Engineering Corporate Citizenship

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As with many 2020 events, VAA’s Community Caring Campaign (CCC) joined the virtual world to raise dollars for local organizations. Selected by VAA’s Designing a Difference Team (formerly Wellness & Outreach Committee), the CCC’s on-line events and employee efforts raised over $40,000 dollars for three selected charities.

Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners (IOCP)

A long-term partner with VAA, IOCP helps families in eight Twin Cities western suburbs overcome barriers, believe in themselves and soar to new heights.

Second Harvest Heartland (SHH) 

Partnering with VAA for the past decade, SHH is one the nation’s largest hunger-relief organizations that finds creative solutions to connect the full resources of the community to help hungry neighbors.

We Love Lake Street Recovery Fund

Dozens of businesses, many owned by immigrants and people of color, were damaged on Minneapolis’ Lake Street during riots following George Floyd’s death. Funds will help rebuild the hardest-hit and most vulnerable businesses in the community.

“We wanted to continue the fun buzz the campaign sparks while being responsive to the current atmosphere,” said Structural Engineer, James Snyder, PE, who led the campaign for the last two years. “The virtual CCC also created an outlet for employees searching for a way to give back and feel together while being physically apart.”

A painting class and fishing tutorial hosted by CEO, Jeff Schrock, PE, were among the events employees experienced. Team competition took the form of a school supply scramble led by VAA’s partners while an egg-drop challenge bolstered individual rivalry to create engineered contraptions. Regardless of the activity at the core of event was the desire to give back as the firm raised over $40,000 to support the Twin Cities community.

CCC By the Numbers

149 bags of school supplies for IOCP

$7,514 cash donations for We Love Lake Street Recovery Fund

$33,667 total raised for IOCP and SHH by VAA employees

Learn more about VAA's CCC in an article published in ACEC's Engineering Inc.

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VAA’s business is built on creating lasting relationships with clients, coworkers, and local community organizations. Cultivating partnerships that last decades and doing work that supports our partners’ overall purpose is at the core of what we do. One uniquely rewarding partnership is the one we share with True Friends, a local nonprofit providing life-changing experiences that enhance independence and self-esteem for children and adults with disabilities through a variety of programs and services. VAA staff—and three generations of CEOs—have been inspired by the immense positive impact of these programs to volunteer their time and design expertise in support of True Friends’ mission.

True Friends is the result of legacy providers Courage Center Camps (est. 1955) and Friendship Ventures (est. 1964) coming together in 2012 as a new organization. The agency operates five locations in Minnesota, providing outdoor experiences, respite care, therapy riding and other services to nearly 25,000 individuals each year. True Friends serves people living with any of hundreds of diagnoses including autism, cerebral palsy, and hemophilia as well as those with chronic medical conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

How the Relationship Began

VAA’s involvement dates to the mid-1990s when VAA (then Van Sickle Allen & Associates, Inc.) founder Dick Van Sickle enlisted the Marines to erect a new building at the site that would become True Friends Camp Eden Wood in Eden Prairie. Dick was a commanding officer of a Marine Corps unit specializing in occupational training in construction and engineering. Rather than have recruits practice their skills building temporary structures, Dick sought out the opportunity to provide hands-on training for the unit by erecting a new building at Camp Eden Wood. More than 200 Marines came together with donated supplies to create a building for the camp that is still in use today.

Over the years, VAA’s engagement with True Friends has taken many forms, from volunteering, landscaping efforts and the creation of tie blankets for campers to Eagle Scout mentoring and in-kind donations. Perhaps the most valuable way that VAA gives back is through its engineering and architecture services. The firm has provided consultation and reduced-fee work for several camp improvement projects, including facility designs at True Friends Camp Friendship and True Friends Camp Eden Wood

In 2006, current CEO Jeff Schrock, PE was introduced to the organization. He assisted in designing handicap accessible trails, dining hall and dormitory upgrades and other improvements for True Friends Camp Friendship. Jeff joined True Friends’ Facility Advisory Board in 2014 and the Board of Directors in January 2019. 

“The volunteering spirit displayed by Dick Van Sickle motivated me in my initial engagement with True Friends,” says Jeff. “The mission of True Friends inspired me to continue to this day. I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the joy our work brings to so many people.”

Enhancing Through Engineering and Architecture

True Friends President and CEO John LeBlanc says VAA’s support of the organization through design work is an asset, especially when it comes to managing relationships with multiple jurisdictions and building codes.

