These Horizon Employees Are Changing Lives On and Off the Clock
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See how three of Horizon’s Outstanding Volunteers are shaping their New Jersey communities for the better.
By Thomas Vincz, Public Relations Manager
Betty Matthews’s mother had a saying: Never give to get. Earlier this year, when Betty and some of her Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield New Jersey (BCBSNJ) colleagues were honored for giving back to New Jersey’s communities, they made it clear they never expected to get anything in return.
Lisa Smith, recognized for her work with the Special Olympics, chose instead to recognize the Horizon employees that nominated her. Michael Morrone pointed out he didn’t volunteer with the non-profit CancerCare for any type of reward. And Betty, who spends hundreds of hours a year volunteering for Camden-based Saving Grace Ministry, acknowledged that the award luncheon only validated that she is indeed helping.
But Smith, Morrone and Matthews could all agree that being named an Outstanding Volunteer did bring one huge reward: the opportunity to spread the word about the amazing work their organizations do every day to make New Jersey a better place. Here’s a look at all three:
Being a champion for champions
Twenty-five years ago, a friend of Lisa Smith invited her to attend a local downhill skiing event held as part of the Special Olympics, the world's largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities. During the race, when one of two competitors fell, Smith saw that the other racer didn’t keep skiing to certain victory. Instead, he stopped and helped the other skier to his feet and down the mountain.
“I was blown away by the level of compassion,” said Lisa. “The Special Olympics participants are the most positive people I’ve ever met. I love all the athletes I’ve worked with ever since that day.”
Smith works as a care specialist in Horizon’s Managed Long-Term Services & Supports (MLTSS) program, designed for people who have NJ FamilyCare and who need services to stay in their homes and communities as long as possible.
At the Special Olympics, she brings the same sense of compassion and duty, doing everything from helping to cook for thousands of athletes during the Summer Games to awarding medals at the Winter Games ski competition. But she devotes most of her time to fundraising.
“Special Olympics athletes don’t pay for anything – from uniforms to training and coaching,” explained Smith. For New Jersey athletes who progress to national or international competitions, their travel is paid for as well.
The most popular fundraising event? That would be the Polar Bear Plunge at Seaside Heights, said Smith. More than 4,000 people dive into the frigid Atlantic – raising about $2 million for the organization in a single day.
Providing an oasis from grief
Michael Morrone asked his two adult daughters a few years ago for an odd Father’s Day gift: He wanted them to go to summer camp with him.
But this wasn’t any ordinary camp. It was the Healing Hearts Bereavement Camp, created for families with children and teens who have lost a parent, spouse, or grandparent to cancer. The camp is run by CancerCare, which provides free counseling, education programs, and financial support year-round to anyone affected by cancer.
On this particular year, the camp was held over Father’s Day weekend. At that time, Morrone, Horizon’s Director of Corporate Tax, was already serving on CancerCare’s board of directors. But the weekend camp, filled with fun and emotional healing, was a more hands-on way of giving back, even though it initially terrified him.
“I’m the tax guy. I’m not a social worker. It was stressful, difficult, scary,” said Morrone. “But after seeing how the kids feel when they’re at the camp and that there are people who’ve been through the same experience – well, I’ve been back to the camp every year since along with my youngest daughter.”
A cancer survivor himself, Morrone also sits on the committees for CancerCare’s Annual Walk of Hope fundraiser and Annual Gala and was recently elected as President of the Board of Managers for the national organization’s New Jersey chapter.
Filling the void in a child’s life
When children lose their father or mother to sudden violence, they lose so much more than a parent. They can lose their self-esteem, their hope, and often, the very touchstones of childhood.
That’s where Saving Grace Ministry and Betty Matthews come in. For the children of Camden, NJ, whose parents or siblings have died, Saving Grace helps fills the holes left behind. That includes the money to pay for football uniforms, weekend getaways with mentors, or a dress to attend prom. For one girl, instead of Christmas gifts, she wanted a headstone for her father’s unmarked grave.
“My job is to make these kids feel that they’re not missing out on anything,” said Matthews.
Founded by Matthews’s niece Nyzia Easterling in 2013, whose husband was murdered, Saving Grace has served hundreds of children since, some who lost a parent from gun violence and others from illnesses like cancer. Matthews lost her own godson to gun violence about six years ago.
Today, Matthews gives back by helping to organize birthday parties and holiday celebrations. She also decorates and sets up for the organization’s annual Purity Party, a combination fashion show, dance and educational program beloved by the program’s teens.
Taking care of others, Matthews said, is just part of her identity. At Horizon, she works as a clinical care case manager for the Horizon NJ TotalCare program, which provides services to members on Medicare and Medicaid at no cost to them.
A culture of giving back
Most of the money Matthews spends on the children’s activities at Saving Grace comes out of her and her fellow leaders’ own pockets. But next year, she knows where she’ll be getting extra funds: Horizon.
That’s because Horizon offers its employees the Dollars for Volunteer program, which matches employees’ charitable contributions dollar for dollar. Morrone has already taken advantage of this program to the tune of thousands of dollars for CancerCare.
Horizon also offers its employees a paid day off each year to volunteer and organizes a strong volunteer program called Horizon Cares, which sees more than 500 employees volunteer thousands of hours of their time each year. “Horizon is very involved in giving back,” said Smith, who worked with colleagues to assemble Thanksgiving baskets for people in need.
“All I can say is that I’m very proud to work for this company,” said Morrone.