When John Keenan founded Torrance, Calif.-based Keenan and Associates in 1972 he focused his efforts on bringing insurance to niche industries that help people, such as schools and hospitals. That’s because helping people was always his true passion, his family members, friends, and co-workers say.

It’s a passion he never lost sight of as the company grew from four employees in Torrance to nearly 700 employees at nine locations across the state of California, becoming one of the top large brokerages in the United States and the largest independent brokerage in California. Throughout the company’s rapid growth, Keenan always stressed the importance of community service and created a multitude of opportunities for the company and its staff to give back, including work-study programs with local schools and company-wide community action “impact days.”

“My father has always given to different charities and worked with different schools, including donating money to pay for scholarships to St. Raphael’s and Verbum Dei schools in South Los Angeles, which is where he was from,” says Dan Keenan, senior vice president of the company and one of four of John Keenan’s sons that works at the company.

“Our employees have always done very nice things at holiday times, too, including providing meals and presents for low-income families,” he adds. The company annually holds a Holiday Charity Drive that supports local foodbanks, outreach centers and individual families that are adopted by the office.

While the company continues to formalize some of its more recent projects, Dan Keenan says a legacy of community service has been ever-present at the company under his father’s watch and under the helm of President and CEO Sean Smith, who succeeded John Keenan in 2000. It’s also a legacy of community service that has gained new focus and meaning for the company following John Keenan’s recent death in September of 2014. He was 82 and had continued to serve as the company’s chairman.

Among its efforts in continuing the projects and partnerships created during John Keenan’s tenure, the brokerage has also recently created a corporate social responsibility team aimed at defining and further developing Keenan and Associates’ philanthropic pursuits.

“We’re refocusing our efforts and trying to find opportunities where we can leverage our talents. Community service is deeply ingrained in the culture of the company. It’s not something that’s new at Keenan. It’s re-energized,” says Charlotte Doepker, vice president of digital marketing at Keenan & Associates and a member of the company’s corporate social responsibility team.

“The people that we work for and serve are schools districts, municipalities and health care providers. They’re people that are all serving the community; and everybody who works at Keenan wants to be a part of that, as well,” she says. “It also adds to job satisfaction. It makes people happier to work and then they do a better job, too. It just makes sense from a business standpoint as well as the fact we’re doing good for the community.”

Impact Day

In fact, one of Keenan’s most recent and successful community involvement programs, dubbed Impact Day, stemmed from an idea introduced by some of the staff to executive management. Designed to coincide with the company’s annual meeting, it brings Keenan associates together to assemble donated goods for local non-profit organizations and social service agencies.

“It came up as an idea years ago from some of our staff who thought we should have a sort of community action or impact day. And we thought, sure, let’s try it,” says Dan Keenan.

The company held their first impact day in 2013 and expanded the program in 2014 to include two days of activities in Southern California, one day in San Francisco, and the inclusion of Southern California organizations outside the greater Long Beach area. More than a dozen charities and organizations benefitted from the effort.

Essentially all of the company’s 700 associates participated in the events in 2014, which took place Sept. 29 and 30 at the Renaissance Long Beach Hotel and Oct. 8 at the South San Francisco Conference Center.

“Our inaugural Impact Day last year was a great success. To see a ballroom full of people having so much fun and gaining so much satisfaction from making a difference in people’s lives was truly a memorable experience,” says Keenan President and CEO Sean Smith. “We determined that it was an enterprise that needed to be expanded to benefit as many people as we could in the communities we serve. And it has now become a centerpiece of our ongoing corporate social responsibility initiatives.”

“It’s such a motivating event, not only because it helps organizations such as ours, but it’s such a good team builder for their team of employees,” says Robert Probst, executive director of the Long Beach Rescue Mission, which has worked with Keenan and Associates on their Impact Day events in 2013 and 2014. “It gives all of their employees pride in what they do and the company they work for. Everybody was so fired up and motivated. For their organization it’s just a win-win.”

The Keenan Impact Day events resulted in the assembly of thousands of items for donation, including boxed lunches, toiletry kits, backpacks with assorted school items, classroom kits for teachers, paracord survival bracelets and personal letters for military troops, fleece blankets for children and adults, teddy bears, arts and crafts kits for after-school programs, sports equipment, children’s books and plush toys.

Probst says the company and its staff accumulated donated goods for the Rescue Mission that included such things as clothing and toiletries, “things that the mission usually pays a lot of money for.”

“The benefits we got out of it were really good and it gave us an opportunity, not only to receive the nice generous donations, but also for me to get the word out about what the Rescue Mission does,” says Probst.

Bringing everyone together

The amount of camaraderie built up within the company has been one of the “best side-effects” of the Impact Days, Doepker says.

“It’s been a very positive experience for our employees,” adds Dan Keenan.

That positive feeling has become infectious, they say, and employees are now seeking additional community service projects to work on as a team.

“Our departments are looking at, instead of doing an off-site team meeting as a team-building exercise, they want to do some sort of community service project together,” Dopeker says. “They’re seeing that as another way to build camaraderie and strengthen bonds between people and offices.”

That sort of bond building is especially true at events like Impact Day, she says, where “you could have had a vice president sitting next to you filling backpacks and the team leader was not necessarily that high up on the managerial chain. It really brought everyone together.”

The company is hoping to expand that bond-building. At an upcoming conference, for example, Doepker says the company typically pays for a booth and a half in the exhibit hall and hires a caricature artist to draw people to the booth. Instead, the company has decided to do an “impact project there instead.”

“We took the money that we typically use to hire the caricature artist and bought a bunch of children’s books that we’re giving to a local shelter. Anybody who wants can come and wrap a children’s book and write a little note on there,” she says. “It’s a way to involve people that are attending the show, do something for the community and maybe something a little more worthwhile than having a caricature artist.”

Signature Cause

The corporate social responsibility team is also looking to create a ‘signature cause,’ for the company’s community involvement programs, says Dan Keenan. “They’re developing a broader vision for what we’re going to be doing.”

While the company’s signature cause, the Right Start Program, is still being developed, Doepker says it will provide opportunities and resources to kids who might not actually have the resources they need to succeed.

“They might have the drive and ambition and talent to do something but not the resources,” she says, adding that it’s a direct continuation of what John Keenan “stood for” with the company.

“He was an amazing person, as well as an incredible talent in the industry,” says Doepker.

One of the projects John Keenan was directly involved with was the Corporate Work Study Program with Verbum Dei High School, a private school for underprivileged kids, and business intern programs where students intern with Keenan and Associates as a way to gain practical experiences so they can make the transition from school to career.

Keenan and Associates has about ten students a year work with them through the program. They’re bussed to the offices and placed in entry level jobs. The company’s facilities manager works with the school and interns, does reviews of the kids and makes sure they’re placed in the appropriate area.

“A lot of our current employees came in through the program,” says Doepker.

Keenan and Associates also serves on the board of the Hispanic Outreach Taskforce and the board of African-American Insurance Professionals Association and holds a school supply drive each year to provide school supplies for needy children in California.

John Keenan “was always about giving people opportunities,” she says.

Following Keenan’s death, Doepker says, “You’d hear story after story from people in the company about how they met John somewhere and he said, ‘Hey, do you need a job? What are your talents? What can you do?”

He would give them an entry level job and they’d work their way up, she says, with some of them having been at the company for twenty years.

“That’s what this program that we’re trying to put together is about. We’re looking at scholarship opportunities and some mentoring opportunities that people at the company can provide,” she says.

“We don’t have the details of the program hammered out yet, but it seems to really flow with our core competencies, our strategies, our client base, and the passions of people at the company,” Doepker adds.

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