Giving Back: Simple lessons from company volunteers

Contributing to the community is a part of the job description at top workplaces.

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Bremer Bank’s Mike Yanisch helps out students like Ava Matza at Liberty Ridge Elementary in Woodbury.

Photo: Richard Sennott • rsennott@startribune.com,

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Mike Yanisch, manager of the Arden Hills branch of Bremer Bank, isn’t shy about going back to school.

It goes with the job for Yanisch, who volunteers through Junior Achievement and another program to teach financial literacy to school kids.

“I’ve volunteered with schools, from first grade through high school,” Yanisch said. “The JA curriculum is pretty good. I try to start out basic: This is your community, this is a job, this is how you make money and why you pay taxes and it builds from there.

“Most of the time, the schools are short on volunteers and the teachers welcome the message.”

Yanisch, 33, also cites his branch’s work with the local food shelf and hiring interns from Genesis Project, a nonprofit business that trains and places lower-income high school kids in business internships.

Bremer Bank, which is owned by its employees and the Otto Bremer Foundation, also stresses that its success and future is tied to employees who engage with the community.

Something must be working. Bremer employees voted the St. Paul-based company a top workplace, ranking No. 9 in the large company category.

They say company encouragement and support of their volunteering helps make the bank a good place to work, on top of competitive wages and benefits it provides. The company says engaged employees are excellent ambassadors.

All entry-level positions at Bremer are guaranteed at least $11.30 an hour, which is about four bucks higher than the state of Minnesota’s minimum wage.

CEO Pat Donovan said the company may be more sensitive to employee interests because its owners are a foundation dedicating to improving its communities of business, as well as employees.

“We do not compete unless we have outstanding client service and that comes by hiring the very best,” Donovan said. “We know that we can only accomplish that by providing competitive wages and benefits … enough to meet basic living needs and we monitor that regularly so we can make adjustments. We feel it is the right thing to do.

“Is it easier at our company, vs. a publicly traded organization? I’m not sure there is a difference honestly. I do, however, think one of the things that potentially makes it easier at Bremer is that we are partially owned by the employees and everyone in this organization has a stake in how we perform.”

Teresa Daly, the CEO of Navigate Forward and a veteran Twin Cities executive, said Bremer is a superior place to work because it integrates its business success with employee and community success.

“I think the bank-foundation is a powerful combination that breeds employee engagement around community needs, not just banking services, and when you add in the opportunity for employees to have ownership, it just amplifies a highly values driven, engaged and empowered culture,” Daly said.

Another St. Paul-based business that scored highly among employees for community engagement is No. 10-ranked Gillette Children’s Specialty Health Care, an independent nonprofit hospital that focuses on children with disabilities.

For Jenny Uecker, 25, nursing at Gillette is a great fit for a young woman who developed a passion for working with disabled youth at a special-needs camp while she was in college.

Uecker uses some of her paid time off at Gillette to volunteer with Ventures Travel, which provides destination trips to children and adults with mental and physical disabilities.

“In March, I took a group to the Minnesota Twins spring training in Florida,” she said. “And that was a lot of fun for everyone.

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