Wills Group vis­its, as­sists with Farm­ing 4 Hunger

Wills Group, F4H part­ner to help end hunger

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By TIF­FANY WAT­SON twat­son@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @Tif­fIndyNews

De­spite Mary­land be­ing one of the wealth­i­est states in the coun­try, Mary­land Hunger So­lu­tions states many res­i­dents still strug­gle with hav­ing enough to eat. This is a chal­lenge The Wills Group be­lieves it can help solve while work­ing in part­ner­ship with com­mu­nity-based part­ners like Farm­ing 4 Hunger to pro­vide healthy meals for chil­dren across South­ern Mary­land.

On May 17, about 50 em­ploy­ees from the Wills Group vol­un­teered at Seren­ity Farm, work­ing with F4H staff and pro­gram par­tic­i­pants to plant and har­vest fresh lo­cal pro­duce that will be made avail­able for fam­i­lies in need. The mis­sion of F4H is to feed the hungry by grow­ing fresh pro­duce. It has dis­trib­uted more than 6.5 mil­lion pounds of pro­duce for res­i­dents across South­ern Mary­land since 2012.

“I want to open the eyes of com­pa­nies and in­di­vid­u­als that there are a lot of things go­ing on in the area as well as see­ing that there is a place of hope, aware­ness, un­der­stand­ing, no pre-judg­ing and it’s OK to be trans­par­ent and let your guard down,” said Bernie Fowler Jr. founder of Farm­ing 4 Hunger. “I hope they have a bet­ter aware­ness of farm­ing for hunger. I hope they think about their own jour­ney, where they are head­ing and what it means to serve oth­ers.”

Dur­ing the day, Wills Group em­ploy­ees vol­un­teered along­side F4H pro­gram par­tic­i­pants, work­ing to­gether to plant seeds and har­vest sea­sonal pro­duce. The Wills Group em­ploy­ees also par­tic­i­pated in a team build­ing ex­er­cise or­ga­nized by F4H, with the day clos­ing with F4H par­tic­i­pants shar­ing their sto­ries as part of the “Life Shar­ing” pro­gram.

“The men from the De­part­ment of Corrections shared their per­sonal sto­ries to The Wills Group,” Fowler said. “It al­lows them to ex­press their thanks for hav­ing an op­por­tu­nity to give back to the com­mu­nity and to be en­cour­aged on their next steps in life. Many folks from The Wills Group stated that their tes­ti­monies re­ally made an im­pact on their ex­pe­ri­ence.”

“It’s a neat op­por­tu­nity to get our em­ploy­ees to­gether for a com­mon pur­pose: to bring aware­ness to Farm­ing4 Hunger and what they do, but also to help pick straw­ber­ries, plant food and make con­tri­bu­tions to the Mary­land Food Bank,” said Joe Wills, vice pres­i­dent of SMO En­ergy. “We also have sev­eral com­mit­tees work­ing on our sig­na­ture pro­grams, called ‘Safe and Healthy Homes’ and ‘Elim­i­nat­ing Child­hood Hunger Com­mit­tee.’”

The Wills Group, head­quar­tered in La Plata, is the par­ent com­pany of SMO En­ergy, Dash In Food Stores, Splash In ECO Car Wash and SMO Mo­tor Fu­els. Wills said sev­eral mem­bers of the com­pany who made a trip to Seren­ity Farm in the fall of 2016 left them in­spired and want­ing to part­ner with the F4H for fu­ture op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“We had an event here last fall called ‘The Taste of The Farm,’ which in­tro­duces South­ern Mary­land busi­nesses to what we do here at Farm­ing 4 Hunger,” Fowler said. “The Wills Group had five rep­re­sen­ta­tives at the farm who learned about the farm, en­joyed it. Months later we re­ceived a check for ap­prox­i­mately $27,570 from the Wills Group.”

Fowler said he re­cently brought the F4H team build­ing pro­gram as­pect for com­pa­nies this year to help pro­mote healthy food choices for com­mu­ni­ties in need.

“It’s great to give out canned goods and boxed goods when some­body is hungry but that cre­ates health dilem­mas, high sodi­ums and high sug­ars. But when we get back to the ground get­ting dirty, bring­ing out fresh fruits and veg­eta­bles that are good for the soul,” Fowler said.

Wills Group em­ployee David Lip­shaw, a La Plata res­i­dent, said he en­joyed the team build­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and in­ter­act­ing with his fel­low em­ploy­ees through­out the day.

“We work with each other ev­ery day, but we don’t get to see each other in this light — hav­ing fun and in­ter­act­ing with them. We watched a video and it got me think­ing about my fam­ily and how I can be a bet­ter per­son even at home. Hear­ing the sto­ries of the F4H vol­un­teers who are in­car­cer­ated shows the im­por­tance of fam­ily. You never know what will hap­pen and you need to cher­ish what you have now,” Lip­shaw said.

Em­ployee Michelle Reeves, a Hol­ly­wood res­i­dent, agreed.

“Be­ing at the farm is an in­spi­ra­tional ex­pe­ri­ence and how it came about it was very in­spi­ra­tional. They are har­vest­ing healthy food and I also love that they are giv­ing peo­ple se­cond chances and work­ing with the in­mates,” she said. “I be­lieve that every­body is re­ha­bil­i­tat­able. A lot of them may not have come from re­ally great home en­vi­ron­ments or get the first chance. Now they can come out here and work, find value in their lives and them­selves, then they can go back out and turn some­thing bad in their life into a re­ally great ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Michele Wills, wife of Ju­lian Blay­lock “Lock” Wills, the CEO of The Wills Group, said the F4H pro­gram hits close to home for her es­pe­cially.

“It’s a great pro­gram and it’s big­ger than just food,” Michele said. “I used to work as an agent in pa­role/pro­ba­tion where our main fo­cus was all about se­cond chances, so this is close to my heart. F4H shows us that trans­for­ma­tion is pos­si­ble through this pro­gram be­cause there is so much power in trans­for­ma­tion.”

“We all do need ad­di­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties and they do a lot of unique things in re­gards to har­vest­ing food, spir­i­tual growth, per­sonal growth. Not just grow­ing plants — they’re grow­ing lives,” Joe Wills said.

The Wills Group em­ploy­ees par­tic­i­pate in team-build­ing ex­er­cises with Farm­ing 4 Hunger at Seren­ity Farm on May 17.

The Wills Group em­ploy­ees par­tic­i­pate in team-build­ing ex­er­cises with Farm­ing 4 Hunger at Seren­ity Farm in Bene­dict on May 17.

STAFF PHO­TOS BY TIF­FANY WAT­SON

An­thony Viver­alli, left, Farm­ing 4 Hunger pro­grams di­rec­tor, and Bernie Fowler Jr., founder, pre­pare The Wills Group vol­un­teers to pick straw­ber­ries in the fields at Seren­ity Farm.

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