“It’s a unique way of giving back and it’s a companywide dedication,” John says. “VAA has walked with us so we’re not alone; they’ve been in it for the long haul, transcending leadership at both organizations to help us serve people with disabilities.”

The firm’s efforts with True Friends continue with several projects currently in progress. The conversion of an existing dormitory into an educational facility at True Friends Camp Courage will add needed program space.  VAA is reviewing the underutilized building for structural capacity and spatial renovations. Two recently completed cabins at True Friends Camp Friendship add modern sleeping and program functions at a scale that fits the wooded environment of the site. Nestled among the existing cabins, the new cabins can each house five guests and one staff membe

Sr. Architect Travis Beck, AIA, NCARB worked closely with True Friends on these recent projects and enjoys the opportunity to provide lasting value for the nonprofit.

“There is no better use of your talents than to help those who have the capacity to help so many,” Travis says.

Continued Support During COVID-19

As an organization that serves a medically vulnerable population in large group settings, True Friends has been deeply impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Summer programs have been canceled but the agency continues to serve a handful of high-care respite clients and about 15 independent riders in its horse therapy program. Through their retreat program, True Friends recently launched a new feature, cabins equipped with kitchens are rented out to families with individuals with disabilities to serve them as single households to minimize contact.

The cancelation of summer programs is not just a lost chance to make summer memories; True Friends’ programs provide an essential service in the continuum of care, respite for caregivers and life skills development opportunities for campers.

“They’re developing skills that improve their lives; it’s a step towards independence to build friendships, confidence and courage,” says John.

As True Friends and VAA have grown together over the decades, both organizations have continued to find creative ways to partner on efforts to improve the experience and environment for campers and their families.

“Using our talents as engineers and architects to help others is inspiring to me and our employees,” Jeff says. “Truly designing and making a difference that will be felt by so many in the decades to come.”

Visit to learn more about True Friends.

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June is National Safety Month and this year the National Safety Council (NSC) is focusing on worker safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

NSC is a nonprofit committed to reducing preventable injuries and deaths at work, on the road and at home. In the past, NSC has observed National Safety Month by providing free educational materials and articles associated with a weekly theme. This year, the organization will provide “real-time, relevant resources on a variety of topics for keeping workers safe in our new normal.”

Materials covering issues like mental health, ergonomics and promoting a safety culture will be available via NSC’s website during the month of June. A series of guides with recommendations for workplaces as they prepare to reopen is also available.

Since its inception in 2015, VAA’s Safety Program has provide training for individuals to recognize hazards and protect themselves from injuries in the workplace and on jobsites. As the firm begins a phased return to the office following an extended period of remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the health and safety of employees remain top priorities. VAA has implemented enhanced sanitation procedures and employees will be required to practice social distancing, wear masks and adhere to CDC guidelines on hygiene practices.

See these FAQs to learn more about VAA’s ongoing response to COVID-19.

Additional Resources:

National Safety Council Resources

CDC Recommendations for Employers

MDH Resources for Businesses

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During our annual Community Caring Campaign, employees can pledge a portion of their payroll to selected partner organizations. Amid COVID-19, VAA expedited these contributions to support increased demand at Second Harvest Heartland (SHH) and Interfaith Outreach & Community Partners (IOCP). Employee contributions recently aided SHH in distributing nearly 10,000 meals.

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Supporting industry education and giving back to our community are highly valued at VAA. The Haldorson and Jansen Scholarship program reinforces both goals and recognizes our enduring community ties to Dunwoody College of Technology (Dunwoody). Founded in 2014, the program includes two scholarships named for current VAA Principal and Dunwoody alum Bernie Jansen and former Partner / Dunwoody alum Gene Haldorson, who retired in 2018 after nearly 38 years at VAA.

The program has awarded a total of $20,000 to Dunwoody students since its launch. In addition to the monetary award, the scholarship recipients visit VAA for an office tour before being treated to a celebratory lunch.

Recent scholarship recipients David Thompson and Hazel Wolf applied for the program in 2019 and their awards will go towards their spring 2020 semesters. The candidates were interviewed and evaluated for commitment, academic achievement, benefit from scholarship, community involvement and previous employment. David Thompson was awarded the Haldorson Scholarship and is enrolled in the Architectural Drafting and Design Program. Hazel Wolf received the Jansen Scholarship and is enrolled in the Surveying and Civil Engineering Technology Program.

Congratulations to both 2019/2020 scholarship recipients.