Over 300 Interface associates from North and South America, as well as a handful from Europe and Asia, gathered in Atlanta last week for our annual sales meeting. With a theme of “Get Smart” we embarked on three days of learning, sharing, and reconnecting.
Sunday evening kicked off celebrating the recent retirement of a 38 year veteran of Interface. Stories were told of where we came from, why we are here, and of the richness of our cultural past. Monday we explored who we are, when we are at our best, and in the “post-Ray” era, we reminded ourselves that “leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders”.
Thankfully, we have a long history of discussing biomimicry and links to business; therefore, the theme of resiliency was not unfamiliar as we stared at our smart phones Monday morning and saw predictions of snow flurries in Atlanta approaching in less than 48 hours. By Monday afternoon our original agenda was scrapped and Plan B was put into action, rebooking 175 flights from Wednesday to Tuesday and condensing two half-day sessions into one. One vital piece could not be fully salvaged from the weather wreckage – our Legacy Projects. Launched in 2005, Legacy Projects allow us to turn our bold mission and vision into tangible actions, personal connections, and real emotions.
The original plan, spending Tuesday afternoon out in the local community with 12 impactful organizations, making a difference and embodying our sense of purpose and higher mission, was derailed. Instead, hundreds fled for the airport and their local homes, trying to beat the storm. Nine Legacy Projects were immediately cancelled.
A determined group of 25 (representing Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, England, Canada, and the U.S.) quickly volunteered to salvage three projects – City of Refuge, Feed My Lambs preschool, and Solidarity School.
Atlanta Public Schools were closed and a hundred kids at City of Refuge were in need of playmates. These children come from families living in crisis, transition, and on the margins. We played basketball, ran in the gym, did arts and crafts using repurposed cardboard tubes from the carpet mill, read stories, and installed carpet in the library and volunteer greeting area.
Emergency plans were quickly put into place to ensure that two preschools slated to receive new carpet would indeed get their carpet on time and be able to open their doors to the kids once the weather cleared.
Feed My Lambs preschool, located within City of Refuge, serves children of homeless families and those in transition living onsite. Their old carpet had been removed days earlier and the kids couldn’t go back to school until we installed their new carpet. With all of our employees either at the sales meeting or departing on flights, we quickly found a professional installation crew to arrive with just a few hours notice. Students from nearby Morehouse College volunteered to move the furniture out and back in to the classrooms. Although we were able to get the carpet installed on time, we missed getting to have a picnic and dance and play together with the little kids.
Lastly, we visited the Solidarity School, a preschool for low income kids from a Hispanic neighborhood north of Atlanta. The carpet in their library had been removed days earlier and a flood in early January left a classroom with a bare floor. With kids unable to occupy these rooms until new carpet arrived, we quickly found a crew to install their carpet on Tuesday morning. Pieter Van der Toorn, President InterfaceSERVICES, supervised and enjoyed eating lunch with the grateful little kids.
Our planning efforts were not completely lost. Captain Planet Foundation found another group of volunteers to plant the 40+ fruit trees at a community garden, and parents will assemble the garden at Gideons Elementary School. An Interface team will paint mural with patients at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta – Egleston in March. Employees are eager to reschedule projects with Trees Atlanta, Lifecycle Building Center, Ronald McDonald House, Open Hand, and installing carpet at Perkerson Elementary School.
With what should have been our 9th year of doing legacy projects, our employees left the meeting without the rush of endorphins from making a small difference in the lives of kids growing up in poverty, working side by side with senior management sorting donations, creating stories to be retold for years, and being reminded of all that we have to be grateful for in this world.
But Interface demonstrated that we can adapt in the face of change and bounce back. Legacy Projects create the conditions conducive to build culture, to inspire passion, and to leave the world a better place.