Living, which is based around compassion and support.