Finding a fit for faith, values and ethics in the workplace can be difficult.
The founders of Heart to Heart Communications are ready to meet that challenge.
“Spirituality is not necessarily about what you’re doing, but about how you do it and why you do it,” said Lawrence W. “Larry” Vuillemin, a partner at the Akron law firm of Gorman, Malarcik, Pierce and Vuillemin. “There is a real need for people to be able to connect faith, values and ethics to every aspect of their lives, including their work lives.”
Vuillemin and the Rev. Norman K. Douglas, a Roman Catholic priest affectionately called “Father Norm,” established the nonprofit Heart to Heart Communications in 1990 to help people find purpose at work. Three years later, the organization started a breakfast program — the annual Greater Akron Speaks Out for Values Breakfast — as a fundraiser. It typically attracts several hundred people.
This year’s 20th annual breakfast will be 7 a.m. Monday at the John S. Knight Center, 77 E. Mill St., Akron. Daniel Colantone, president and CEO of the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce, is the keynote speaker and the theme is “Celebrating Community Collaborations: Renew and Sustain the Spirit Among Us.”
The program will include a video that features local leaders working in collaboration and an optional workshop called, Collaborative Leadership: Inspiring the Best in Ourselves and Each Other. The workshop facilitator is Ellen Van Oosten, executive coach and an instructor at Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management.
As a spiritually centered interfaith organization, Heart to Heart, brings together individuals and organizations to discuss ways to link ethical values and daily work. The goal of the heart-to-heart conversations is to help people envision how the inner spirit can influence workplace relationships and productivity.
“We offer people a nonthreatening environment where they can be real and true. As people listen to each other’s stories, they become enriched,” said Douglas, the organization’s executive director and a priest in residence at St. Bernard Parish in Akron. “We were a Christian group when we started out. We still have a spiritual foundation, but we are open to people of all faith traditions and we are trying to help people of faith live in a pluralistic society and practice their faith while being enriched by people of other faith cultures.”
Douglas and Vuillemin facilitate development programs that are custom-designed to help people, particularly leaders, find purpose by living out ethical values in the workplace and in community life. Their work is based on the premise there is a connection between personal and spiritual development and the success of a business.
Marjorie Holata-Burton, director of associate involvement at Munroe Falls-based SGS Tool Co., believes in that philosophy. She said that since SGS started its evolution in the mid-1980s to become an “involvement” culture, the machine tools manufacturing company has become more successful. She described the company’s atmosphere as a place where employees (called associates at SGS) are encouraged to be actively involved by sharing their opinions and talents.
“We have found that when people are involved in the company, they get a better understanding of how their work impacts the success of the company. When associates know that their opinions count and that they are valued, the workplace becomes a place where they want to be and that makes a big difference,” Holata-Burton said.
“Heart to Heart has helped us grow and maintain human dignity in the work culture. You really can't find an outside source that does what they do. They get to the heart of the culture that they're working in,” she said. “They don’t push religion. They talk about people’s spirit and encourage people to be more self-aware.”
SGS has utilized the services of Heart to Heart for more than 15 years. The nonprofit organization is currently doing self-awareness training with associates. That work includes a presence in the plant during all three shifts, including midnights.
“You don’t find too many resources or consultants who are willing to do that,” Holata-Burton said.
Tony O’Leary, executive director at Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority, said Heart to Heart’s flexibility and ability to design programs specific to a workplace make it unique. He said his agency is still reaping the benefits of Heart to Heart's work from several years ago.
“They helped us develop ways to deal with stress in the workplace and helped educate us about some of the causes of stress inside and outside the workplace. Stress, whether it's work-related or personal, can impact job performance,” O'Leary said. “Heart to Heart helped our supervisors become more aware and more empathetic when interacting with people who are trying to cope with stressors and still do a good job. Because of Heart to Heart, we expanded our employee assistance program as a way to help our employees manage the stress in their lives.”
AMHA and SGS are two of numerous examples that Douglas and Vuillemin count as testimonials of their work to help people incorporate their spiritual lives in the marketplace.
The priest and lawyer said they are pleased that Heart to Heart has grown over the years to meet the needs of people in a variety of work settings. They never imagined that when their discussions, which began in 1986, would lead to the establishment of Heart to Heart.
When the two men came together, Vuillemin was recovering from a stroke that he describes as “the defining moment” in his life. As he reflected on his life, he began to ponder how his work life could be more integrated with his personal values that his faith beliefs primarily shaped.
His search for an answer included a commitment to attend church more often, as a way to become more spiritually grounded. During a visit to the former St. Martha's church in Akron's North Hill neighborhood, he met Douglas, who was actively seeking ways to help people experience their faith in practical ways on a daily basis.
Together, they determined there was a need to remedy the disconnect between work and spirituality. As they invited more people into the conversation, they discovered there was a strong desire in others to make the connection.
From there, small discussion groups developed to include people in like professions — a lawyers’ group, a physicians’ group, a journalists’ group and others — and Heart to Heart was born to promote ethics in the workplace through personal and spiritual development via workshops, presentations and small-group discussions.
“We began to find ways to help people break through the barriers that prevented them from incorporating ethical commitment more fully into their everyday decisions, even at work,” Vuillemin said. “Heart to Heart is still striving to help people figure out how to apply spirituality in the workplace. We are community-minded, heart-centered and spiritually grounded.”
More information about Heart to Heart and the upcoming breakfast program can be found at www.h2hc.org or by calling 330-434-3278.
Breakfast tickets are $35. Workshop tickets are $80. A combination ticket is available for $100. Doors open at 6:45 a.m. The breakfast program is 7:15 to 8:45 a.m. and the workshop is 9 to 11:45 a.m.
Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or firstname.lastname@example.org. She can be followed at https://twitter.com/ColetteMJenkins.