If you want to find a hero, ask a hero. Renna Schafler, an Everyday Hero from two years ago, nominated Carrie Leigh for the award this year.
Leigh and Schafler have worked together at Bruner Corporation for years, and while the employees at the Hilliard mechanical contracting firm have always fostered a culture of giving, Schafler said Leigh helped kick it into overdrive.
“She is the driving force that keeps everybody motivated and in line and keeps them engaged,” Schafler said.
Leigh is relentless in her generosity. She constantly orchestrates new ways to help her coworkers give back to the Hilliard community, most often through Beacon Elementary School, located just down the road from Bruner. Leigh organizes Operation Backpack in the summer, collecting backpacks, school supplies and classroom necessities for the students and teachers at Beacon. She also runs a year-round program to supply food over the weekends for children who might go hungry when school is out. In December, Leigh manages a program to adopt a family (or several) for the holidays, giving toys, clothes, gift cards, toiletries and more. Every Wednesday, Leigh and about a dozen other employees read one-on-one with first-grade students who need the support. Beyond Beacon, Leigh organizes food drives and visits from the Humane Society at her office. Even at work, it seems like giving is a full-time job for her.
Schafler said Leigh is in charge of a service leadership committee in the office. Ask Leigh, and she will tell you she “heads up the office huddles.” Leigh thinks the secret to getting people motivated about giving is to find what moves them. This inclusive spirit led to her participation in so many programs.
“It’s infectious,” she said. “We get each other involved in a lot of things.”
Still, Leigh has her favorites. She finds working directly with the kids to be the most inspiring. She loves reading with the students at Beacon Elementary because it allows her to see the impacts of her work firsthand.
“Everybody wants to do good, on a general basis. You want to be good at what you do; you want to do good for people around you,” Leigh said. “And when you start giving to somebody else, it’s almost selfish. You feel so good yourself. It fills you up.”
Not only do the students see an academic boost, their behavior also improves. They become more social, and Leigh said they realize that it is OK to be a learner, even if they need help.
“Once they grow socially like that, and they become more confident, then they will be able to take care of themselves in such a way that they’re not afraid to ask for help or to help someone else,” she said.
Leigh’s generosity isn’t reserved for the larger Hilliard community, however. She finds it just as important to give back to those right in front of her. When one of her coworkers developed cancer, Leigh gathered donations from the office—homemade decorations, original paintings—and organized a silent auction to benefit him and his family.
In almost all of Leigh’s work, she aims to inspire others to give back with whatever they have. It’s a habit she picked up after experiencing need herself. Before she moved to Ohio with her two children, she was living in food insecurity in Arizona, and she credits the community that uplifted her for her current success. She is especially concerned with preserving the dignity of the people she helps, making sure they never feel belittled.
Leigh’s goal in all of her work is simple: She wants to spread love. While she knows not everyone has excess funds to donate to those in need, Leigh thinks time is much more valuable. Giving your time really means something, and that does more to spread love than money alone in her eyes. “If you’ve got time,” she said, “there’s somebody that needs you.”