United Playaz


Why We Volunteer: Equipping Students for Success

Levi Strauss & Co.
September 3, 2019

Levi Strauss & Co. encourages employees to take up to five hours a month of paid time to volunteer in their communities. Here’s how one group of employees used that time.

During last May’s Community Day, where employees take one day to volunteer with organizations in their communities, Levi Strauss & Co. employee John Nguyen “totally fell in love” with the work of United Playaz (UP), a violence prevention organization dedicated to keeping young people off the streets and away from at-risk behaviors.

Growing up in Oakland in and out of a gang, John understands the importance of surrounding vulnerable youth with positive role models and productive activities.

“As an ex-gang member, I know the allure of fraternity and false empowerment gangs bring, especially when the world seems against you,” John said. “Organizations like UP bring positivity into these kids’ lives and show them that education, hard work and non-violence are the real forms of empowerment.”

Deciding that one day of service wasn’t enough, John enlisted his fellow LS&Co. employees to return to UP last month and help the community kick off the upcoming school year. For five hours, he and 17 others set up and manned stations where more than 100 young participants of the Soma Youth Collaborative Summer Program, a joint effort led by UP and the West Bay Pilipino Multi-Service Center, could come “shop” for new backpacks, shoes and school supplies.

United Playaz

That morning, groups of students – from Kindergarteners to middle schoolers – eagerly filed into the Gene Friend Recreational Center in San Francisco to select their school items. Escorted by LS&Co. volunteers, the kids were first taken to try on sneakers donated by the non-profit My New Red Shoes. Afterwards, they picked a backpack of their choosing from a bleacher boasting everything from solid-colored JanSports to Fortnite-themed bags. They then filled their backpacks with pencils, glue sticks and notebooks, crossing everything off their school supply list.

“The joy is seeing the kids’ faces,” said Sandy Quong, planning manager for the Dockers® brand. “Especially the little ones. They’re in first or second grade and it’s such an experience for them. They get sparkly backpacks and sparkly shoes and all that.”

Beyond back-to-school aesthetics, new school supplies can also have a strong impact on self-esteem and generate a real interest in learning, according to Misha Olivas, director of community and family engagement at United Playaz.  

United Playaz

“In low-income communities of color, education is hard,” Misha explained. “A lot of times, parents themselves have had really negative experiences at school. And so, school is not a safe place – it’s a punitive place, a scary place.

“Imagine going to school and not having anything. Everyone pulls out their backpacks and supplies…and there you are with none of those things. That really damages a young person’s self-esteem and relationship with school. And so, it’s important to give them that one small thing to make that first day of school better than it would have been otherwise,” Misha added.

LS&Co. supports employees who go beyond their daily duties to spread positivity in their community – as we always say, giving back is in our jeans. That’s why, in addition to five hours of paid volunteer time, we also offer grants for team volunteering activities and match charitable contributions. 

“What’s surprising is that this is something the company reminds its employees of throughout the year,” said John. “It’s not like, ‘Oh, this is part of your benefits package and forget about it.’ They want to make sure that we walk the talk. And because of that, I’m really proud of the company that I work for.”