MillerKnoll employees make a difference on first global ‘Day of Purpose’

For many of the 11,000 global employees representing the various Herman Miller and Knoll brands, Election Day earlier this month was a chance to vote — with their feet, hands, and hearts.

The company now known as MillerKnoll, with its corporate headquarters in Zeeland, provides a Day of Purpose every first Tuesday in November to allow its U.S.-based workers an unfettered opportunity to cast their ballots in local, state, and federal elections. But the company’s commitment to engaged citizenship goes deeper than merely showing up at the polls on a paid day off.

The annual event affords all employees the opportunity to volunteer with an array of nonprofit organizations in order to give back to the various communities in which they work and live. Many of those are along the West Michigan Lakeshore, including Holland, Zeeland, Grand Haven, Spring Lake, and Muskegon.

“Our commitment as a collective of 18 different brands under the MillerKnoll banner is changing the world for the better,” says MillerKnoll Executive Director of Philanthropy Linda Brand. “The Day of Purpose is a chance for all of us to come together around our values and commitments — and to make a demonstrably positive impact on the people and places where we serve.”

Values and purpose

The Day of Purpose, inaugurated last year on the date of the 2020 presidential election, aims to combine the respective cultural legacies of Herman Miller and Knoll through collaborative charitable endeavors and community engagement, Brand notes.
Herman Miller employee Darren Messing participated in the 2021 Day of Purpose.
“MillerKnoll comes together around timeless modern design in the products we make,” she adds, “and we share the same values and ultimate purpose in our approach to corporate social responsibility, as well.”

As the Day of Purpose unfolded this month beneath the new and expanded MillerKnoll umbrella, teams of employees fanned out in hundreds of locations around the world. Throughout West Michigan, MillerKnoll volunteers cleaned up beaches along the Lake Michigan shoreline, accomplished multiple projects at Holland’s Outdoor Discovery Center and DeGraaf Nature Center, and packaged meals for children, families, and military veterans in need at a Jenison nonprofit, among scores of other initiatives.

At the Outdoor Discovery Center, Darren Messing coordinated two shifts of MillerKnoll workers who removed an unsightly dilapidated fence and groomed sections of the miles of trails that wind through the ODC Network’s main campus. Messing, who is an order audit analyst intern after spending the past five years on the manufacturing floor, is part of MillerKnoll’s Sustainability Resource Team.

“It’s something I’m really passionate about — the environment and conservation,” Messing says. “I was raised on a farm on the east side of the state, near Bad Axe, and I was always outside, playing in the dirt. I just love being outdoors, and the Outdoor Discovery Center is a happy place for me.”

A shared mission

The president and chief operating officer of ODC Network, David Nyitray, hosted a group of MillerKnoll volunteers at the organization’s DeGraaf Nature Center and lauded the efforts of West Michigan corporations to give back to the community in this way.
Taiyoh Afrik, Herman Miller senior product development lead
“We’re proud to partner with MillerKnoll and many other companies that value our community and want to make it one of the best places to live, work and play in the country,” Nyitray says. “It gives us a chance to share our mission with their team of volunteers, and it gives us a much-appreciated influx of eager, helpful, and well-trained people who donate their time and talent to make ODC better and brighter.”

Just up the road a bit at Lighthouse Immigrant Advocates, a nonprofit immigration law office and advocacy center in Holland, Taiyoh Afrik spent his Day of Purpose by celebrating Lighthouse’s sixth anniversary and helping the group prepare for a wave of more than 400 Afghan refugees arriving to live in West Michigan.

Afrik is an immigrant, born in the West African country of Sierra Leone and raised in Senegal before arriving in the United States to attend college at Valparaiso University, in Indiana. It was at Valparaiso that he met his future spouse, a young woman from Holland, Michigan. This led Afrik to finish his undergraduate education at Grand Valley State Univerity, which launched him on a career path that started at Johnson Controls and then to MillerKnoll, where he’s currently a senior product development lead.

Afrik is the chair of the Lighthouse Immigrant Advocates board of directors and he is hoping to introduce the organization and its aims to more of his work colleagues.

“It was just me at Lighthouse on the Day of Purpose, but I am in conversation with our leaders (at MillerKnoll) to get stronger partnerships going,” says Afrik. “There are lots of volunteering opportunities. I’m now a U.S. citizen, and it’s the advocacy part at Lighthouse that gets my juices flowing. We are tilling the soil to create the context for welcoming newcomers. After all, we are a country of immigrants.”

Serendipitous encounter

From Brand’s perspective as the lead philanthropic officer of MillerKnoll, the Day of Purpose serves as a true rallying point for the company as it transitions through its integration as a combined enterprise. 
MillerKnoll employee Brighid Donnelly
“This has been a challenging year on so many levels for so many people,” she says. “When I look at this day, all the pictures and the posts on our social media, I saw people finding meaning that transcends our day-to-day work. I saw how grateful they are that the company gives them this opportunity. We exist for a higher purpose. A pandemic held us down, but now I see our people activated with purpose.”

Brand says she became emotional when she read one employee’s update on a serendipitous encounter with another MillerKnoll employee in a Pennsylvania grocery:

Brighid Donnelly volunteered with Meals on Wheels in her community and brought dinners to local families who had been impacted by a tornado and families affected by cancer. 

"I was at the grocery store in line buying all the ingredients, chatting it up with the cashier," Donnelly recounted. "And an employee (of the grocery store) gets in line behind me as she is finishing her shift for the day and buying dinner for her family. And she insists on buying all my groceries. Didn’t know what they were for, she just wanted to pay it forward. And then I shared what I was planning on doing with all the food. It was really a nice moment, and there are so many good people in this crazy world of ours."

Read more articles by Bruce Buursma.