When Luciano E. Lobos joined Southwest Gas in 2007, he felt certain he joined a company that took care of its employees. What he didn’t bargain for was how well it would take care of the communities in which it operates.
“I was pretty overwhelmed by how much they help the community,” recalls Lobos, a customer service supervisor in the Tucson office.
Lobos wasn’t much into volunteering or philanthropy when he started at Southwest Gas, but he got caught up with the giving culture of the company. He became involved organizing volunteer events with employees, first under the company’s United Way program, then as a committee member and leader for the current employee-driven programs, BLUE and FUEL for LIFE.
“Because this commitment to our communities is ingrained in our culture, employees don’t need much convincing to get involved,” reveals Laura Nelson, Southwest Gas’s vice president of sustainability and public policy.
BLUE (Building Lives Up Everywhere) encourages large-group volunteer activities, such as packing boxes at the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, creating supply kits for teachers or, during COVID-19 shutdowns, creating gift bags for first responders.
There are plans this fall to host a tree-planting event with Tucson Clean and Beautiful and activities to benefit a Tucson-area elementary school with a low-income student population.
FUEL for LIFE allows employees to annually donate through payroll giving to causes selected by an employee committee. This year’s campaign engaged 91% of the Southern Arizona Division’s workforce. They provided more than $400,000 to nonprofits in the division’s service area from Yuma to Douglas to Globe and including the Tucson area.
EMERGE Center Against Domestic Abuse; Mobile Meals of Southern Arizona; Pima Council on Aging; and the Humane Society of Southern Arizona are among many charities supported by FUEL for LIFE.
Companywide — Arizona, Nevada and parts of California — the 11-year-old FUEL for LIFE program has sent more than $17 million in employee donations to over 1,800 charities. Employees nominate charities every three years, which the committee vets before creating a final list.
“One of the greatest things,” says Lobos, “is that the company doesn’t tell you who to choose for (support). The employees go out and vet these organizations.”
Company officials recognize that employees know best what’s needed in their communities. “Many of our employees have the unique opportunity to interact with customers inside their homes and businesses,” observes Nelson. “This provides them with an intimate view into so many of society’s challenges.”
Southwest Gas also runs a foundation to support local nonprofit organizations like Primavera Foundation; Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern Arizona; Chicanos Por La Causa; Southern Arizona Children’s Advocacy Center; and Community Home Repair Projects of Arizona. In 2021, the foundation distributed about $222,000 in Southern Arizona alone.
This well-rounded philanthropic effort earned Southwest Gas the 2022 Outstanding Corporate Philanthropist Award. Says Bethany Neumann, development director at Youth on Their Own, another beneficiary of Southwest Gas: “We can think of no other business in our community that so thoroughly and completely exemplifies such an established culture of philanthropy at all levels.”