WATAUGA — Their tools piled beside them, a host of blue-shirted men and women huddle up in preparation for a long day of work. There’s a long list of repairs needed on the home they’ve gathered around, and the only way they’ll finish it all is to plan well and work hard. In this sector of the city, just yards away from a major highway, older houses have gone largely neglected as the mid-cities area grows around them. The homeowners here are left to balance their sense of belonging with their struggle to maintain the foundations, yards, and exteriors of buildings constructed decades ago. The team stirs as a truck slides up to the curb, “ATMOS ENERGY” emblazoned on its doors. The driver steps out, issuing orders as he goes, and the site begins to buzz with diligent energy. This is a fine-tuned machine.

For five years, Atmos Energy has partnered with 6 Stones to create a unique service opportunity known to employees as the “Team Up to Clean Up” event. What began as an adoption of three homes in Hurst, Euless, and Bedford has grown to include sites in Richland Hills, Haltom City and, of course, Watauga. All told, Atmos employees labored to restore 9 homes during the 2016 event; the most ever in their half-decade of volunteering. As teams in Watauga were clearing debris, marking natural gas lines, and spraying for wasps, their counterparts around the metroplex were tackling completely different projects of their own. New flower beds installed in Richland Hills, sinking sheds shored up in Hurst, unruly lawns tamed in Haltom City; anything and everything a home could need, Atmos was more than willing to provide.

From process analysts to human resources reps, employees from every department poured into our community to provide a one-day infusion of hope to homeowners in need of a helping hand. While our biannual Community Powered Revitalization (CPR) events are designed to provide for such individuals — over 400 in the past 7 years — some projects require a more precise and attentive crew with specialized equipment. Your average CPR volunteer doesn’t pack an industrial work truck for the day of the event. At a Natural Gas provider like Atmos, however, that equipment comes standard.

6 Stones has always operated on the principle that everyone has something to give and that the best work happens when each of us is given the proper lane to approach the issues at hand. We couldn’t do what we do without the thousands of volunteers who tackle hundreds of homes each year in the major blitzes, but we also need special teams like Atmos to lend their resources to the equation. When the scope of work is too big or too specialized for an ordinary team, they’re ready and willing to tackle it. The homes they serve are often ones that rely on them for energy, and a meter inspection comes standard with their service. That kind of detailed labor is indispensable for 6 Stones. Fortunately, Atmos feels the same way about serving with us..

“6 Stones, to Atmos Energy, is one of those companies that mirrors a lot of our values and culture,” said Dan Alderson, the company’s Director of Energy Assistance.. “ We do care about our cities, our communities, our customers — everybody that’s in our community — because we live and work and raise our families in this community, as well.”

Photo by Cody Bettis, 6 Stones

A volunteer uses caulk to weatherize the home he's helping to revitalize. Photo by Cody Bettis, 6 Stones

Half a decade ago, Alderson and his company began to actively seek opportunities to serve their community more directly. Headquartered in Dallas and boasting offices all around Tarrant County and Texas, the energy provider felt a need to connect with the people whose homes they helped to heat. They had taken part in CPR blitzes previously, but wanted to up the ante: they were looking for a signature event, exclusive to their company, that got them closer to their clients and each other. They ended up with a custom built mini-blitz serving homeowners who rely on them for energy.

The Team Up to Clean Up program dovetails with other Atmos initiatives designed to equip Texans for better living. Work done on these weekends is often followed by a separate program, called Keeping the Warmth, that helps low-income homeowners and senior-citizens to update and improve the efficiency of their houses, reducing energy costs and saving them money that can be re-directed toward food and medication. In short: Atmos pays money to charge their customers less for their service in the long run.

“The things we do out in the community are a direct reflection of who we are and what our culture is about,” Alderson said of the company’s community service initiatives. “This is a way to get to the grassroots. This is a way to meet the real people, the people that are just like you and me, everyday, that are working or not working but are struggling to survive and need things.”

“Whether it’s food or whether it’s clothing, whether it’s home weatherization or whether it’s yard work; whatever they need, Atmos collapses to a lot of those needs through various and different things. 6 Stones just happens to be a premiere method in which organizations can come together easily, with a structure to make a real difference to meet whatever need it is that 6 Stones has really pre-identified.”

