Oct 11, 2022
Cigna Gives Forward: Employee Stories of Giving and Volunteerism

Cigna employees are committed to improving the health and well-being of our communities. Our culture of charitable giving and volunteering runs deep, and is at the core of our mission as a company. Our employees constantly demonstrate their passion, dedication, and empathy – and at no time was that more evident than during a recent week-long initiative we call “Cigna Gives Forward.”

Cigna Gives Forward was four days of coordinated employee volunteerism and service – filled with enriching opportunities for employees to give forward, bringing colleagues together both virtually and in-person. This year we put nearly $200,000 worth of economic benefit back into society. We brought together more than 2,000 volunteers across 46 states, logging more than 3,000 hours of volunteering in support of 26 nonprofit organizations that are working towards health equity and addressing social determinants of health (SDoH) in local communities.

“The needs of our communities have never been greater, which is why we were thrilled to organize this week of volunteerism, bringing colleagues together virtually to learn and give forward together,” said Susan Stith, vice president of diversity, equity, inclusion, and corporate and employee giving at Cigna, and executive director of the Cigna Foundation. 

“Through Cigna Gives Forward, each one of us had an opportunity to positively impact the communities where we live, work, and serve”Susan Stith, vice president of diversity, equity, inclusion, and corporate and employee giving at Cigna, and executive director of the Cigna Foundation

We sat down with some of the employees who participated in Cigna Gives Forward to hear about ways they volunteered their time.

Creating a Sense of Belonging for Foster Children

One of the volunteer projects benefitted a nonprofit called Together We Rise, which helps support children in the foster care system. Hundreds of thousands of children in the U.S. enter foster care each year, and many find themselves moving from one location to another. A heartbreaking fact is that many of these kids are forced to gather all of their belongings into plastic trash bags during this transition.

Alongside Together We Rise, Cigna employees prepared duffle bags, each decorated by hand, to provide children in the foster system a place to put their belongings. The duffle bags were filled with a variety of care items to give kids a sense of stability and comfort, including teddy bears, blankets, and toiletries.

“This event was very close to my heart, as I have two little girls at home, and I was eager to help comfort those so clearly in need,” said Angela Baker, senior multimedia training manager at Evernorth, Cigna Corporation’s health services business. “It was a powerful experience to help create a sense of belonging for these foster children.”

Throughout the event, employees used stencils and pastels to prepare a unique, personalized bag for each child, which attached by Velcro to the duffle bags.

Baker joked that she was initially worried about her artistic skills when it came to decorating the bags. “I quickly realized, and was reassured by my peers and Together We Rise, that the true power of these bags was not the art, but rather showing these children that someone took the time to create something special, just for them,” she said.  

Baker noted that she left the event feeling more connected with her colleagues, and that she was inspired to seek out more opportunities to support foster children in her local community.

Getting the Whole Family Involved

Using Cigna Gives Forward as an opportunity to help children in need was also paramount for Monika Domagala, a compliance specialist at Cigna. Domagala chose to volunteer her time in support of Variety the Children’s Charity, a nonprofit which helps children who experience serious illness or disability by providing access to life-saving and life-changing medical and mobility equipment, health and well-being services, and more.

As part of the project for Cigna Gives Forward, our employees came together to create hand-made blankets, each one unique to each child, to provide comfort and reassurance as they face difficulty in their lives.   

Domagala took the project one step further and used the opportunity to get her whole family involved. “For me, it was important to involve my 11 year old son and my 14 year old daughter to use it both as a learning opportunity and a way to plant a seed for life-long volunteerism,” she said.

Helping Seniors With Letters Against Isolation

Rachel Armstrong, a first year associate in the Managed Care Leadership Development Program, was thrilled to volunteer on a project to support Letters Against Isolation, a nonprofit that writes letters to seniors who may feel lonely or isolated, helping comfort and engage elderly people who are homebound, in nursing homes, or in senior living communities. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 14 million elderly adults live alone – and studies have found that social isolation and loneliness pose health risks including depression and heart disease.

“It was such a simple, yet powerful way to help seniors facing the devastating effects of isolation,” said Armstrong. While in college at Cornell University, Armstrong minored in gerontology – a field of study focused on the biological, psychological, social, and cultural aspects of aging. This is one of the primary reasons she was drawn to this volunteer opportunity with Letters against Isolation.

Armstrong said she enjoyed the act of writing the letters alongside her colleagues. She wrote about the changing seasons, and drew pictures of pumpkins to illustrate the beginning of autumn.

