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How Our Local Model Enables Increased Community Engagement

By: Anuja Agnihotri

When Dan Pierce founded SEI 30 years ago, he recognized the shortcomings of being a road warrior as a consultant. Impersonal and inconsistent service to clients, leaving families behind, living out of a suitcase, and not being able to fully engage in and give back to the communities consultants live in all contributed to traditional consultant struggles. SEI’s local model has helped us differentiate ourselves, spend quality time with our families, and be good social citizens. At SEI, we aim to make a meaningful impact, lead with empathy, and engage in the community where we can.

Community service at SEI is entirely consultant driven. Consultants bring forward causes and nonprofits they are passionate about, and we provide them with support and resources to help them succeed. In 2022, every LOC contributed to causes in their own way, whether with elbow grease, donation dollars, or resources. We take pride in acting as a force for good, advocating for diverse causes, and making charitable contributions.

SEI believes in the power of — and has a strong connection to — local communities. Below, we highlight two incredible stories that show our compassion and commitment to contributing to the greater good.

KAREfarm and SEI Cincinnati

KAREfarm is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that supports those experiencing grief. One of our very own Cincinnati consultants, Stephanie Pfennig, cofounded this organization after tragically losing her daughter, Katie, to a hiking accident in early 2016. 

In the early part of her grief journey, Stephanie would make frequent trips to her daughter’s gravesite and, on several occasions, noticed another woman at an adjacent headstone. One day, they started a conversation, and Stephanie learned that this woman, Christa Plummer, had also sadly lost her daughter, Avery, in late 2016 to an intoxicated motorist. The two quickly bonded over abruptly losing a child and leaned into each other for support. Through their connection, they wanted to foster an environment that allowed others experiencing grief to have a safe space to turn to during their difficult journey.

From there, Katie and Avery’s Retreat Experience was born. Shortly after KAREfarm received its 501(c)(3) designation, Stephanie and her husband Mike lost their son, Nick, further fueling the resolve to ensure people knew they were not alone. Today, KAREfarm offers free retreats centered around remembering, respite, and renewal. Their mantra is, “It doesn’t matter how you got here, but we’re glad you did.”

This cause hit close to home as we watched our own team member go through an immeasurable tragedy. SEI, especially SEI Cincinnati, has supported this cause in many ways. Earlier this year, SEI donated several large gift baskets, with themes including Movie Night, Cupcake Wars, Foodie & Wine, Who Dey for Two, and more. These baskets were later auctioned off at a “Hoops, Hops, and Hope” Spring Fundraiser aligned with March Madness — with all proceeds going to KAREfarm.

These donations exceeded KAREfarm’s fundraising goal, allowing them to support their annual operations. SEI also offers volunteer hours at both the start and end of KAREfarm’s season. To help prepare the farm for each retreat season in early Spring, SEIers help by planting fresh flowers, pulling weeds, landscaping, clearing hiking trails, cleaning pedal boats and kayaks, collecting firewood, and cleaning tents. As retreat season draws to a close, SEIers return to support KAREfarm’s Open House activities by helping guests check in, chauffeuring them via golf carts to and from events spaces, serving dinner, stoking fires, and providing general housekeeping.

SEI Cincinnati is proud to be part of KAREfarm’s journey as they continue to foster the power of community, connection, and compassion for everyone’s unique experience with grief.

SEI DC supporting the Afghanistan evacuation

In the last few years, the world has seen unprecedented crises, ranging from a global pandemic and racial divides to shortages of basic needs, wars, extreme weather conditions, and more. These events displace people from their families, homes, and communities — and, sometimes, completely change their lives. We are grateful we were able to help one such displaced family build their life in the DMV area.

Bonnie Cote, Managing Principal of SEI Washington, D.C., was initially connected to Amir* and his family through a group of veterans supporting the Afghanistan evacuation in August 2021. She volunteered to help with data processing to ensure the Department of State was transporting the right people with the right visas on flights to their new homes across the globe. 

Bonnie and Amir were first connected when she reached out to support his family’s evacuation. They communicated every step of the way from their safe house in Kabul, where they were in hiding for months, to their processing at Fort Dix, where they lived in a tent for weeks with nothing but the clothes on their backs.  

*Name changed for privacy purposes

After advocating for placement in Northern Virginia, where Amir’s sister has lived for decades, they were finally free to restart their lives in their new country. Bonnie connected with several local resettlement agencies to see what resources were available to them. However, the surge in volume from the initial Afghanistan evacuation was too overwhelming, and local nonprofits had no more capacity. This is where Bonnie turned to her SEI teammates to share Amir’s story and explain her goal: to fully furnish an apartment in a safe community so they could have a home-cooked meal, a hot shower, and a comfortable bed to sleep in for the first time in over six months. 

SEI jumped to help by contributing furniture donations, money, and manual help in the weeks leading up to and including move-in day. Team members donated toys for the kids, assembled furniture, and decorated the apartment to make it feel like home, as well as making trips to Costco and a local halal market to stock the pantry. One team member gathered a moving truck full of gently used furniture donations to help pull together a cohesive, beautiful apartment design.

