Harley employees give back ‘next door’

Children enjoy the Harley-Davidson Trike Track at the Walk for Children.
Children enjoy the Harley-Davidson Trike Track at the Walk for Children.

Last updated on March 17th, 2020 at 01:36 pm

A long-standing partnership between Harley-Davidson and Next Door has raised more than $1 million for the Milwaukee-based early childhood education nonprofit.

For decades, Harley-Davidson has been a major supporter of the organization, raising funds through a variety of employee giving opportunities. It also has been the presenting sponsor of Next Door’s annual Walk for Children since it first launched 30 years ago.

As Next Door’s largest community event, the walk, held annually in May, aims to raise awareness and funds for its programs. The organization is focused on closing the achievement gap by providing early childhood education in Milwaukee’s central city.

Since the start, more than 7,200 Harley-Davidson employees have participated in the walk.

“It’s a unique model for an organization to have, where employees have such buy-in to the organization and the event,” said Cristina Crogan, vice president of development and communication for Next Door. “They feel personally motivated to give and come up with creative ideas and ways to get people involved at the workplace.”

Employees are able to raise funds for the organization through fun activities, including ice cream socials, Harley-Davidson merchandise giveaways and penny war competitions among departments.

“Some team members save pennies all year long to bring to the penny wars,” said Julie Anding, vice president and chief human resources officer of Harley-Davidson and president of the Harley-Davidson Foundation.

On average, employees raise about $150,000 annually for Next Door. The company also participates in Next Door’s walk planning committee, brings a team for the walk and offers a Trike Track activity for the children at the event.

“We take great pride in our support throughout the whole community, but this is a highlight for us every year when we’re able to get out and support the walk,” Anding said.

She said investing in Next Door makes sense for the company, headquartered in Milwaukee’s Near West Side neighborhood.

“It hits on our strategic investment (priorities): student success and enabling healthy and sustainable neighborhoods, particularly on the Near West Side,” Anding said.

Outside of the walk, Harley-Davidson volunteers read to Next Door students through its Community Read with Me program. Research indicates the amount of access children have to books is a major predictor of their first grade reading achievement and long-term success in school.

Harley also funded a mobile library, which travels among the organization’s early learning partnership organizations and community events, to provide additional support for literacy. Children and parents climb aboard the van and select free books to take home.

“We join events that are about positive family engagement and interaction,” Crogan said. “This allows us to both be able to spread awareness but also give books away to promote literacy. The mobile library has really allowed us to be engaged in the community.”

Harley-Davidson employees also donate gifts for the organization’s holiday gift-giving program, which provides gifts for the families it serves. In 2018, employees donated gifts for 233 children.

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Lauren Anderson is an associate editor and covers health care, nonprofits and education for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism.

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