Community commitment big part of being in business

In February, I received the Whitney M. Young Award from the Laurel Highlands Council, Scoutreach Division of the Boy Scouts of America. I am thrilled by the honor, but it has also prompted me to think about why I received it and the social role and responsibility of businesses.

Please allow me to explain.

First, I believe I may need to provide some background about the late Whitney Young. Young, the former executive director of the national Urban League, was a truly remarkable individual and a man from whom we can still learn today.

He was the son of an educator, a graduate of MIT and a man who was committed to working for change and greater understanding. He advised Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. Some of his biographers say he was successful because he helped bridge racial divides and worked with business leaders for full integration of organizations and businesses.

His New York Times obituary quoted him: “I’m not anxious to be the loudest voice, or the most popular. But I would like to think that, at a crucial moment, I was an effective voice of the voiceless, and an effective hope of the hopeless.”

I think we can all learn from that and we’ve tried to adopt that philosophy at Covelli Enterprises where we think of our work as more than just a food service operation.

We see our organization as part of the communities we serve, providing not only great quality food, but decent jobs with advancement opportunities.

And we take diversity seriously and go to great lengths to ensure that the restaurants that are part of our growing network are staffed with people of varying ethnicities and ages. For instance, we are launching a training program at McGuffey Center intended to help us identify interested associates.

And then, there’s a whole other part to how we view our corporate responsibility. We take philanthropy very seriously and each year give about $27 million in food or cash to various non-profit organizations in communities where we operate.

But we do more than just write checks. We partner with organizations, lending the expertise that we have.

I recently received a letter from retired 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Nathaniel Jones, a Youngstown native, applauding our company for the work that we are doing. I am so proud of the letter that I want to share part of it with you.

“I have been involved in civil rights activities for well over 50 years. In my early years, the business community was generally a stumbling block to progress. A change has now taken place. An enlightened view toward social and economic change has been demonstrated by business persons resulting in more businesses stepping forward. Sam Covelli and Covelli Enterprises are in the vanguard of this change,” Jones wrote.

This letter, the award from the Boy Scouts, the support that we receive from customers every day and most of all, the satisfaction that I have knowing that we are doing our part to make the world a better and more just place are amazingly rewarding for me and for our family of 25,000 associates at Covelli Enterprises.

Recently we opened the 2,000th Panera Bread location. As we celebrate this success, I just wanted to pause for a moment to reflect and to remember that with this success also comes tremendous responsibility – a responsibility that we take very seriously.

And one final thought: Although we opened the 2,000th store in Elyria, our headquarters is still in Warren.

Sam Covelli is owner / operator of Warren-based Covelli Enterprises.