Humbled by this experience and motivated to get his family’s life back on track, Amir worked tirelessly to apply for benefits, earn his driver’s license, register his kids for school, and apply for jobs, which eventually led to an opportunity with Accenture. Even today, Amir remains in touch with Bonnie and even joined the SEI Washington, D.C. team for a staff meeting and fundraiser for local resettlement agencies that desperately need resources. Amir’s story is powerful and inspiring, and he is already volunteering to help other families navigate the resettlement process and is looking for opportunities to pay it forward.

SEI DC with Amir and his family

These two heartfelt stories are a testament to our commitment to not only give back to the communities we live in, but also help people integrate into our communities so they can pay it forward.

But those weren’t the only ways our teams made a difference this year. Throughout 2022, LOCs contributed not just dollars, but time and energy to causes close to their hearts:

  • SEI Philadelphia has been active in the community, participating in a run/walk for the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Fundraising topped $3,350 to help fund pediatric cancer research. The office continues to look for ways to include families in outreach and social activities to help build community and strengthen culture amongst our growing office.
  • SEI Chicago volunteers time and resources through quarterly service events within the local community. They have supported many causes, including blood drives, packaging food at local food banks, adopting families, and providing holiday gifts. The picture below shows our most recent event, a Habitat for Humanity build in Grand Crossing.
SEI Chicago at a Habitat for Humanity build event
  • SEI Phoenix volunteered with Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona to assist in the construction of transitional homes for single women veterans. In one of their last meetings for 2022, they integrated a volunteer activity to pack 35 food boxes for the Foothills Food Bank.
SEI Phoenix at a Habitat for Humanity build event
SEI Cincinnati serving breakfast at the Ronald McDonald House
  • SEI Miami hosted several community service events this year with a large impact. They assembled 75 activity kits for inpatients at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, sponsored a “Back to School” campaign supporting victims of child abuse and child sex trafficking, and hosted a table at Kristi House’s annual luncheon, “Breaking the Silence,” with proceeds benefiting children of abuse.
SEI Miami putting together activity kits for the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital
  • SEI New York has been an active group, volunteering 72 hours for Citymeals packaging and delivering hot meals for homebound elderly New Yorkers. Three consultants provided their time and services to pro bono consulting projects with Catchafire, where they made an impact of $5,000 for a student performing arts project and a local theater company.
SEI New York at a Citymeals event
  • SEI Dallas has donated to The Warren Center for several years, an organization serving children with developmental needs. This year they donated a huge box of toys for their toy drive called Operation Santa. SEI Dallas plans to expand their community service to include packaging meals for the homeless, sponsoring/participating in a blood drive, and volunteering time to package goods for those experiencing situational crises.
  • SEI Boston hosted a Giving Party with TOP The Organic Project, creating 200 packages with over 7,000 menstrual products for 200 people and donating them to The Lady Locker. The team fulfilled wish lists of families in need for the holidays as well as continuing to support Hospitality Homes by creating meals for out-of-town families, sponsoring golf tournaments, and participating in road races for multiple years of Board representation.
SEI Boston at the TOP event
  • SEI Nashville has been active in Middle Tennessee in support of equitable education, cancer support, feeding the hungry, and more. The team sponsored transportation for students to access educational programs provided by Junior Achievement of Middle Tennessee, prepared lunches at the Second Harvest Food Bank for students who don’t have access to food on the weekends, and collected more than 3,000 toys for local police to give to families in need.
SEI Nashville preparing lunches at Second Harvest Food Bank
  • SEI Services partnered with Operation Give Back to help support their Blessing Bag program. This program was designed to offer food and toiletry items over the holiday break that schools typically provide to families in need. The Services team assembled five bags worth $75 each this season to help support this amazing program.
  • As a testament to cross-office collaboration, Miami consultant Simon Brandon participated in the Pan-Mass Challenge with SEIers from Boston and New York. They did so to raise funds for cancer research and treatments for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, racking up over 200 miles in two days from Central Massachusetts to Cape Cod and raising $6,000.
SEI Miami’s Simon Brandon at the Pan-Mass Challenge

While financial donations are the most common way to support noble causes, SEI digs a little deeper to add a personal touch, because we take immense pride in our people-first approach to everything we do. As we close out this year, we are grateful and humbled by the chance to give back to causes we love and do good in the communities we serve. The ability to follow our passions and connect to our communities is vital in continuing the long-lasting cultural benefits of SEI.

We could not be more proud of our team’s incredible contributions this year. We invite you to explore our website if you’d like to learn more about these organizations and the other causes we’re supporting.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to serve you and integrate further into our communities! We wish you the best this holiday season and hope everyone finds time to gather with friends and family, share joy, and prepare for the new year!

Anuja-Agnihotri

Anuja Agnihotri

Consultant

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