It’s the season for giving.  What a wonderful time to reflect on our blessings and most importantly, how we can serve others.

Giving back to the community is a core value that has shaped my business and leadership throughout my career. The words in Luke 12:48 say, “To whom much is given, much will be required.” Having been blessed in so many ways and guided by my Christian faith, my family’s thoughts and actions have been joyfully guided by those words. The heart provides the motivation.

The concept of a tithe (at least 10% of income) both personally and as a family business, has always been a part of the fabric of our family’s life going back to my parents and grandparents. Giving back is an expression of gratitude and thankfulness for God’s blessings and grace.

I have seen firsthand the impact of quiet generosity. My parents, my brother Jim, my wife Jayne, and I have all experienced the joy that comes from seeing the results of investments in recipients’ futures. Time and time again individuals will share stories about something that was done for them (40, 50, or even 60 years ago) when they were customers, associates within our company, families within their church, or members of nonprofit organizations.

To build a culture of giving and demonstrate the importance of giving back to your team members, set a clear vision worthy of your purpose and develop team values that drive the core behaviors. Leaders must model the desired behaviors to demonstrate the importance of giving back. Leaders must “walk their talk.”

VCU Strategy Professor, Business Consultant, and former VP of Operations at Ukrop’s Super Markets, Dr. Robert Kelley has said, “People will listen to what you say; they will believe what you do.” The acknowledgement of associates’ support of and giving back to their fellow associates, as well as their service in activities, projects, and initiatives within the community encourages the desired behaviors by others and strengthens culture. Giving back becomes an integral part of the culture.

It is amazing what can be accomplished when egos are set aside, and passionate people work collaboratively to accomplish far-reaching, region-wide initiatives/projects that can enhance the quality of life for area residents for generations to come.

One example is the grassroots, community-wide, public-private effort to build a new ballpark (The Diamond) in 1984-1985. Another example is the Richmond Sports Backers, which was started by four people who wanted to help build a better community through sports. In its 28-year journey the Sports Backers’ staff has grown from two to 26 associates and has become one of the region’s most effective nonprofit organizations. The activities of the Sports Backers have played a big role in the Richmond region becoming a healthier, more active, and more vibrant place to live, work, and play, especially in vulnerable communities. For example, there are now 65 Kids Run RVA run clubs in area schools, over 100 men and women have become trained group exercise instructors (Fitness Warriors) to provide weekly fitness classes in their own communities. Sports Backers’ advocacy has also impacted public policy resulting in changing basic infrastructure—more bike and pedestrian lanes, sidewalks and public spaces.

Lastly, since 2012, SwimRVA has been pursuing its vision to “Drownproof Richmond” by providing free swimming lessons to all second graders in our region. Between the YMCA and SwimRVA, second graders in 63 of the 138 elementary schools are learning to swim this school year. Learning to swim is the first step to the lifetime enjoyment of water. Recreational swimming and swim team participation may follow. Then certification can lead to job opportunities as a lifeguard, a swim coach or possibly another job in the recreation/hospitality industry.

Without the many people and organizations expressing gratitude by giving back, the above projects, initiatives, and movements could not have been successful.

Encouraging and building loving families who honor God daily is a personal passion of mine. Joy and loyalty abound when associates are uplifted, and they believe in their hearts that their leaders really care about them. This environment fosters improved individual and collective performance as well as personal and professional growth.

That spirit of gratitude can spill over to the outside activities and interests in the lives of all associates. The community wins.


Bobby Ukrop

Bobby Ukrop

Bobby Ukrop is Chairman and C.E.O. of Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods and serves as Co-Chair of Ukrop’s Threads. He is actively involved in the community as a co-founder and board member of the Richmond Sports Backers; chair of SwimRVA; and serves on the boards of the Greater Richmond Partnership, the Collegiate School, VCU Business School Foundation, and Lansing Building Products. He is on the Advisory Board of The Salvation Army and previously chaired the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce and the Retail Merchants Association. For decades, he has taught a Fifth Grade Sunday School Class at Second Baptist.

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