Building community, one relationship at a time 

June 27, 2018

This paid piece is sponsored by TSP.

Experts advise workers to start saving for retirement with their first full-time job. Human resources professional Kari Kiesow took up another habit at the same time: Helping make a life for others.  

“One of my earliest bosses was big on giving back, and he encouraged us to volunteer in the community,” said Kiesow, who is the human resources manager at TSP Inc. The firm provides integrated architecture, engineering and planning services for clients across the Midwest.   

Earning a living and creating opportunities for others go hand in hand, Kiesow believes. This spring, she wrapped up teaching her 14th class for Junior Achievement. The nonprofit brings workers and their real-world experience into schools to teach age-appropriate curricula on money matters and career-related issues. Each class comprises a series of five to seven sessions. Kiesow has spent the past several years in high school classrooms, focusing on interview skills, resume prep, conflict-resolution strategies and other elements that contribute to success. 

Kiesow sees and feels the positive effects that take root when businesses invest in local causes. She and her TSP team members collectively donate hundreds of hours annually to their individual charitable passions. The effect is magnified even more by officewide activities organized in each community. 

Courtesy of Minnesota Children’s Museum Rochester

It’s all part of TSP’s core focus on making communities better, by design. The 88-year-old firm’s professionals take great pride in creating facilities that serve clients for decades. But they understand their true legacy as a company is the reputation built through long-lasting relationships. These deep commitments include multiyear board terms for charities and small-town economic development associations, massive annual events that require months of planning and mentor/mentee pairings that can span a student’s entire elementary or high school experience.  

Other opportunities are a bit more unusual. Earlier this month, a team of TSP colleagues and family members from two states spent a weekend camped on a rugged mountainside in Wyoming, providing around-the-clock aid-station support to racers during the Bighorn Trail Run. And one architectural graduate in Rochester, Minn., even asked her wedding guests to collect goods for the local women’s shelter in lieu of gifts for the couple. 

It’s tradition for volunteers to develop themes for their Bighorn Trail Run support stations. The TSP team chose a Hawaiian luau, with more standard fare alongside tropical fruits with a high water content to keep racers hydrated.

Tim Jensen, managing principal of TSP’s Sioux Falls office, is only a few months into his three-year board term with Special Olympics South Dakota.

“Special Olympics is about discipline and hard work, doing your best, belonging as part of a team, sportsmanship and the importance of physical fitness,” he said. “The joy and confidence that these athletes experience is something you can’t really explain.”  

Tim Jensen (far right) relished his role as award announcer for Special Olympics South Dakota’s Southeast Area Spring Games. Jensen is a new board member for the statewide nonprofit.

With Jensen’s board service, TSP strengthens its ties to the nonprofit. The firm designed the organizaiton’s Unify Center, and employees have volunteered in back-to-back years for Special Olympics’ track-and-field Southeast Area Spring Games. TSP also is a gold-level sponsor for the USA Games, a national event set for July 1-6 in Seattle. TSP’s contribution will underwrite the cost for one South Dakota athlete to attend. 

 The company’s service opportunities took shape after an employee-suggestion initiative revealed a common theme across TSP’s regional footprint. People wanted to make community involvement a firmwide priority — while still affording each office the freedom to identify which causes resonated most deeply with its team members. 

In Sioux Falls, the process begins each fall. Team members brainstorm a list of specific activities or nonprofits with a need throughout the calendar year. Through digital tools such as SurveyMonkey, everyone gets a say in ranking the top six to eight projects. “Event Champions” are assigned to each so no detail is overlooked and everyone stays informed. 

Some people gravitate toward groups whose work effectively builds community in unconventional ways. Dan Johnson Jr., an architect in TSP’s Omaha office, is the unpaid volunteer program director for Spielbound. Two friends who loved playing board games founded the nonprofit. The pair combined their game libraries and opened them to the public. The collection now includes more than 2,000 titles for players of all ages and interests. 

 Johnson describes how one co-founder — Spielbound CEO Kaleb Michaud — noticed something curious during game nights.

“He saw you could play a board game with people from totally different religions, sexual orientations or political parties, and they would sit and talk without arguing,” Johnson said. “These people realized they had some common ground as human beings and communicated about all sorts of topics. Kaleb thought games could facilitate bringing people together who normally wouldn’t be in the same room. You get them to play a game, to talk, and then they want to play together again.” 

That sort of personal connection recently inspired Kiesow to take on another community role. Moved by friends who’d needed assistance when they were starting their families, she began volunteering for Teddy Bear Den. The mother of two now serves on the board of directors. Through an incentive-based system, the nonprofit promotes healthy lifestyles for economically disadvantaged pregnant women and moms. Women earn points for a range of positive behaviors, from making regular prenatal visits or quitting smoking to completing child care classes. They redeem those points in the Teddy Bear Den’s store to earn everyday supplies or new gear such as play yards and baby swings. 

“We volunteer in the Den, we enroll new participants, we help them shop to make the most of their points or look at ways they can earn more points,” Kiesow said. “You can see from the work you’re doing that it really makes a difference to this person and to entire families. And ultimately, that benefits everyone.” 

The TSP team believes in making communities better, by design. Here’s a look at how TSP Inc. is making a difference for families and neighborhoods in 2018 through its community-involvement initiatives. The list includes links to organization webpages in case your company would like to contribute to a few of these great causes.

Sioux Falls

Rapid City/Black Hills and Wyoming communities

Omaha

Rochester, Minn.

Excelsior, Minn. 

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Building community, one relationship at a time 

Making communities better, by design. It’s core to how TSP does business, and as you’ll see, plenty of places are benefiting from it.

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