By Sarah Kuper
Now in its 31st year, the UAB Benevolent Fund campaign has reached a milestone.
Employees from all facets of the UAB community have come together and raised a record $2 million to help UAB employees in need and fund local non-profits. The fund is governed by a council of UAB employees, and the wider UAB community has input on where the money goes.
Through service projects such as Habitat for Humanity and large and small grants to local charities and organizations, the goal of the Benevolent Fund is to create a strong community on the academic and medical campus while also supporting the outside community.
Lisa Higginbotham, the fund’s program manager, said the fund does a lot of good for UAB and Birmingham through monetary donations but also through the hands-on involvement of employees.
For example, service projects such as building Habitat houses or outdoor classrooms at Red Mountain Park encourage employees to step out of their box.
For a UAB student, experiences like volunteering at the hospital or one of the 120 local non-profits can help develop real world job skills.
Employees can make one-time donations to the fund or they can have a designated amount taken out of their paychecks each pay period. They also may designate which non-profit they would like to support.
In addition to the money available to assist UAB employees experiencing financial hardship, the Benevolent Fund gives one $50,000 grant each year to a non-profit that meets criteria set by UAB employees.
Any local non-profit can apply for the Community Impact Grant. Council members accept applications and present them to the wider UAB community, which votes on which organization should get the money.
Last year’s recipient was the “Teens Engineer Birmingham” program through the Birmingham Public Library.
One of the larger-scale initiatives the Benevolent Fund will be supporting this year is the Ronald McDonald Family Room at the Women and Infants Center on the Continuing Care Unit.
The room will be different from the Ronald McDonald House in that any family with an infant in the continuing care unit may use it. The Family Room will have a few sleeping areas along with laundry and shower facilities.
Higginbotham is encouraged by the participation of the entire UAB community and she is particularly proud of Over the Mountain area donors and organizers who went above and beyond to create a successful campaign.
Steve Murray has seen years of UAB’s Benevolent Fund at work.
Murray now serves as UAB’s director of business services and is responsible for the direction and oversight of child protection initiatives, but he has held many positions at UAB over the years, not the least of which is as a generous supporter of the UAB Benevolent Fund.
While there are many dynamics of the fund, Murray is most passionate about giving back to the community that supports both the academic and medical arms of UAB.
“For me, it is one of those things that doesn’t require thought. UAB asks a lot from (the) community: football support, research, medical and academic resources,” he said. “It is unconscionable that we wouldn’t give back to that same community.”
Murray said his passion for community outreach through the Benevolent Fund comes from everyday experiences he has on the job.
“It’s hard to work here and not see the great needs of the community,” he said.
His work takes him all over the hospital campus and he said just walking the halls and bridges inspires him to keep up the good work.
“Walking between the UAB hospital and Children’s, you see a lot of encouraging things too. They remind you life isn’t so bad,” he said.
He cites the Benevolent Fund’s Habitat for Humanity initiative and the community impact grants as ways UAB employees are extending their reach beyond the hospital walls or the classroom.
Last year, UAB employees built an ADA-compliant home for an individual with a disability, and last year’s community impact grant recipient, Teens Engineer Birmingham, allows teens in downtown high schools to walk to the public library for STEM programming and tutoring.
It is UAB volunteers who build the Habitat Homes and UAB students who work with the STEM programming at the Birmingham Public Library.
Murray is proud to see employees give time and energy to the community, but he is also encouraged by their generosity.
“It’s important for us to open our pocketbooks as well,” he said. “We are all lucky to work at UAB and we should share with others.”
As a Homewood resident, Murray believes part of the drive to give comes from the hospital and university’s urban setting.
“There are not a lot of places you can work downtown and not see homeless people outside. But you aren’t seeing that in the outer suburbs like Homewood, so it is a good reminder.”
Murray said he had always joked about retiring once the Benevolent Fund campaign reached $2 million, but now he said it is just the impetus to keep working hard to raise more.
“Two million is a good number but we always feel we can do more and do better,” he said.
Cheryl Malone believes in the idea that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
That’s why she is so passionate about the UAB Benevolent Fund, and especially the employee assistance program.
As co-chair of the Employee Emergency Assistance Committee, Malone helps oversee funds that UAB employees raise to help co-workers in need.
As part of the Benevolent Fund, academic and hospital employees can donate money to provide emergency assistance for a fellow employee undergoing hardship or illness.
“We all recognize the importance of helping fellow co-workers. When we all cross the finish line, that’s success,” Malone said.
The EEAC is able to give up to $1,250 per individual or case. The committee meets weekly to discuss cases that are submitted by employees.
Examples include workers who have been ill for an extended period of time, have suffered losses after a fire or storm, or have had ill children or another family hardship that has hindered their ability to work.
Malone said she knows employees are often surprised that UAB offers this kind of support.
“We know the amount won’t always cover the need but it is an extra aid to help them,” she said.
In addition to monetary assistance, the EEAC also helps employees in need in practical ways such as financial planning, medication assistance and help prioritizing needs.
Malone said all submissions for employee emergency assistance are anonymous.
Malone believes participation in the Benevolent Fund helps donors and volunteers get out of their boxes.
“Sometimes we are in our own little world and we don’t realize how great the need is,” she said. “Working with the fund is an eye-opener.”
The greater Benevolent Fund serves more than 120 local non-profit agencies in addition to the employee assistance program.
Malone believes every penny of the fund serves a good purpose, but the money that goes toward aiding employees extends further than just one person.
“UAB has a large footprint in the community and in the state. Our goal is for our patients to have the best experience and care,” she said. “When we take care of each other as employees, we do our jobs better.”