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Tolling Points

Talking About Service with IBTTA President and Foundation Chair

Jacob Barron, IBTTA

As we approach the 2022 IBTTA Foundation Service Project in Cleveland—held in conjunction with the 2022 Maintenance, Engineering and Roadway Operations Workshop—IBTTA sat down with 2022 President Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti and IBTTA Foundation Chair Jim Wilson to talk about new efforts to incorporate service projects into IBTTA meetings, memories of past service projects and what attendees and volunteers can expect in Cleveland. The conversation has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

“It's impossible to describe, but it's an absolute wonderful feeling:” Talking about service with IBTTA President Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti and IBTTA Foundation Chair Jim Wilson

IBTTA: This is the first full-blown in-person service project that the IBTTA Foundation has hosted since 2019, but it’s not the only service-oriented activity IBTTA has hosted since then. Can you talk more about the effort to give attendees at IBTTA meetings more opportunities to participate in these projects?

Diane: Well, I have to admit that I’ve actually never done one of the annual in-person service projects that have happened at the Maintenance Workshops.

Jim: I do want to say though, it was [Diane’s] idea to incorporate more service projects into the organization. We started the community service project this year where we're focused primarily on food drives for now, but that's an opportunity to bring a service project into the building without the spectacle of putting together a huge day of events at another organization.

Diane: I think Jim, in my mind and when I became president, and I had the opportunity to watch the good work of the Maintenance and Operations Workshop over the years, the element of adding service to all of our large conferences is basically our way of saying “thank you” to our host city for allowing us to be there and enjoy our time together. But, it’s also to leave a good impression of who IBTTA is—that we're an organization that does care about the people we serve, and IBTTA does care about people who are in the cities that we visit. 

IBTTA: These projects benefit the organizations serving the local community, but what benefits do you think participants get just by being a part of the project?

Diane: Well, service allows us to spend time together and develop or get to know each other in a way that perhaps we would never have gotten to know each other before, right? Just…not talking business, just getting our hands dirty, planting some plants or painting a wall or fixing something, and you're people doing good work that we wouldn't do without those service projects. 

For the individuals who participate, it's just extraordinarily rewarding to know that you're leaving a good mark someplace. I said it after our first food drive event in Orlando with U.S. Hunger. After we did that project and packaged 15,000 meals, it was so much easier for me to go and enjoy my meal because I knew I had done something to provide meals for others. That's the fulfillment I get, knowing that while I'm enjoying a meal, there are others who may not otherwise have had that benefit had we not done that work. 

Service just…it fills you up on the inside, and it spreads to filling up others. Both the recipients of our service as well as the other participants.

Jim: Really my favorite memories of service projects is what Diane just said. The thing I enjoy the most is at the end of the day when you know all the work is done, you can see the appreciation and sometimes astonishment from the folks that you know need help. And you can feel the pride and sense of accomplishment from all the other participants. It's just simply this culmination of emotions there at the end of the day. It's impossible to describe, but it's an absolute wonderful feeling.

IBTTA: Diane you mentioned earlier that the Foundation service projects give IBTTA the chance to leave a good impression on the cities and communities that host us. How else do you think these projects benefit IBTTA and the tolling industry as a whole?

Diane: I think the service projects, when we do them in each city that we visit, it helps to build a very positive reputation for IBTTA. When I get in an Uber or a cab from the airport heading to the hotel and inevitably get in a conversation with somebody they'll say, “Oh, are you here on business?” And I’ll say "yes," and they’ll ask “well, what do you do?” And then I'll tell them, “I'm here for a conference and we're going to talk about toll roads and tolling and toll bridges,” and they're negative, right? They're like, “oh, who wants to pay tolls?” But when we say “while we're here, we’ll also be doing a service project for the community that we're really excited about,” then we can talk about it, and it softens the view of the agencies and the organization.

When I say softens, what I mean is we're not just here to talk about how we can collect our money from people traveling. We're also leaving a positive mark. We understand what our responsibilities are as public agencies and operators and members of the toll industry—to give back and to always show our gratitude for our opportunities to do the work that we do.

It's not easy for people to always reach in their pocket or, you know, put that transponder in their windshield and know they're going to have to pay tolls. But if they know they're doing it within the confines of an organization and an industry that understands its social responsibilities—which is what this is, what service is—I think people look differently at the organization.

Jim: As I've said before—and I just like to say it to my staff and to anyone that will listen—we have three professional obligations: our customers, our company and our community. We get to fulfill the first two on a near daily basis, but we often neglect our community. The service projects allow us to concentrate all our resources and skill sets on very worthy organizations in the cities that are kind enough to host us and we do some really special things. That's exactly why it's important for us to continue doing this.

