Redmond Empathy Heart

Olympus’ Redmond Employees Embody Empathy and Unity in Helping Homeless Community

By Michael Wilson, Olympus’ Associate Manager of Corporate Communications

Grace Davasagayam, an Executive Administrative Assistant at the Olympus Corporation of the Americas, had an idea this past winter to offer cups of hot chocolate to the homeless around her neighborhood in King County, Washington, south of Seattle. But after chatting with her colleagues in Olympus’ Redmond facility, her mission transformed into a site-wide initiative of empathy. 

“My husband and I see homelessness often, and we just wonder, ‘How do they cope with winter? Where do they go when it’s cold or raining,’” Davasagayam said. “We just thought a cup of hot chocolate would be nice.”

One day in November, Davasagayam shared this idea with Redmond colleagues Kyla Killinger (Engineer), Goutham Jampani (Senior Engineer) and Scott Bechtel (Senior Manager, Value Stream), who all sit near one another, and everyone wanted to get involved to help. What started as a small act of kindness quickly developed into an unforgettable experience.

Bechtel recommended getting the entire Redmond facility involved to help. His friend works with the homeless in Minnesota and held a lunch-and-learn in Redmond on helping the homeless during a visit.

“Grace came in with this idea, and we all piled in,” Bechtel said. “This little conversation started between four people in the office, and we were thinking about how we could get more people involved.”

The initial idea quickly grew. Instead of hot chocolate, Killinger made a 15-bean soup. A call for donations went out around Redmond for coats and other winter clothing. The group purchased supplies and assembled care packages to give out to the homeless, including water, a roll, a cookie, a banana and a pair of socks.

Remond employees

Even though it was between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and employees in Redmond had just contributed to their annual donations to Northwest Food Harvest, there was overwhelming response to the call for aid. And, unfortunately, the need in the King County is great: Statistics from 2020 showed more than 11,700 people in the county experienced homelessness on at least one night in January, 47 percent of which were unsheltered.1 These numbers continue to rise.

“Nobody asked questions—they just gave,” Davasagayam said. “Four people started this, but there were a lot more behind us helping.”

So, on December 12th, in the cold and rain of the American Pacific Northwest, the four colleagues climbed into Killinger’s Honda CR-V and headed to downtown Seattle. Familiar with the area, Killinger navigated to where she saw homelessness. At many locations, people they encountered would direct the group to other homeless encampments where need was great. 

Davasagayam ladled soup into cups from a pot wedged between her feet in the front seat. Bechtel and Jampani ran food and care packages from the car to any homeless they encountered. They also had separate bags of winter clothing that they could distribute if they encountered anyone with need of the items along the way.

At one encampment, the group encountered a woman wearing a garbage bag to keep warm. When they gave her a jacket, she broke into tears.

“She said she knew she had to stay where she was because someone was going to come to help her,” Bechtel said. “She said we were those people.”

The interaction had a profound effect on all four colleagues. For Jampani, who witnessed homelessness regularly in his native India, it was his first interaction with homelessness in America. In India, he would help when he could by buying a meal or medicine for those who asked him for aid.  

“Seeing their happiness, it really changed my perception of homelessness,” he said.

After more than two hours, the group handed out 44 cups of soup and 60 care packages. The day’s work left them fulfilled but taught them a critical lesson about helping the homeless in the future. Moving forward, any work they do in the homeless community will be done through a verified organization to ensure everyone’s safety when dealing with potentially dangerous situations.

“We don’t want to paint this unrealistically,” Killinger said. “It’s not always safe interacting with that population. Not everyone is welcoming, and we have to respect that this is where these people are living.”

However, an added benefit of working with organizations moving forward will be the opportunity for more individuals at Redmond’s office to get involved. There are already site-wide lunch-and-learns scheduled for such organizations to come in and talk about how to safely help the homeless population.

The efforts of Davasagayam, Killinger, Jampani and Bechtel created an eagerness to pitch in around the Redmond facility. A goal has been set to use 400 volunteer hours this year between the site’s 40-some employees.

Working for Olympus really sets that tone of how to help,” Bechtel said. “It’s awesome that we get that culture to want to help people, and it’s contagious. The fact that we work for a corporation that cares about people and thinks that people’s health is important, that gets other people wanting to be involved.”

“That’s why we want to share our story. It plants the seed. It’s not to say, ‘Look at what we did.’ It’s to say, ‘Look at the impact you can have.’ Homelessness isn’t going to go away because of one of us or a charity we work with. But for one moment, this homeless person felt cared about. That’s the big thing: You can change somebody’s life by letting them know someone cares about them.”

And it all started with an idea for a simple act of kindness and a conversation in the office with colleagues. Davasagayam thought it would be nice to give the homeless something warm to hold and sip on a cold winter day, and the unity and empathy displayed by these four colleagues inspired a site-wide mission. 

“This group made magic happen,” Davasagayam said. “We have a great team in Redmond. A simple idea like this went from just a seed to where it ended up. Who would’ve thought hot chocolate would’ve turned into this?”
As noted by the individuals in this story, if you want to help the homeless community in your area, please only do so through a verified organization.

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