The IICF International Step Up Challenge serves as an example of the way a charitable initiative that encourages physical activity and camaraderie is well-suited to a pandemic world. (Shutterstock) The IICF International Step Up Challenge serves as an example of the way a charitable initiative that encourages physical activity and camaraderie is well-suited to a pandemic world. (Shutterstock)

As a U.S. Navy veteran and a mother, I like to keep moving. Throughout the pandemic, I’ve found it more important than ever to continue to be active. I’m always looking for new ways to weave some activity into my work-from-home day. For example, my work counterpart in the East and I do weekly walk-and-talk meetings. We don AirPods and workout gear as she strolls her neighborhood in New Jersey, and I do the same near my home in Texas. Together, we share updates, brainstorm and more. It’s a great way to burn calories, get active, stay engaged in the work world and stay healthy.

One step further

The Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation has taken this concept of combining work and physical activity a step further. Seeing the tremendous value achieved when industry professionals motivate each other, IICF has structured an exercise-based competition to encourage physical activity with a fundraising component to help children impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. The IICF International Step Up Challenge provides an opportunity for those in the insurance industry, as well as our clients, family members, friends and neighbors to walk, run or do any other type of exercise together to promote well-being, socially-distanced team building and virtual community involvement.  Most importantly, the Step Up Challenge does all this while supporting children made vulnerable by the pandemic.

With extraordinary support from the insurance industry, IICF has already raised $1.3 million for its Children’s Relief Fund. Nearly 1,000 industry professionals have donated, enabling more than 700,000 meals to be delivered to children and families at risk of food insecurity.

But the need remains great, and we can do more.

A fresh spin on work and charitable giving

IICF has responded proactively to the changing times. Critical funding continues to flow to IICF partner organizations as IICF has transitioned live events to a virtual format. The foundation’s creative new approaches are seen in several new fundraising offerings including a virtual softball tournament, virtual boxing class, online trivia and other unique initiatives such as the International Step Up Challenge. At the same time, some in-person fundraising events might still be possible in the fall with social distancing guidelines in place, such as the Southeast Division’s Sporting Clay Tournament as well as our golf events.

IICF has been very successful with these endeavors, thanks again to the generosity of partner companies and their employees. Not only has IICF been able to organize fundraising initiatives quickly in the middle of a pandemic, but they’ve also distributed the funds with haste to their nonprofit partners across the country including in my home state, where we funded 150,000 meals to serve kids in need through the North Texas Food Bank and Kids Meals in Houston.

Creative business strategies

It’s not just nonprofits who have had to get creative during the pandemic. Countless businesses and organizations have had to rethink their operations and adapt to a “new normal.” At Markel, we have a culture that encourages spontaneity and flexibility. I’m proud of the way we have successfully managed our business and stayed connected with our clients during the pandemic. We’ve furthered our relationships by reaching out regularly, listening to client experiences and assisting them as they wade through this new territory with us.

As a company, we transitioned very quickly to a work-from-home environment to ensure our associates stay safe. Much like IICF, we’ve been looking out for one another with regular communication from our co-CEOs, who set an example for leadership throughout the company. We’ve provided our team members with information to keep them healthy during the pandemic, and we continue to support our employees however we can.

Implementing the IICF Step Up Challenge complements our employer’s efforts nicely by providing them with a way to get active and feel better while also giving back.

Making it happen

IICF’s dedicated efforts to support children as well as veterans strikes a personal chord with me.

For this challenge, I’ve been walking with my family, as well as virtually with my co-workers. I am also trying to squeeze in a few steps on the golf course when I can. At the same time, along with the leadership at Markel, I have been working to encourage team members across the company to participate in this worthy cause. The challenge has been well received by our employees with many teaming up and forming pacts with neighbors and friends to step together. We’ve also formed teams within the company’s different divisions to compete internally. We’re a competitive bunch! But of course, these activities include social distancing and mask-wearing for safety people are in groups.

The IICF International Step Up Challenge is one more example of the way a charitable initiative that encourages physical activity and camaraderie is well-suited to a pandemic world. It’s a great way to engage employees and execute on what we find near and dear to our hearts.

So lace up those sneakers and get stepping for children in need!

Wendy Houser ([email protected]) is executive territory officer of the West Territory for Markel Specialty. She is an active member of the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation, serving on its executive board and as a past Chair of the IICF Southeast Division Board of Directors. She is personally championing the IICF International Step Up Challenge throughout the Southeast.

These opinions are the author’s own.

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