With 72 employees spread among six offices throughout Texas, Patten Title Company is "very dedicated to team building" and has a long history of sponsoring many social events for its staff, president Eric Fontanot said. But the firm's local Jan. 15 event took a different focus.
By combining camaraderie with philanthropy, team members from its two Austin offices — Davenport Village and Great Hills — created 25 handmade teddy bear dolls to give to clients of the Center for Child Protection, a nonprofit agency that assists children who have experienced trauma.
"One of the things that's near and dear to all of our leadership team's heart is to try to give back as much as possible," Fontanot said. "The thought was that we would have a real opportunity to make a difference in other people's lives and, by doing so, really build stronger bonds with the folks in our office."
He said the function was the first in the company's new future of team building that includes a philanthropy twist. Patten aims to organize these projects every other month, for the entire company, in addition to four quarterly measures that raise funds for M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in the business's home base of Houston.
"It was an interesting and great way to know the other employees in the office on another level," Fontanot said of the bear-making project.
Besides stuffing the bears' outer layers and dressing the dolls, employees also learned more about each other and heard a presentation by the Center for Child Protection staff regarding the agency's functions and needs.
"It was really super encouraging to hear the (employees') responses both immediately afterward and the following day," Fontanot said.
While Patten has consistently sponsored team building events, he said those programs have generally been more social in nature and held outside of the office. But Fontanot said he had never had "such positive feedback" in response to a program where employees spent time together in the company's offices doing something different, "knowing that they did something really good for someone else."
"They all left really invigorated and looking forward to the next one," he said, adding that the philanthropy team building session included 29 of Austin's 30 staffers.
The Center for Child Protection was selected as the first recipient of Patten's new focus because of the effect the agency has on children's lives, Fontanot said.
Although its main facility is located in East Austin, the Center for Child Protection Services opened a satellite office in Lakeway at 1927 Lohmans Crossing in January 2018 to meet the needs of western Travis County and Central Texas residents.
According to Tara Powdrill, director of marketing and communications for the Center for Child Protection Services, the 30-year-old agency has provided more than 20,000 forensic interviews for child abuse victims in Travis County since its inception. In 2018 alone, the center conducted 1,557 child forensic interviews. Staffers give about 200 teddy bears monthly to child clients and their siblings following their appointments for forensic interviews or medical exams at the center, she said.
"After that forensic interview, we make sure they go home with a teddy bear or a stuffed animal just so they can get something new, and it gives them a reminder that they have friends at the center—a sense of comfort, a sense of hope," Powdrill said.
Many companies and individuals host drives or campaigns to fill the center's need for teddy bears and other stuffed animals, she said, but Patten Title's gifts may be the first time the agency has received "hand crafted" toys.
For Fontanot, the project's success spurred hope that other business owners may be inspired to follow his lead.
"At the end of the day, giving something from a sacrificial perspective and doing something for somebody else breeds more unity and also more purpose than anything else," Fontanot said. "I think that you can really strengthen a company culture by encouraging people to look beyond themselves and to give back as much as they possibly can. And sometimes, people just need some help in finding ways to do that."
Patten was founded in 2002 as a Dallas law firm before rebranding itself as a title company, opening its Davenport site in 2013.
The center is accepting new stuffed animal donations for its teddy bear program as well as donations for its Kid's Closet, a resource for children and their protective families that includes items needed to move forward such as household cleaning supplies, new clothes or games for family bonding. For more information, go to www.centerforchildprotection.org/get-involved/kids-closet.