Dec 14, 2021
Making a Difference In and Out of the Workplace: Cigna Employees Share Stories of Giving and Volunteerism

Every day, Cigna is committed to making a difference and improving the health and well-being of our communities. Our culture of caring runs deep and is a core value. Our employees constantly demonstrate their passion, dedication, and empathy – and at no time is that more evident than around the holidays.

We sat down with Cigna employees to hear about ways they have volunteered to help those in need. Read on for their inspiring stories and to learn more about ways Cigna invests in the health of our communities through charitable giving and employee volunteerism.

Helping Cigna Customers in a Time of Crisis

There’s nothing more powerful than being able to act quickly when someone needs help. Recently, the Cigna MidAmerica team did just that. Carol Buckner Ayers, a senior client account manager, was watching the evening news with her husband when she saw something shocking: The Hickman Mills C-1 School District in Kansas City, Missouri, one of her longstanding clients, was in crisis. Supply chain issues and state-wide education budget shortfall caused the district to unexpectedly lose its food services vendor – at a critical time just ahead of the holidays.

Hickman Mills is one of few school districts in the state that provide every student with free breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Many of the families in the district face food insecurities and rely on these free meals to support their children’s health and well-being. This includes meals during the extended holiday break, when many families are most in need.

“We had to do something, and we had to do something fast,” Ayers said. She quickly elevated the news to her leadership team, which was immediately supportive of taking action to help. “It’s a two-way street,” she said. “We support our clients, and they support us. When a client is in need, we listen and want to be there to help them.”

Cigna acted quickly, donating $12,500 to the district – enough to pay for about 7,000 meals.  

Hickman Mills was one of Ayer’s first clients when she joined Cigna more than seven years ago. She notes that it is these moments that remind her why it is important to work for a company that is true to its values.

“With everything going on in the world, it’s really a challenging time,” Ayers said. “There are times where you feel down. To be able to step back and come through to support our client was such a wonderful moment. I was able to walk away from the experience and think ‘there is still so much good that happens in this world, and I was able to be part of it this time.’” 

Cigna’s Carol Buckner Ayers presents a check to Hickman Mills School District for $12,500 after hearing about their need for donations and supplies from a local news story.

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Cigna Chattanooga Makes Impact on Local Community

Food insecurity was also top of mind for the Cigna Chattanooga team in Tennessee. The team came together to coordinate direct donations for the Chattanooga Area Food Bank, organized through WRCB’s Share Your Christmas and the United Way. These donations have become a local tradition. For nine years in a row, Cigna Chattanooga has rallied to raise money for the food bank, typically organizing through in-person events and fundraisers. Due to COVID, the team went virtual  – and has seen the same level of energy and compassion from colleagues.

In 2021, Cigna donated roughly 21,300 meals to the food bank, the most of any company in the area. “Our Cigna employees in the Chattanooga area are committed to making a difference and improving the health of our communities,” said Greg Allen, Cigna MidSouth market president. “Their enthusiasm to ensure our neighbors do not go hungry during this holiday season is inspiring, and I’m proud to call them colleagues.”

Encouraging Employees To Volunteer; Investing in the Health of our Communities

According to a survey by Deloitte, 89% of employees believe that companies that sponsor volunteer activities offer a better overall working environment than those that don’t. Additionally, 77% of employees say company-sponsored volunteer activities are essential to their well-being.

Cigna encourages all employees to give back and volunteer wherever possible, creating opportunities to do so through various programs. For example, the Cigna Foundation helps support nonprofit organizations by matching  individual employee’s gifts to any eligible nonprofit organization. Over $2 million was donated through the Matching Gifts Program in 2021.

In addition to fundraising and donating, our employees volunteered their time. Nearly 34,000 hours were volunteered globally during the year. To further encourage employees to volunteer, Cigna’s “Use Your 8” program gives employees up to eight hours of paid time off to volunteer. Employees supported new and long-standing partnerships with organizations that included Girls on the Run, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, Blessings in a Backpack, Achilles International, and Toys for Tots.

Advocating for Our Children

When it comes to charitable giving, Cigna provides a wide range of projects and programs to choose from, including the Cigna Legal Volunteer Program, which connects the company’s legal professionals with nonprofit organizations in need of pro bono services.

One volunteer is Steve Reynolds, chief ethics officer at Cigna. Through the program, Reynolds works with the Center for Children’s Advocacy (CCA), a Connecticut-based nonprofit organization that provides legal services for children in need of educational opportunities, protection from abuse and neglect, and access to health care.

Reynolds has been representing two siblings in a Special Immigrant Juvenile Status case in their journey to escape danger and abuse in Central America and build a new life in the United States. It’s a family effort – Steve’s wife, Alina Marquez Reynolds, general counsel and Justice Initiative deputy director at the Grace Farms Foundation, has dedicated her time to the representation as well, translating all interviews and conversations for Reynolds and his clients. 

 “The courage and resilience of these children and their guardian is remarkable,” Reynolds said. “It is very rewarding to have the opportunity to help children who have experienced tremendous hardship – to be a part of their search for a better life.”

