Thirty years ago -- long before community engagement was a corporate buzzword -- Disney launched a volunteer program for its employees to encourage them to make a difference in the well-being of kids, families and the environment.
On Wednesday, the company celebrated that milestone at its various theme parks around the globe, including a pep rally in Central Florida to salute the most industrious of its "VoluntEARS" -- a team from Animal Kingdom that donated more than 5,500 hours serving meals to the homeless, helping to build houses and making pet beds for animal shelters.
Veterinary assistant Liz Hedrick was singled out as the Disney "VoluntEAR of the Year" for giving more than 750 hours of her time to provide health evaluations to rescued animals, free community dog training classes and visiting nursing homes with her therapy dog.
“Over the years, the SPCA of Central Florida has been lucky to be the recipient of Liz’s time, energy, and love,” said Jake White, executive vice president and general manager of the SPCA. “Her commitment to our pets is unmatched."
Hedrick and the Animal Kingdom team each received $3,000 for the charities of their choice — the SPCA and Wildlife Rehabilitation of Central Florida.
Disney leaders also announced the anniversary comes with a commitment to do some 50 community service projects in Central Florida this month alone. Those include clean-ups at public parks, serving meals at the Coalition for the Homeless,sorting food at Second Harvest, building playgrounds and helping clients at The BETA Center, senior centers, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida and the Red Cross.
In 2012, Walt Disney World Resort cast members gave 230,000 hours -- of both their own time and the company's -- to more than 1,700 Central Florida organizations.
And since the program's inception in 1983, Disney VoluntEARS worldwide have given nearly 6 million hours of volunteer service to the community.