Giving Back One Organization At a Time
In January 2010, Sheryl Driggers found herself in an airport watching the news as a disastrous 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti, killing over 160,000 people while displacing just under 1.5 million people.
She turned to her husband Jason and told him she was going to Haiti for disaster relief. Despite the puzzled look he had on his face—Driggers had never traveled outside of the U.S. nor did she have a passport—he supported her.
Two weeks later, Driggers got her passport and off she went. She found herself in Haiti the beginning of February.
For the part owner of two Universal Collision facilities in Tallahassee, Fla.—both I-CAR Gold, Hyundai, Nissan, Infiniti and Fiat Chrysler certified—this trip would mark the beginning of one of the core values of her $7 million business: giving back.
Seven years later, she continues to give back in her community through various programs, such as Hands International, PACE Center for Girls, Florida Department of Children and Families, and many more—including the nonprofit she founded, The James 215 Project.
But giving back isn’t just something she does in her personal time; it’s something she uses to help create customer relationships and propel her mission amongst her staff. Philanthropy is part of her shop’s brand, and it’s helping Universal Collision stand out in its market.
Behind the Giving Back
Giving back has always been important to Driggers and her husband, Jason, also part owner of Universal Collision, but she was especially heartbroken upon doing disaster relief in Haiti and seeing the severity of living situations, she says. People were desperate for basic living necessities and Driggers couldn’t believe it. That, she says, is when her journey began.
Shortly after, in 2011, Jason’s grandfather passed away, leaving Driggers with a determination to carry on a famous legacy he had in his community. Every season around Christmas, Jason’s grandpa would set up a barbecue on his front yard, which was along a central Florida highway, and give a meal to whomever needed it. It was an opportunity to come and talk with others and feel welcome, something she wanted to carry on.
So, in December 2011, Driggers did the same thing in her shop’s parking lot. Anticipating 20–30 people initially, the turnout was far greater than they expected—several hundred people greater.
The event proved a success for Driggers: The shop gave away coats, blankets, groceries and a hot meal, and a local church provided a shuttle from a local homeless shelter to the shop.
“I was blown away,” she says. “That number of people right here in our own community, they didn’t have basic necessities.”
The James 215 Project
The initial event in 2011 inspired Driggers to start her own nonprofit organization, The James 215 Project.
Founded in 2013, The James 215 Project is based on the the Bible verse, James 2:15. The mission of the organization is to know the needs of the community and fill them.
The organization throws an annual event partnering with other nonprofits and the Florida Department of Children and Families to provide 500 backpacks, prefilled with an outfit, to adults and children in need.
The event also has stations for different necessities that are given out, such as coat, blanket, shoe and undergarment stations. There’s also a Bible station with free Bibles to distribute and a kid station with bounce houses, face painting and free toys.
Finally, they partnered with Chick-fil-A to provide lunch for all in attendance.
Using The James 215 Project as a foundation, she was able to partner with many other organizations and host events, such as a baby shower for Sisters in Sobriety, a program that works with women that are either pregnant or have young children and are battling addiction.
She also recently partnered with the PACE Center for Girls, an organization to help young women succeed in school and life.
The Employee Impact
Since giving back bleeds into the business, Driggers says that the shop’s ultimate goal is to have a positive impact on people, whether it’s their employees or their customers.
“We want to be an encouragement to them,” she says.
And it all starts with communicating with her staff about The James 215 Project annual event through their quarterly newsletters, meeting announcements and email blasts. She never forces any of her team members to volunteer, but she finds that at least 10 employees will do so and some of them will participate in year-long preparation for the event.
Driggers says that she never wants to make her employees feel as if volunteering is “one more thing to check off a box,” but if they do want to volunteer through one of their opportunities of an organization of their choice, she’s happy to provide volunteer hours. So, 52 volunteer hours are available each year to employees, which equates to one hour per week. If additional time is needed for driving, she takes that into consideration. That hour per week is paid.
“It is important for us to not only talk about giving back, but provide the means for our team members to do this,” she says. “If our team member has the desire, but we do not give the time to do it, then we are not substantiating our mission to give back.”
And through her employees, she also amplifies a larger mission at the shop: making a positive impact on people.
“We want to make a positive impact in the lives of our team members—through a positive environment; helping people develop personally and professionally and making sure we are providing the resources they need to be fulfilled and successful in their career,” she says.
The Customer Impact
Driggers also takes her hours of giving back and translates them to her business when it comes to dealing with customers.
Here are her top tips for having a more empathetic encounter with a customer:
Everyone has a story. Everyone you encounter today has a story you know nothing about. Keeping that in mind, it is important to show empathy. You do not know what else—on top of a traumatic car accident—may be going on.
We do this every day but our customers do not. It is important not to minimize how the car accident and stress affects your customer. Instead, do everything you can to alleviate some of the stress during the claims and repair process.
The shop’s website also has a “Giving Back” tab where anyone can submit a charitable request form. Driggers says the number of requests fluctuates depending on the time of year and needs of the community, whether it’s from a Little League team or for someone who is fighting a terminal illness.
While the shop can’t handle 100 percent of the requests that come in, if Driggers can afford it and it aligns with her shop’s values, her team is more than willing to help. Driggers has about $3,000 per month budgeted for the initiative and ongoing partners, and for some months, the budget may increase by $1,000.
The leadership team evaluates each request and the decision is based on the need. She says while she would love to help with everything, “that is not feasible.”
And if her employees have requests, she says the shop works hard to honor the recommendations that her employees bring forth.
But above all else, for Driggers, it’s just about helping people, whether it be in her own community or in a different country.
“I hope that because God has allowed us to be shop owners—that we have been blessed—so we can bless others,” she says.
SHOP STATS: UNIVERSAL COLLISION Location: TALLAHASSEE, FLA. (Tennessee St. and Capital Circle) Average Monthly Car Count: 130-140 (Tennessee St.); 100-110 (Capital Circle) Staff Size: 45 (combined) Shop Size: 20,000 sq ft (Tennessee St.); 13,000 sq. ft. (Capital Circle); Annual Revenue;$7 million (combined)