Small businesses reap huge rewards from charitable work

Correspondent

Mark Gonsenhauser, Martin Joseph and Kevin Tucker are Virginia Beach business owners who believe in giving back to their communities. These local businesses may be small, but they reach out to charitable organizations in a big way. Here's how they incorporate their products, services and talents into community service efforts:

Magic carpet
Mark Gonsenhauser owns Mark Gonsenhauser's Rug and Carpet Superstore, located on Virginia Beach Boulevard since 1984. His business sells decorative handmade and machine­made rugs from throughout the world including Iran, Turkey, India, China, Pakistan, Morocco, Belgium, Nepal and the United States. With 20,000 square feet of showroom space and 10,000 rugs on display, Gonsenhauser's latest catchy advertising reveals, "I got your rug."

But when people change their decorating style, move or downsize, it can leave them with a rug they no longer need or want, Gonsenhauser said. That's precisely what led this carpet guru to start his charity, Rugs of Love, two and a half years ago when a couple brought two rugs to the store. Gonsenhauser offered to clean the rugs and donate them to a charity of their choice. The rugs were donated to the Ronald McDonald House in Norfolk, and the customers received the tax deduction. To date, Gonsenhauser has donated more than 80 rugs through Rugs of Love to organizations that include Equi­Kids, Armed Services YMCA, Hope House, The Dwelling Place and Family Solutions of Tidewater.

"Sometimes these places can be simply decorated and their floors may be cold with vinyl or basic flooring, or their carpet may be old," he said. "Now all of a sudden you put in a lovely rug that's clean and it adds warmth." Donated rugs are dropped off at the store or picked up for a fee, cleaned within a week and then matched with a charity in need.

"I feel good about it, and I'm proud that I have the ability to make a difference locally," said Gonsenhauser, who for the past five years has also supported the Siddharth Gonsenhauser Public School in the weaving district of the Bhadohi Belt in India. "I came to this country with a suitcase, and I started out with nothing," said Gonsenhauser, a native of South Africa. "I say there's nothing wrong with having a lot in life; there's no crime in that. But the crime is not realizing you have a lot in life."

Tech support
Martin Joseph, president and CEO of 360IT Partners, also encourages his team ­ installation network specialists for small and medium businesses­ to help others in need. Approximately 13 years ago, Joseph answered a plea from the executive director of ForKids, who needed a new technology system. Since then, 360IT Partners has donated more than $25,000 in IT services yearly to the organization that works to help break the cycle of homelessness and poverty for families and children. "We've seen the impact ForKids has on the community and the lives they've touched," Joseph said. "It's hard not to assist them because of the amazing things they're providing families who desperately need support."

Joseph doesn't stop there. The business donated its IT services at half price to the local Habitat for Humanity office. It also makes significant contributions to the American Cancer Society, Boys and Girls Club and Coaches vs. Cancer. Five years ago, when the American Red Cross asked 360IT Partners to participate in its Heroes Campaign ­ which challenges local businesses to have an event to raise a minimum donation of $1,000 ­ the IT firm jumped at the opportunity. 360IT Partners began hosting a fundraiser on its annual customer appreciation day. This year, the 150 attendees enjoyed a catered barbecue lunch, music and door prizes. The May event raised $1,438 for the Heroes for the American Red Cross Campaign.

"We made it fun and helped raise money for a good cause," said Joseph, who has 18 employees. "It helps everyone out and was a win­ win situation." Helping out is a privilege for Joseph and his staff. "We're honored that we're in a position to give back to our community, especially in times of economic downturn," he said. "I feel so fulfilled."

Heart and 'SOL'
Fulfillment also comes to Kevin Tucker, president of SOLitude Lake Management, in various ways. Started in 1998, SOLitude manages the water quality of lakes, ponds and any fresh water feature within residential communities, commercial developments, golf courses, wildlife refuges, private land and other properties. Tucker said his company, which is now in nine East Coast states, works to improve water quality, preserve natural resources, reduce the environmental footprint and ultimately leave the world a better place. In turn, he coined The SOLution, an initiative to encourage his 20 employees to volunteer in anything they hold near and dear to their hearts.

The company side of that initiative includes participation in Clean the Bay Day. But individuals are welcome to choose any charities they desire. Tucker has a point system in place with prizes awarded and/or a donation made in the employee's name. "At the end of the day, we've come to the conclusion that there's a win­win for everyone ­ the charity, group, cause, whatever the case may be," Tucker said. "And the staff gets a sense of feeling rewarded for doing good and a sense of appreciation from the business." Volunteerism is just one part of The SOLution. Tucker said they are also trying to engage their customers through different campaigns on Facebook.

In honor of Earth Day, they planted a tree for each person who liked their page during the month of April. That amounted to 200 trees. In July, The SOLution donated $5 to Wounded Warriors for each new friend they made on Facebook. "We are creating ways to give back," Tucker said. "That's the good thing about owning a business ­ I have the opportunity to put these things in place because it's something I think is important." nib