After a recent court proceeding, the children’s guardian thanked the Steve and Alina Reynolds and the CCA for their assistance. “I am very grateful to you,” the guardian said. “You have supported me a lot and have devoted your time to my case. You and your organization made me feel very safe. You are angels for us. Thank you very much.” 

CCA’s legal advocacy for children could not be sustained without the work of volunteers like Steve and Alina Reynolds.

Volunteerism Is Woven Into the Fabric of our Employees’ Lives 

While Cigna goes to great lengths to encourage employees to donate and volunteer, giving is often woven into the fabric of their everyday lives. Giving can take many shapes and forms, on a global scale or within a local community. Meet the Young family. Sisters Taylor and Brittany and their mom, Joyce, are Cigna nurses. Stopping by the local animal shelter on Christmas to walk dogs or being part of the volunteer chain helping transport a dog across the country is just what they do.

The Young Family, Taylor (left), Joyce (center), and Brittany (right) – all Cigna nurses.

“Growing up, we always had dogs,” Taylor Young said. “I’ve never lived in a house that did not have at least one dog. Right now, I have six at home.” She also has other rescues: cows, cats, and a bird, all coexisting on 13 acres of land she purchased earlier this year.

“That’s about on par for me,” she said, noting she has rescued six animals since March. “Anything that needs a home is always welcome.”

Brittany Young currently has three rescue dogs in her house. “They know that they’ve been rescued, so they love harder,” she said.

The sisters began volunteering at their local shelter, the Jefferson County Animal Shelter, in high school. They would walk dogs, help their dad – the local humane officer – with hoarding situations, participate in dog transports, and more.

The Youngs’ advocacy extends beyond the animal shelter. They also work with a nearby home called The Friendship Room, providing food, clothes, and resources to people who may be homeless, abused, or otherwise in need. They sponsor Christmas presents for children and volunteer their time to help kids with special needs at a nearby school.

“Whatever people need, we do,” Joyce Young said. “I never really sat down and said, ‘I’m going to teach my kids to do this.’ It’s just what I did, and they picked up on it. But now, they’ve actually surpassed what I do. They take giving to new levels.”

Cigna Community Ambassadors Program

For employees looking to make a lasting impact, Cigna’s Community Ambassador Fellowship program offers an immersive opportunity. Introduced in 2017, the program offers eligible employees an opportunity to take a sabbatical-style paid leave to support projects that exemplify Cigna’s mission and positively impact the health, well-being and peace of mind of a community in need. After a competitive application process, selected employees embark on a one- to three-month fellowship that includes full salary and benefits plus a stipend of up to $20,000 to support their community work.

In 2022, Cigna Community Ambassador Fellows will undertake a wide variety of projects across the globe. Meet them below, and read more about their upcoming projects.

Sheldon Blattner will partner with The Opioid Foundation to provide education and awareness around addiction in two rural Michigan communities.


Darlene Byrd will partner with Making a Change Group to develop and institute a Leadership Development Academy for high school students in Chester, Pennsylvania.


Heather Corraccio will partner with UPchieve to implement a new, maintainable whiteboard solution to help low-income high school students in Connecticut.


Laura Del Cano will partner with Proyde to provide humanitarian and psychological support to Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Lebanon.


LaShell Eikerenkoetter will partner with Solidarity Economy St. Louis to address mental and physical wellness, equity in business, and community violence in Black communities in St. Louis, Missouri.


Katelyn Gately will partner with The United Service Organizations Inc. (USO) to provide the military community in Virginia Beach, Virginia, with health, well-being, and peace-of-mind tools through a Yoga Therapy Program.


Joan Gitau will partner with the Heels4Pads Foundation to provide young girls in Nairobi, Kenya, with necessities such as sanitary towels to save them from sexual exploitation.


Mena Gurung will partner with SEWA Asian Indian Family Wellness (SEWA-AIFW) to teach South Asian women in Minneapolis, Minnesota, job skills to build economic self-sufficiency.


Brandy Camille Huff will partner with The Norma J. Morris Center to use marketing and communications strategies in Atlanta, Georgia, to increase referrals, engagement, and support to help adult survivors of childhood abuse.


Rhonda Lively will partner with Santa In Uniform to provide socio-economically challenged youth in Trion, Georgia, access to golf to improve their health, well-being, self-control, personal development, mobility, and etiquette.


Leslie Martin will partner with Winning The Fight (WTF) to teach families in Flower Mound, Texas, how to safeguard medication in their homes.


Kristal Ruiz will partner with Mind Blank to equip employers and employees in Brisbane, Australia, with skills to identify mental health issues.


Smitha Shetty will partner with Asset India Foundation to provide a gender sensitization curriculum to students across India to fight abuse and inculcate healthy gender norms.


Susan Werner will inculcate with LitShop to improve nutritional, emotional, and physical health for girls and gender-expansive youth in St. Louis, Missouri.


Shu-Ju Yang will partner with Chinese American Coalition for Compassionate Care (CACCC) to bridge easier and earlier end-of-life conversations with Chinese Americans.


Cigna in the Community

Striving to improve health is central to our mission, and is at the heart of everything we do at Cigna. Every day, we are committed to making a difference and improving the health of our communities around the world.

Learn more