By Lori Berkey, Contributing Writer
Northborough – Thirty years ago, Saint-Gobain opened its research and development center on Goddard Road in Northborough. It became part of the now 350-year-old French-owned building materials company that has locations in over 60 countries and a long tradition of supporting the local communities that surround its sites.
Anne Hardy, the Northborough site director, oversees their site’s contributions committee. In addition to Hardy and center Coordinator Holly Hendrickson, the committee is comprised of employee volunteers interested in bridging a connection between their workplace and the community.
According to Hardy, the committee’s contribution priority areas are science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), particularly habitat building science and hunger relief. In 2015, the committee doled aid to food pantries in Northborough, Marlborough and Hudson, and Habitat for Humanity of North Central Massachusetts. They also funded materials for Hudson High School’s physics department, assisted the Marlborough-based Hillside School, and more.
The Northborough site as a whole is involved in various local support activities. They participated with Saint-Gobain’s Worcester-based businesses in a campaign that jointly raised almost $400,000 for the United Way of Central Massachusetts in 2015 through contributions from employees, the corporation and some of its retirees.
The Northborough site often works to balance monetary donations with contributions that make connections with recipients as well, particularly with schools through such offerings as tours and mentoring opportunities.
“It’s just that we’d love to see their students visiting the research center and seeing what a job looks like that someone’s doing in a STEM field,” Hardy said. “Money contributions go so far, but the thing that sometimes makes it more lasting is the relationship.”
With Northborough employees being STEM employees, Anne added, there’s an understanding there of the need for developing interest in the field. The site has organized science fair competitions for students and partnered with the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) to hold an event for girls in junior high school.
“A lot of our recent grads were really excited to have the opportunity to engage these bright young girls and show that this could be a fun career for them,” Hardy said.
Hardy is pleased social consciousness is embedded in Saint-Gobain.
“I think it’s increasingly important to people that the companies that they work for have a sense of social responsibility and so they see it in some of the areas of our research that we’re interested in – in making more energy-efficient buildings, where we’re interested in things that reduce the amount of recycling that you might need to do, and so this is just an extension of that to be connected back to the community, and for them to feel like they’re working in a place that’s connects to their communities,” Hardy said.
Additionally, the Northborough site offers matching gifts when employees make personal donations to a nonprofit, and offers employees an option to spend eight hours donating their work time to assist charitable organizations.
Every year Saint-Gobain gives employees a turkey at Christmastime and many employees choose to donate it back so Saint-Gobain can donate their turkeys to the food banks along with a monetary sum.
According to information provided by Lauren Petit, manager of communications and community relations for Saint-Gobain’s abrasives department, Saint-Gobain’s turkey-giving tradition dates back to a company incident that occurred in 1888. In December of that year, a controversy arose between two innovators over the patent on a dresser, which was used for roughening the surface of a grinding wheel after it was smoothed down. The two reportedly put their differences aside and spent $50 for turkeys to be served to all employees.
And so the tradition remains.