In the end, she knew the contents of the letter weren’t important – the true importance was connecting directly with seniors who may feel lonely, and providing them with an authentic letter from the heart. She highly recommends the organization and activity to others, and found it enriching to give back in a way that is connected to her work, and the communities we serve at Cigna.

A Symbol of Gratitude for Military and First Responders

As part of Cigna Gives Forward, Cigna employees volunteered their time in support of Operation Gratitude, a nonprofit which organizes and distributes care packages for military and first responders. Cigna employees created hand-woven paracord “survival” bracelets for the care packages. These bracelets are intended to be a symbol and expression of gratitude, but also serve a function and purpose.

According to Operation Gratitude, the cord can hold up to 550 pounds of weight, and provides military and first responders with 7.5 feet of cord that can be used in an emergency, including to make a sling to support an injury, build a makeshift shelter, or help extract an injured person from an unsafe location.

For Julie Rodier, a lab operations program manager at eviCore (an Evernorth company), this mission was close to home. Rodier shared that she volunteered her time with Operation Gratitude in honor of her partner, a U.S. Marine who died last year from COVID-19. “Being able to participate and send a symbol of gratitude to those in the military holds a special place in my heart – Operation Gratitude really spoke to me. Although this can be a difficult time of year for me, it was a powerful moment to be able to hit the pause button and give back alongside my friends and colleagues.”

Rodier shared that volunteerism is deep rooted in her life, she serves on the board of her local food pantry and is active in her community. Within Cigna, she has volunteered on a wide variety of opportunities with her team since 2016, and considers charitable giving the “main artery” of the culture at Cigna.

The Power of Skills-Based Volunteerism

There are many powerful ways to help those in need and support nonprofit organizations through volunteerism, and this year at Cigna Gives Forward, employees were presented with a range of “skills-based” volunteer opportunities – a type of volunteerism that matches employees with nonprofit volunteer projects specifically based on their career skills and expertise.

One example is Cigna's work with nonprofit College Bound, an organization that helps students prepare to succeed in college through mentorship, tutoring, and resources, Cigna employees helped to develop an internal communications strategy for the team to more effectively communicate and collaborate within their organization. With Healing Meals, an organization that prepares and delivers healthy meals to those dealing with a health crisis, Cigna employees helped develop hiring strategy best practices, and provided the nonprofit project team with recommendations to more closely align their current hiring practices to their diversity, equity, and inclusion values. ​

Ed Pyrro, director of dental & vision strategy at Cigna, participated in a skills-based volunteer opportunity in support of Homeless Engagement Lift Partnership (HELP), an organization which helps to change the cycle of homelessness among children.

“It was a great experience to support HELP, specifically in this unique, skills-based way,” Pyrro said. “Collectively, we were able match our professional skills to provide support at a higher, strategic level. We had several Cigna team members with deep experience in non-profit boards and operations – and I think our group delivered some potentially impactful advice and considerations for the charity. It was also great to make some new connections, both internally within Cigna and with the HELP team. I’d highly recommend that others seek out a skills-based volunteer opportunity next time they are looking for a way to give back.”

 “I really enjoyed the opportunity to participate in Cigna's week of volunteerism and specifically the skills-based effort, said Martha Vinas, senior director of U.S. field marketing at Cigna. “Figuring out a way to meet the needs of the local communities we serve by pulling skills from around the organization, mapping those skills to existing needs and then building cross-functional or deep subject matter teams to share our knowledge through this structured and well facilitated forum was so creative and efficient.”

Committed to Volunteerism, Year-Round

At Cigna, our culture of volunteerism and charitable giving is not limited to just one week. We are thrilled with the energy and passion we were able to channel in our Cigna Gives Forward week, and we are committed to fostering a culture of giving and volunteerism year-round.

Cigna employees connecting virtually to volunteer with United Way Greater St. Louis, making stuffed animals for children in need.

Cigna encourages all employees to give back and volunteer wherever possible, creating a wide variety of channels and methods to do so. In connection with our programs, employees donated approximately $2.7 million to causes of their choice in 2021, of which nearly $2.3 million was matched by the Cigna Foundation. Nearly 59,000 volunteer hours were logged, and hundreds of Cigna employees are recognized each year as a Community Service Champion, reflecting 50 hours or more of volunteerism with one nonprofit.

To further encourage employees to volunteer, Cigna’s “Use Your 8” program gives employees up to eight hours of paid time off to volunteer each year.

Although the 2022 Cigna Gives Forward week of volunteerism has drawn to an end, giving and volunteerism does not end there for our employees. We’re proud to constantly demonstrate our passion and dedication to supporting the communities in which we live and serve, and look ahead to many more opportunities to pay it forward.

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