Ottawa Kent employees give back to community projects


Clients are not the only focus for one West Michigan agency.

While employees at Ottawa Kent spend much of their workweek helping people and businesses assess risks and offer insurance solutions that may be applicable to them, the agency has carved out time for its employees to support their local community.

Ottawa Kent founded Ottawa Kent Cares in 2015. The program allows staff members to become involved in the community by doing something they are passionate about. The agency gives each employee two paid days, which is equivalent to 16 hours, to serve in their community. The paid days also include after hours and weekends. 

Some of the organizations the employees support are Love INC (Love In the Name of Christ), Habitat for Humanity, Hand2hand, Starlight Ministries and International Aid. According to Mike Haverdink, president of Ottawa Kent, one staff member uses the paid days to donate blood regularly.

Jon Nagelkirk, the operations manager at Ottawa Kent, said they initially partnered with Westfield Insurance to work with Habitat for Humanity, and since then, they have continued to do so.

Nagelkirk said Ottawa Kent Cares allows employees to be continually involved in their community.

“Habitat is a good example where you need a group of people from time to time to push a project forward,” he said. “We did a few of those projects primarily in the summertime. One of the projects I participated in was in the north end of Grand Rapids, where the outside of the houses have to stay with the same character and keep the integrity of the neighborhood, but the inside you can change around. We took down a chimney that was added in the 1970s or ’80s from a house that was built in the ’20s. That was one of our big projects.”

Ottawa Kent also has worked with radio stations like Joy99.3 with its Share the Warmth program and other events. Recently, Ottawa Kent volunteered at Love INC’s Community Christmas event.

Kaitlin Verkaik, director of community engagement for Love INC, said the event allows for families who are unable to afford shopping to pay $5 per child, and they can pick out three gifts. There were about 1,500 gifts collected for the event.

“Instead of working their normal jobs, Ottawa Kent took those 1,500 gifts and turned it into a beautiful-looking store in a church gym,” she said. “They set up all the gifts based on ages so there are tables with gifts for infants to 5, 6 to 12, then teenagers and adults. So, imagine setting up 1,500 gifts and making it look good on tables in a church. They just turn it into this awesome store. It felt like a big extended Christmas party that the community can come together. That took them a long time. I would say three to four hours and quite a few of them stayed for the weekend event.”

Along with volunteering, staff members have the option to donate money to charities with Donating for Denim by participating in casual Friday.

“The employees who want to wear jeans on Fridays (donate) money in all four offices and then we collect the money quarterly and we donate (it) to an organization, maybe an organization we have worked with or not, but it has to be a charitable organization,” Nagelkirk said.

He said the first-quarter donations for this year will go to North Kent Connect in Rockford.

“This is where we live, these are the people that we live with and these are the people we work with, and we care about these communities and we want them to do well,” he said. “We try to encourage our employees to reach out in a positive way to impact the communities we live in.”

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