By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium
BENTON HARBOR — It can be tough going for employees starting out at a corporation the size of Whirlpool.
To remedy this, Whirlpool has several employee resource groups that help get its workers acquainted with each other and the community. While most are familiar with the PRIDE Network and Women’s Network, there is one group that engages its youngest workers.
They’re called the Young Professionals.
There’s no real age limit, but most members fall into the Millennial age – ranging from those just out of college to others in their early 30s. Outside of networking with other co-workers, Young Professional members get acclimated in the community by raising money for local charities and committing time to volunteer work.
Charities that receive donations and time include the Benton Harbor Boys & Girls Club chapter, the Benton Harbor Emergency Shelter, the Soup Kitchen and Habitat for Humanity.
Ryan Buurstra, 30, is a corporate strategies senior analyst by day, but also one of three network leaders for the employee group off the clock. In this role, he helps guide the overall direction of the organization.
Buurstra first got involved with YP as an intern because he lived with one of the network leaders at the time.
“I knew what was going on and I got to attend a lot of events and meet a lot of people. It was one of the factors as to why I chose Whirlpool – I already had an established network with people,” he said. “We are here to help young professionals at Whirlpool grow, give and achieve. The way that we do that is by focusing on the employee, the community and the impact of the business.”
Entering its 10th year of existence, the resource group now has a handful of committees that focus on different areas, such as community, professional development and communication.
The group began when several Whirlpool’s senior leaders had the idea to create a network for younger workers to meet each other, find common interests and build a sense of community.
In that time, Young Professionals has grown to nearly 1,000 members.
One of the benefits of having such a group is it brings in new recruits, making Whirlpool more attractive and competitive.
Ellen Rodgers, a 26-year-old senior financial analyst, attended one of YP’s larger events it puts on in the summer with her husband, who was a Whirlpool intern. She was not working there at the time, but began considering a career with the world’s No. 1 home appliance maker soon after.
“That sparked my interest. When we decided we were going to move here together, I remembered that event,” Rodgers said. “I was in a new place and I didn’t know anybody. I wanted something to get involved with so I could meet people.”
Kyle Hall, a 26-year-old quality analyst, is one of the other YP network leaders who didn’t know anyone here after moving from Indiana. He got invited to an event at the Soup Kitchen, where they served lunch. After each event Hall attended, he made more friends and began networking.
Two years into his tenure with Whirlpool, Hall said he did not expect to be this involved with the employee resource group.
“I was just looking to get involved with the community and an opportunity came up of being the person who helps set up these events and being the liaison between Youth Professionals and different nonprofit organizations,” he said. “It progressed into some really good opportunities.”
One of these opportunities presented itself in early 2015, when temperatures outside reached a year low. The weather was frigid and left the surrounding communities uninhabitable for the homeless.
Because of the bitter cold, the Emergency Shelter could not turn anyone away and began to run out of food.
YP members were contacted due to the need for food and warm clothing. In the course of 24 hours, the group rallied together and started an impromptu food and clothing drive, which resulted in more than a dozen drop-offs at the Soup Kitchen and Emergency Shelter.
“Normally, we are proactive and like to plan our events out. Our jobs are pretty demanding so we like things planned out well in advance,” Hall said. “This was very last minute, but it kind of showed how everyone was able to pull together and do some good.”
A lot of the money the group raises goes toward funding Child and Family Services.
Joseph Goepfrich, executive director for Child and Family Services, said they have been working with Whirlpool’s young resource group for more than five years.
In that time, Goepfrich said the group has been very important in helping the Benton Harbor social services organization reach its yearly goals.
“They are just a great group of individuals and are showing that this generation is compassionate for the community,” he said. “A lot of them attend our events for support, while others volunteer during them. I commend them for their service.”
(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Sept. 29, 2015)