Photo by Steven A Jones, 6 Stones

The team in Watauga sets out to take on a long list of tasks, from weeding to tree trimming to rebuilding a fence. Photo by Steven A Jones, 6 Stones

Dan Alderson and his team understand the essence of our work. We aren’t a home repair service. We aren’t a school supply provider. We aren’t a food pantry. We’re a catalyst; stirring this community to do incredible things by connecting the dots between volunteers, service providers, and those in need. It’s a relatively new model, but one that has exploded across the nation in recent years. As needs become greater — and more greatly known — it is increasingly obvious that no one can fix everything that needs to be fixed in our nation today. But everyone can help.

“I think it’s really important to mobilize the community,” Alderson said, when asked why his company chooses to work with 6 Stones in the manner that they do. “Each part of the community has different expertise and different resources. It’s finding the right resources to fit that need. And when you fit that need, it gets done. And when it gets done, it helps people. So it’s going to take a society of collaborators, with the economic situation that we live in today — the fast-paced, changing world and environment we live in today — it’s going to take coalitions. It’s going to take teams of people, businesses, organizations, working together to lend their expertise and their resources where it makes sense to meet a community need.”

Photo by Steven A Jones, 6 Stones

An Atmos employee stretches to detail every inch of trim on the home she and her team have adopted. Photo by Steven A Jones, 6 Stones

When we rally together, we do more than patch up houses and maintain yards. We stir each other to greater service; greater love; greater humanity. There’s a reason why major companies want to get in on the grassroots of their community, and it’s not just because they want good PR. It’s because doing good is good for us, both personally and professionally. Whether they work in Communications or Geographic Information, whether they’re Training Specialists or Process Analysts, men and women under the Atmos umbrella grow together during their service. Many of them live in this area, and all of them are grateful for the chance to leave the office and connect with their peers in a new environment. Bobby Chaitram, a Senior Business Process Analyst with Atmos, believes that those opportunities are essential to building a healthy environment for employees.

“Working in an organizational structure where maybe you do something and then you pass that information along, sometimes you may not get the opportunity to mingle or interact with that person. Systems are carrying the information along and everybody has their different work to do,” Chaitram said. “But something like this, coming out here and doing a group project — we are all tackling one task as a team and doing it — it creates such great opportunity for us to really not just socialize with each other, but build relationships that we can take from the field and back into our building. I’m sure that when I get back, because of the relationships that I developed in only a day, I’m going to go look for these guys, just to say ‘hi.’”

“These guys actually volunteered for this, and I thought it might have been an acclimation process when we first got here because most of us don’t know each other. I was very much surprised because it was such easy bonding. Everybody was talking and laughing and joking around as though we have known each other for years, and most of us just met this morning.”

Photo by Steven A Jones, 6 Stones

At the direction of their photographer, this volunteer crew poses like the heroes they are. Photo by Steven A Jones, 6 Stones

Alderson testifies that such bonding experiences are not only normal, but almost uniform for Atmos volunteer teams who work with 6 Stones. According to him, employees come back to work weary and bruised, but begging for information about the next event. They’re unfazed by high heat and brutal sun, stinging insects and blistered palms. For them, at least according to their supervisor, the ultimate reward of serving is worth the price demanded by the service. Alderson himself savors the personal moments of reflection that come with an opportunity like this one.

“It is the most rewarding thing, I think, that a group of employees — as well as Atmos Energy — can experience,” he said. “Most of the homeowners are so prideful and so humble that they’re almost embarrassed that they’re having to ask for help. But I think once they realize that we’re there for them, once we break that ice and we just talk as human beings, and we realize that we’re all in need of something, then I think they let their guard down a little bit. They relax and they become the most appreciable people you’ll ever meet.”

When the last fence post had been placed and the last paintbrushes had been washed and stowed, another nine such appreciable people were able to settle back into their lives without fear of domestic ruination. Little things like caulk and hedge trimmings can add up to take a big psychological toll on people who have fallen behind, making homeowners feel as though they’ve failed themselves and their neighborhoods. A quick perusal of other CPR stories will reveal, however, that those little failures can be counteracted by little displays of love and grace. And those little displays can be amplified when we work together.

The most rewarding thing, really, is not the satisfaction of a job well done or the gratitude of a neighbor served. It’s the knowledge that our neighbors delight in us, and that we can delight in them, too. The greatest reward is community, and we build it one blitz, one home, one volunteer, one person at a time.


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