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ASU Cares wins 'Heart of Business Award'

November 25, 2008

What do you get when you round up a couple hundred volunteers, wake them up early in the morning, provide them with trimmers, cutters, trash bags, rakes and more, and send them out to clean up a community park?

According to The Business Journal, the state’s preeminent weekly business publication, you receive the very first Heart of Business Award in the Outstanding Company Project category.  That’s exactly what Arizona State University’s decades-old, all-volunteer program, ASU Cares, received November 20 in an event at the Arizona Historical Society Museum in Tempe.

“This is recognition that goes to the volunteers, the City of Phoenix and Maricopa County,” says Terri Cranmer, director of operations for ASU Public Events.  “This program is all about bringing volunteers together to make a difference in the community, to improve our community.”

This year, ASU Cares partnered with the City of Phoenix and Maricopa County to go to work on cleaning up and beautifying CaveCreek Wash Thunderbird Park, located near the university’s West campus.  ASU’s largest one-day annual community-service project, ASU Cares volunteers trimmed overgrown vegetation, removed litter from the Cave Creek Wash area, the playground, and trails, and scrubbed and cleaned the park’s common areas.

“The effort was impressive and the impact was immediate,” wrote County Manager David Smith in a letter of nomination to The Business Journal.  “One of our more popular parks was enhanced and beautified, and the positive difference in landscaping will last for some time to come.”

The volunteer corps was made up of ASU students, faculty, staff and neighborhood residents.  Planning for the March 29 clean-up began more than four months earlier, as ASU Cares worked the city and county to secure equipment and review logistics.  Weekly meetings plotted everything from safety precautions to necessary equipment needs, and from food and refreshments to registration.  Volunteer leaders arrived on site as early as 5 a.m. and didn’t leave until nearly 12 hours later.  Team volunteers worked for five hours at the clean-up, totaling nearly 900 hours in maintenance work.  Including pre-event logistical work, more than 1,200 hours were volunteered to clean the park.  Among the many items brought to the park to handle the debris and brush cleared by volunteers were six dumpsters and a wood chipper.

René Vera, City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation deputy director, nominated ASU Cares for a Heart of Business Award for a number of reasons.

“The ASU Cares team is the best, the organization of the event was top-notch, the results were amazing, and the commitment was genuine.  For an all-volunteer effort designed to make a positive difference in the community, it doesn’t get any better than this.”

ASU Cares is an annual project that over the years has brought together thousands of university faculty, students and staff in a volunteer effort that has resulted in the beautification of over 100 acres of Valley park facilities.  Created to foster partnerships with the community and encourage student volunteerism within the greater metropolitan Phoenix area, the project closely aligns with ASU President Michael Crow’s vision of a New American University that is engaged and inclusive and assumes responsibility for the society it serves.

“If you saw one of these things, there are projects that can’t really be done by anything less than a few hundred people in any area of time,” says Virgil Renzulli, ASU vice president of public affairs and a regular volunteer each year.  “This is probably the most visible aspect of our commitment to the community, and everyone involved is passionate about participating and making a difference.”

In addition to the park improvements made by ASU Cares volunteers, for at least one volunteer there was a personal impact as well.

ASU student Abel Arriaga says, “I loved the experience.  Doing the hard labor reminds you why we are going to school.  Digging up a bed spring that had been buried for years made me feel vindicated.  It was nice to clear out the area and make it look respectable for people going through the park.  I saw residents pointing to the work we were doing, so I know we made a difference.  I wanted to go out with my friends and represent ASU as more than just a school, but also as an institution that gives back.”