The gift of giving back

How the skills you use every day can open the door to making a difference year-round.

Though this time of year is often referred to as “the season of giving,” it’s important to remember that the act of giving doesn’t have to be holiday specific. In fact, there are numerous opportunities to give back year-round, right in your own backyard—or even in your own workplace. Not sure where to start? We take inspiration from our associates who have found unique ways to leverage their job-related skills to make a big difference in their own communities.

Marketing a new way to combat PTSD

Sitting in a packed conference in Chicago, Illinois, Morgan S., an associate in Capital One’s Brand Marketing department, was so moved by one speaker’s message, she knew she had to get involved. The speaker? Zach Iscol, a Marine Corps veteran who, after serving two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, co-founded the Headstrong Project—a confidential, cost-free and personalized treatment program for combat veterans suffering from mental health disorders. “I was just touched by his story and what he was doing,” Morgan recalled. “He spoke to us about his own personal experience with PTSD and how so many of our veterans suffer on a daily basis. I just wanted to help.”

That’s when Morgan jumped on a call with the team at Headstrong to talk through some of their specific needs. Those conversations helped her identify some key areas Headstrong was looking to address. Understanding the needs of a customer and developing an effective communication strategy around them is something Morgan’s department does every day. And it left her with an opportunity to bring the unique skills of the Brand team and the needs of Headstrong together.

A few weeks later, during a Brand event, Morgan and her team brought in Dustin Shryock, co-founder and director of operations at Headstrong, to discuss some of the issues he was hoping to solve. Then, nearly a hundred creative thinkers and innovative problem solvers throughout the department were broken up into teams and challenged with developing a support program for veterans—and their families—who had been treated through Headstrong. The goal was simple: create a way to empower and encourage veterans in need to seek the help they deserve. Within an hour, dozens of ideas were being considered. “I didn’t realize I was getting the brain power of an entire creative and marketing division,” said Shryock. “I was amazed at the hospitality and seriousness with which the [Brand] team worked on our opportunities. We ended up moving forward with one of the designs and creating an ambassador style program for Headstrong.”

As for Kate G., a creative director in the Brand department and member of the winning team—every idea proposed that day was a product of unique expertise. “I think we, as a department, do a really good job from an empathy standpoint,” Kate said. “Our ability to understand the needs of our customers and inspire them to take action is how we make their lives better.” To move an idea from the concept stage to production requires incredible effort, careful planning and teamwork. But as Kate sees it, that pales in comparison to what our veterans have achieved. “It was a very humbling experience,” she said. “When you think of what our military members do every day for us? It makes what we’ve done for them through this project that much more meaningful.”

Using tech to inspire a generation

It’s three o’clock in the afternoon in Richmond, Va. Matthew M., a senior system integrator at Capital One, is on his way to the next meeting of the day. But instead of walking down the hall and into an office, he’s heading to a local middle school. As a mentor with the Capital One Coders program, Matthew helps educate students in a rapidly growing field—computer science. Over the years, Capital One has made a conscious effort to invest not only in the latest digital tools, but also the kind of top-tier talent that drives innovation—giving them a remarkable ability to pair highly-qualified instructors with deeply motivated students. And through the volunteer initiative, thousands of associates and students have seized the opportunity.

For ten weeks, associates work with students after school and encourage them to explore careers in tech by exposing them to the possibilities that exist within the world of digital technology and software development. Where did an idea like this originate? From the very people who participate. “Our associates are inherently excited about technology and have a passion for giving back in their local communities,” Matthew says. “We were in a unique position because of our widespread technology workforce and a company focus on tech growth.”

Matthew and his fellow volunteers provide the students with much more than just a basic understanding of technology. They give them an opportunity to expand their minds and their confidence. “The excitement on a student’s face when they build their first app or fix a bug in their code is absolutely energizing,” says Matthew. “The impact of the Capital One Coders program has been extraordinary.” Since it began in 2014, more than 2,000 associates throughout Capital One have volunteered to work with the estimated 8,000 students who have enrolled. That overwhelmingly positive response has allowed the program to double its reach from five cities to ten with Chicago, New York and Washington D.C. among them.

And while the Coders program’s primary focus is to teach these young students, the associates and mentors leave with a greater knowledge too. “Capital One Coders is an experience unlike any other,” Matthew said. “I’ve been privileged to be part of such an impactful program and it’s been the highlight of my time at Capital One.”

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