IBTTA: What, specifically, are some of those special things that IBTTA volunteers have done in past service projects? Which ones of them stick in out in your memory?

Jim: Well, my first project is the one that stands out the most. We were at the Harpeth River in Nashville doing clean up after a devastating flood. And for me, you know, it was a project right up my alley where we're in kayaks paddling upstream and collecting garbage and then getting it all back down river and back and forth. And there's snakes and water and mud and everything that I'm into when it comes to the service project but in this beautiful area, surrounded by mountains and the outdoors. So that one just stands out for me. I think for most people that participate in the service project that first one is always sort of awe inspiring. The work that we're doing and the way that we do it, the amount of work that we do in the projects always stands out.

IBTTA: A lot of IBTTA members and local agencies make donations to the Foundation in addition to participating. A lot of times when people make similar donations, they aren’t 100% certain about where their money goes or how it gets spent. This doesn’t seem like the case when it comes to the Foundation. Jim can you talk about why that is and why it’s important?

Jim: The way that the Foundation is set up, it's the charitable arm of IBTTA and the main three functions are the leadership academy, the service project and the scholarship program. The Leadership Academy is self-funded; you pay to attend. So in terms of donations, we don't really take any for the Leadership Academy. 

For the scholarship program, we've been adding scholarships over the years for up to five scholarships. The Foundation board has promised to provide at least one scholarship to an HBCU student, and so some of those funds are earmarked either specifically for the scholarship or for the HBCU program. Last year, we gave a scholarship over to a graduate level program that was specifically earmarked for that as well.

Most funds are specifically earmarked for the service project. We spend some time in advance trying to figure out what we're going to do, and then we run around and try to drum up support. But, the donations that come from our membership specifically for those projects to help out on the day of, or to help with some of the advance work that we need to do in order to set ourselves up for success, those have a huge impact.

Diane: The big difference here is that that investment is very tangible. There's not a big lag. We’re not asking you to give $19 a month to support an entity and then not really know what it produces because it's so large and not visible. IBTTA is a small, relatively small association of people with really big hearts that come out and spend a day working in all kinds of conditions.

Although I probably wouldn't have loved working alongside Jim with the snakes, I just have to say.

IBTTA: We’ve talked about past service projects, but can you give us a preview of what’s in store for Cleveland? 

Jim: Sure, and to tie it back to your question about specific donations and not knowing where they go—sometimes there's no missing where the money's going and that’s true on this particular project. When we're all done, we're going to have a full-size outdoor basketball court laid down in the colors of the organization, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Northeast Ohio.

The Club director there, Joseph Greathouse, said that on his very first day taking the job as director, he had one dream, and that was to get an outdoor basketball court. [The facilities] have been there several years, and there's plenty of work of organizations that come through and help that organization provide the service to the community. But, they have yet to get an outdoor basketball court, and all things are lining up for us to provide that.

We’ll be doing more than just that too. They haven't been able to play baseball the last couple of years due to the pandemic. They have a little league field on the property, but it hasn't been maintained and it's not ready for opening day. So, we'll get the field prepared, and get the lines down, get the bases in and get them ready for a good fun summer league.

IBTTA: What would you say to IBTTA members or attendees that are on the fence about participating in the service project, or donating to the Foundation?

Jim: Diane, if you don't mind, I'm going to borrow a little bit from what I've said previously. I know Diane and I share an appreciation of Jimmy Valvano, and he's got this great quote. I'm going to paraphrase it a little bit, but essentially the three things we should do every day—we should laugh, we should think, and we should have our emotions moved to tears. The service project is all those things in a day.

Diane: I think the only thing that I would add to that is that if a company is on the fence about participating, I would suggest to them the return on their investment for participating would be that the folks that they send to work on that project will come back a better team than they were when they left. They'll work together in a different way and they'll see each other differently. 

Sometimes in our workplace, we really do need to see each other in a different way. I think this service project—and any service project actually where you can go and be side-by-side with people for something that has nothing to do with you, your own benefit, your own company's benefit, but simply the benefit of others—it allows us to see our humanity in such a beautiful way. I would encourage those companies to step up, step on over and become a part of what will be a very exciting time as we go to Cleveland and execute this service project.

Learn more and register for the 2022 Maintenance, Engineering and Roadway Operations Workshop here.

Newsletter publish date: 
Thursday, June 9, 2022 - 10:45


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