BOSTON - On a hot day in July recently, Lazaro Lopez recalled a cold and blustery day in December 2001, when a feeling of despair suddenly engulfed him.
"I couldn't believe what I had just seen on the news," Lopez, a project manager at Verizon Communications, recalled. "The story said that thugs broke into the office of Sociedad Latina and took most of the toys the organization had collected for kids in the Roxbury community. And the toys they didn't take, they broke. "I couldn't just sit and let these thugs break our Christmas spirits. I had to do something to help the kids."
A few days later, Lopez spearheaded a toy drive for Sociedad Latina -- a nonprofit organization that promotes cultural, educational and leadership programs for Latino youths in the Boston area -- and collected several boxes of toys. The story had a happy ending: Area kids received their Christmas toys, and Lopez's volunteer work with the organization began.
"I just couldn't stop with the toy drive," Lopez said. "I saw that this was a great organization doing great things for the Hispanic community, and I wanted to become involved with them as a regular volunteer."
Currently, Lopez donates about five hours a month to Sociedad Latina, serving as a mentor for at-risk teenage boys
While Lopez' story is unique, his commitment to volunteerism among Verizon's 221,000 employees is not. Verizon encourages its employees to volunteer for something they love and provides a Web address and bulletin boards to find volunteer opportunities in their community. Known as Verizon Volunteers, the program was launched in 2001 and continues to grow steadily. Employees who volunteer 50 hours or more at a nonprofit agency each year can receive a $500 grant for up to two separate agencies.
In addition, teams of 10 or more employees who participate in a fundraising pledge-a-thon for a qualified nonprofit can get matches from the foundation for funds they raise up to $25,000 per team. Last year, Verizon employees nationwide volunteered in 18,300 different ways through this program.
According to Susan Sullivan, director of employee volunteerism at Verizon Foundation, the telecommunications industry has a long history of caring for the communities in which it operates. "We cultivate that heritage with our foundation programs that encourage employees to become involved with charitable agencies in their communities," she said.
During Lopez's mentoring sessions, he typically works with five to eight youngsters and covers topics such as conflict resolution and planning for the future.
Lopez says too often these kids are exposed to violence and are led to believe that that's the only way to settle disputes.
"I try to let them see that there are other ways to solve problems," he said. "We play out scenes in which we simulate disputes and solve them rationally. These kids are especially appreciative when I tell them that this is the approach I take when faced with a potentially volatile situation.
"We have heart- to- heart talks," he said, "and, through these talks I learn an awful lot about these kids. For one, I have found that they really want to succeed in mainstream America, but are afraid. They hesitate to venture outside of their community, and they hesitate to try new things."
Lopez says he presents himself as a role model, telling the youngsters about his experiences and successes in the corporate world.
"I tell them that it's very possible to become successful in the business world," he explained. "I tell them about the role I play at Verizon and how I have to interact with teammates and customers from different backgrounds. I tell them about the rewards of being a leader, believing in yourself, and being open to learning from different people.
"The more I interact with them, they more positive they become. Their confidence grows month by month, and they seem more willing to apply creative thinking."
The creative thinking that Lopez talks about is one of his trademarks, according to Dininyili Paulino, Program Director - Sociedad Latina. "Laz has many attributes that benefit the kids he mentors," Paulino said. "He is very creative, enthusiastic, patient, and he is always trying to motivate the youths to pursue college and follow their dream. I see Laz as an ideal role model for these kids."
For more information on Sociedad Latina, go to http://www.sociedadlatina.org/.
Altogether, through the volunteer program and in other contributions, Verizon Foundation last year awarded 22,000 grants totaling more than $70 million to charitable and nonprofit agencies working to improve basic and computer literacy, enriching communities through technology and creating a skilled workforce. For more information on the foundation, visit http://www.verizon.com/foundation.
A Fortune 10 company, Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ) is one of the world's leading providers of communications services. Verizon companies are the largest providers of wireline and wireless communications in the United States, with 137.6 million access line equivalents and 34.6 million Verizon Wireless customers. Verizon is the third largest long-distance carrier for U.S. consumers, with 14.6 million long-distance lines, and the company is also the largest directory publisher in the world, as measured by directory titles and circulation. With approximately $67 billion in annual revenues and 221,000 employees, Verizon's global presence extends to the Americas, Europe and Asia. For more information on Verizon, visit www.verizon.com.