Following the events of 9/11, Joey Underwood, senior vice president of Safety Components in Greenville, S.C., witnessed several neighborhood efforts to raise money for families of the fallen firefighters in New York City. “I remember driving past a bake sale and thinking, ‘We’re in that business—we should do something, too,” he says.
Safety Components develops high-performance textiles not only for the fire service industry but also for the military, aerospace, outdoor technical fabric and automotive air bag markets. The company has 250 employees at its Greenville location, and is a division of the International Textile Group based in Greensboro, N.C.
Underwood’s urge to help evolved into the Safety Components First Responder 911 Foundation, which sponsored its first charity golf tournament a year later. It’s now in its 16th year, and takes place every November. Participants include firefighting dignitaries from around the country, as well as companies working throughout the firefighting garment supply chain.
“The number one charity we give to is the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF),” Underwood says, noting that the tournament raises about $25,000 to $30,000 every year. “It’s really become an industry event.”
Under the direction of Underwood and his assistant, Sylvia Holmes, Safety Components employees manage the tournament, from putting out hole signs to checking people in to handing out gifts to the golfers. “Everything you can think of that needs to be done, our employees will do,” Underwood says. They also solicit the help of local fire department members, who bring a ladder truck and a large U.S. flag with them. And to further enhance the ambiance, Underwood hires bagpipers. “It’s a first-class event,” he says. “People keep it on their calendars.”
A few years into their partnership, the NFFF asked Safety Components to fill a major sponsor vacancy for its Stop, Drop, Rock ‘n’ Roll fundraiser, held at the annual spring Fire Department Instructors Conference in Indianapolis, Ind. Safety Components was happy to help and, nearly 10 years later, is still managing the event, raising $75,000 to $100,000 each time.
Holmes does the brunt of the work leading up to the event, including marketing, hiring the concert talent and organizing the dinner and auction. “We don’t have the means to just write the foundation a check every year, so we put in the sweat equity work by managing these events and attracting sponsors,” Underwood says.
Employees are grateful for the chance to give back in a hands-on way. While it does give them a chance to meet and spend time with direct and indirect customers, that’s not the purpose of these events, Underwood says. “The purpose is to give back to the industry that we are fortunate enough to make a living on. We’re doing this not to promote ourselves but for the right reasons, and attendees appreciate that.”
Holly Eamon is an editor and writer based in Minneapolis, Minn.