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Caring For Others, Quietly

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These dark days, it’s soothing to pause and salute a century-old company that carries forward to this day its founders’ simple yet remarkable goal of “caring for and protecting others.”

The company is Security Benefit Group and its president and CEO, Kris Robbins, says the credo has stayed alive in many ways down the years, but there’s a recent example I want to tell you about.

It’s called “Securing Better Youth,” a program for “at risk” inner-city kids which recently earned the Topeka, Kan., company a Donald F. Barnes Award for Public Service.

The awards are a joint annual endeavor of Life Communicators Association and National Underwriter. Their late namesake was a columnist of note for this magazine and a long-time member and mover at LCA. I was among the creators of the honor and I’ve served as a judge since its inception, which is how I came upon the Security Benefit program.

By way of background, Security Benefit began life in 1892 when 11 men anted up a dollar each to form a fraternal benefit society, The Knights and Ladies of Security. This, remarkably for its time, provided life insurance to people who couldn’t afford it and admitted women on the same basis as men. During the Great Depression, the company operated facilities for children, for the elderly and for the infirm, and throughout its long history has backed many other efforts to further the education, health and safety of Kansas youth.

It was no surprise then that the company answered the call from the Topeka Public Schools to sponsor its “YouthFriends” program. Early on, 22 employees signed up as full-time mentors (another 10 were alternates) to sixth-grade, “at-risk” inner-city students. Topeka, not incidentally, is among the top 10 U.S. cities in per capita crime statistics.

The school year began with a tour of the home office. Students met their mentors, saw new technology at work and learned about different vocations. Each week thereafter, they were bussed to Security for concentrated tutoring in their area of greatest need, doing homework, and discussing topics of interest.

“These were children needing another figure in their life to help them,” says Kris Robbins. “There are those from broken homes, who weren’t performing well, who weren’t tied into after-school activities, who seemed to be straying toward the wrong side of the tracks, maybe toward the crime scene, disengaged from moving forward with life.”

The year-end report card: improved attendance, attitudes and grades for all the participants, with several students making honor roll for the first time. That made it that much more exciting to do it again this year, says Robbins, reporting that the program will be broadened in the 2001-02 school year.

“It may increase our budget for donuts and juice in the morning,” he says, “but that’s all for investment in the youth.”

The selflessness of the effort was as impressive as the results. The company kept an amazingly low profile throughout. Every dollar went to teaching materials, refreshments and student recognition. Not a dime went to self-promotion. For Security Benefit, it was all about the kids.

Good things often happen when corporate interest and social interest coincide, but rarely does the corporate side of the equation shun publicity. So why did Security Benefit Group?

According to Robbins, it arises from his company’s core values and history. “It’s something we live and breathe,” he says. It involves providing for the needy, supporting the industry in which it lives and works, acting in the interest of customers first, treating employees as “associates,” and treating associates with respect and dignity.

The same values move the company and its employees to contribute a total of 14,000 volunteer hours per year to charity and more than $1 million a year to the community.

“It’s a part of who we are,” says Robbins. “It’s that simple.”

Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, October 15, 2001. Copyright 2001 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.

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