Photograph courtesy of Outdoor Industry Association

Photograph courtesy of Outdoor Industry Association

If you’ve ever volunteered, you know how good it feels to help an organization in need while making a visible impact on a local community. Now imagine if you had several hundred people working together on the same day. Picture how much you could accomplish.

That’s what you get when you bring together the outdoor industry for an annual conference. You can’t exactly lock these people inside the whole time. Outdoor types get itchy sitting for too long. And they like to get dirty.

So each year at Rendezvous®, the outdoor industry’s annual leadership forum hosted by Outdoor Industry Association, everyone from CEOs to marketing professionals to retail shop owners get down and dirty, working side by side on a service project. The idea is to have fun, foster friendships, and make a contribution to the community.

Timberland has been sponsoring the service project for 15 years. Talk about a company with a conscience. With a mission to equip people to make their difference in the world, Timberland has long been active in community engagement and service. In addition to sponsoring the annual service project, the company offers its employees 40 hours of paid time off each year to volunteer. Sounds like my kind of place.

Over the years, the Rendezvous Service Project Sponsored by Timberland has touched all corners of the nation, spanning 12 cities and contributing more than 7,000 hours of volunteer labor on projects such as cutting paths through the Arizona desert, building a playground for a Colorado mountain town, clearing overgrown forest in Oregon, lots of trail work, and more.

In celebration of this milestone year, I asked a few industry folks to share their service project memories. Everyone expressed amazement at how much a group of people can accomplish in a short time. But something I heard really surprised me. Three people independently named the same project as being the most memorable. And it’s not the one you might think.

One year, the service project focused on a Colorado shelter for abused mothers and their children. These women had escaped frightening situations, and this home was providing a safe refuge until they could get back on their feet. During the course of the project, outdoor industry professionals rebuilt a play structure, cleared the yard, finished a fence to screen the yard from the street, and built an outdoor structure. What’s interesting is that this isn’t a typical environmental project. Yet it made a big difference in the women’s lives, and had a profound impact on the people who did the work.

Jay Steere of Timberland said, “I remember how moved the volunteers were to see the expression of gratitude on the faces of mothers and children.”

Another volunteer recalled, “The women and their children who had been so badly abused were visibly touched that so many people had come together to help them and help their lives move forward. No other project has had that sort of impact on me emotionally, or felt so important.”

Wow. Those are powerful words—and a testament to the outstanding contributions of the service projects.

In just a few weeks, the outdoor industry will be at it again, leaving its mark on San Diego. This year’s project focuses on the Tijuana River Valley, one of the largest open space areas in San Diego County. Outdoor Industry Association and Timberland are partnering with WiLDCOAST, an international conservation team that works to conserve coastal and marine ecosystems and wildlife, to help clean up this beautiful estuary.

“We’re looking forward to making this year’s 15th annual service event one of the most memorable and impactful ever,” said Timberland’s Steere, who has participated in 12 of the projects. “The Tijuana River Valley project with WiLDCOAST epitomizes the type of grassroots partnership we seek, to ensure that we are able to make a real difference in the community while also creating a rewarding experience for the participants.”

Hats off to Timberland and the entire outdoor industry for volunteering valuable time and sweat equity to help improve communities throughout the country. The legacy of these efforts carries on long after everyone goes back home. Working together, we are making a difference.

Avery Stonich is director of communications for Outdoor Industry Association. Follow us on Twitter: @OIA and @averystonich.