Makers making a difference

Manufacturers make the world a better place by giving back, paying it forward

By Jeff Baker

Making things is old hat for manufacturers around the world, and right here at home on the Prairies. 

For some companies and leaders, altruism in the driving factor behind the giving back, while for others, though the altruism is still there, it’s part of a larger business decision around brand and product awareness and employee engagement and retention.

Regardless of the impetus behind the initiative, it’s always heartening to hear of or see a company and its employees doing something that makes a positive difference in the community, local or global.

Supporting the community

Wendell Wiebe, Chief Executive Officer of Manitoba Aerospace says companies in his sector – and beyond – realize they’re part of a larger community and ecosystem and they have a role to play in supporting the people who make up those communities. 

“Leaders tend to believe in the importance of giving back to their communities,” says Wiebe. “The larger picture of corporate social responsibility has helped highlight how critical it is to make the world a better place for people.”

Wiebe explains that Manitoba Aerospace members have a history of generosity that goes well beyond the companies’ facilities and employees. 

“Thirteen years ago, our members decided that they wanted to start an endowment fund to support the students who were training in programs that would feed the industry’s workforce,” Wiebe says.

“We were doing an awards dinner and gala and a golf tournament that were the largest fundraisers for that endowment fund. Today, there’s more than $400,000 in the fund, and we were able to award 14 scholarships to students in the past year.”

“The scholarships started out at a couple hundred dollars,” explains Wiebe. “This year, the scholarships are in the area of $1500 per student, so the industry really is making a difference for the workforce of tomorrow.”

Bigger than any one company

Wiebe’s colleague, Barbara Bowen, Director of Special Projects at Manitoba Aerospace, explains that the association-level initiatives are just the start for many companies.

“Our members are all doing things on their own, and they’re helping drive positive change throughout the larger community,” says Bowen.

“We’ve got a company that regularly convenes a team of employees to work at Habitat for Humanity building projects each year, donating their time so deserving families can purchase a home of their own.”

“There are members who participate in the Dragon Boat races each year, in the Multiple Sclerosis Society bike rallies, in Indigenous community outreach and service campaigns,” Bowen says.

One initiative called Sleep in Heavenly Peace has companies coming together to build beds – single and bunk – for children in the local community so, as the project’s motto says, no child will sleep on the floor in our town.

Bowen explains, “one of our members is taking a full day in October to focus on building beds, and they’re bringing together resources, materials, and people from other organizations to build as many beds as possible.”

Learning the ropes

Beyond the obvious charitable work, Manitoba Aerospace members also extensively support the training institutes that develop the next generation of workers. 

Wiebe explains that some of the materials used in the manufacture of aircraft have ‘use by’ dates, after which they aren’t allowed to be used in commercial production.

“These materials are very advanced and are very expensive to purchase,” says Wiebe. “Manufacturers offer their expired materials to the schools, and the students get hands-on experience with the actual goods and machines they’ll be using on the job.”

“Even if the manufacturers don’t have materials to donate,” says Wiebe, “they often have arrangements with their suppliers to permit the schools to purchase materials and supplies at preferred customer rates.”

“At the end of the day, it’s about companies and their people connecting with the larger community for the benefit of all,” Wiebe says. “We all have to take care of each other.”

Sunday outing goes awry

For some manufacturers, giving back and paying it forward means taking to the skies. Literally.

Jack Maendal, CEO of Morris, Manitoba-based Ecopoxy, and manager-member of Oak Bluff Colony, a local Hutterite community, took part in an intensive search and rescue operation for a lost elderly couple.

In June 2021, Brian and Evelyn Watt of Morris went for an afternoon drive with no destination in mind. It’s something most of us have probably done at some point in our lives, and it’s usually without incident. It’s a great example of the journey being enjoyable itself. 

But what makes this afternoon drive story different is that it resulted in missing-persons bulletins, search parties, and extensive media coverage. To say it was an adventure might be an understatement!

The Watts went for their afternoon drive and found themselves along a road that gradually disappeared from under them. From pavement to gravel, to dirt, to grass, and eventually a rough track in the parkland bush of Manitoba’s Red River Valley, the Watts ended up with their vehicle falling into a washout and becoming hopelessly stuck.

The couple decided to leave their vehicle and walk through the rough terrain to find help. When the ground condition grew worse, walking turned into crawling, and Brian got well ahead of Evelyn before she decided to turn back to the relative protection of their vehicle. 

Brian had carried on after Evelyn reversed course, and the couple spent the night in the wild apart from each other; Brian in the open, Evelyn in their car. 

Lost in the wilderness

With no idea where they were, family and friends of the Watts were rightfully concerned for their safety and wellbeing. They reported them as missing to the RCMP who then issued missing-persons bulletins and made appeals to local media outlets to enlist the public’s assistance in finding Brian and Evelyn. 

That’s when members of Oak Bluff Colony, took notice and jumped into action. The community showed just how big a heart they have for their fellow humans.

Wearing your HEART on your sleeve

In response to the all-too-common deaths of community members and others due to drowning, members of Oak Bluff Colony established the Hutterian Emergency Aquatic Response Team, HEART.

Normally, HEART is involved in the recovery of drowning victims’ bodies from bodies of water. Recently, the team has undertaken recoveries in Saskatchewan, recovering a drowning victim from more than 100 feet of water, and travelled to British Columbia’s Shuswap region to recover a victim from Mara Lake. 

HEART conducts their recovery missions using their team of highly skilled and specially trained divers and some of the latest technology in underwater surveying and imaging, including sonar, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), and a small fleet of agile and powerful recovery vehicles. 

Asking for help, giving of help

HEART stepped up to take part in the search for the Watts because the region in which they were reported lost was very close to the Red River, and there was a very good possibility they may have ended up in the water.

Maendal said that it’s just in his community’s nature to act when called upon.

“It’s in our DNA as Hutterites,” says Maendal. “We want to help; we need to help.”

“I feel incredibly blessed that we have access to an airplane, and I was able to use the gift of aviation to go and search,” Maendal says.

“We had no idea whether we would find these people,” explains Maendal. “We prayed together and asked the Lord to show us where we should look, because we really had no clue.”

Take to the skies

Maendal, along with his brothers Manuel and Paul, and Manuel’s wife, Janet, took to the skies to conduct an aerial survey of areas where the Watts might have ended up. 

“You want to have four pairs of eyes looking in all directions,” says Maendal.

Flying more than 500 kilometres above south-central Manitoba in just under two hours, the gambit eventually paid off.

“Janet was the one who spotted the vehicle in the ditch,” Maendal says. 

The vehicle was visible for only seconds due to the thickness of the bush, so Jack circled the plane back around for another look. Sure enough, there was the vehicle.

They were able to record the position of the vehicle, radio the information to their colleagues on the ground who headed out right away to find, hopefully, the Watts alive and well, and contact 911 to alert the authorities. 

“We stayed circling for a bit to let those folks know that we saw them, that this wasn’t just a fluke,” says Maendal. 

A happiest of endings

When the ground crew finally reached the vehicle, they found Evelyn Watt inside, and a couple folks carried on down the path to search for her husband. Thankfully, they found Brian about a mile away, laying on the ground, but awake and aware.

“Usually, the HEART missions are recovery-only,” says Maendal. “This one was different in that it ended up being a rescue and we actually got to speak with these folks and their family.”