Departments Team Up to Support Fellow Employees
On a Wednesday morning, Jim Kirk is in his office in the Lyman Hall building with public radio playing quietly and blood on his shirt. It’s the product of a messy morning commute.
Kirk uses a combination of bike and bus to get to campus from Cobb County every day, and this morning, he “got into an argument with the curb.”
“I was trying to thank someone for letting me in and take a turn at the same time,” said Kirk, assistant vice president for Institute Budget Planning and Administration. “It’s always when I’m trying to do two things at once.”
Two things he excels at handling simultaneously, though, are managing Tech’s budgets and a legendary holiday initiative. Kirk has been at Tech for 16 years, and for 15 of those, he’s helped organize the Lyman Hall holiday party.
It began in 2001 with a group of Tech staff members collecting clothing for the nearby Atlanta Day Shelter for Women and Children. The following year, a staff member suggested that the team’s efforts be used to help the family of a fellow Tech employee in need.
Since then, the effort has grown to include multiple campus departments and community beneficiaries, including hundreds of Georgia Tech families. Kirk started the multidepartmental effort, and it continues with the help of a committee of representatives who now span multiple buildings.
“We decided back then that instead of just celebrating ourselves we wanted to help people at the holidays,” he said. The organizing committee solicits nominations from several campus departments, including Auxiliary Services, Dining Services, and Facilities Management. Supervisors are asked to submit nominations with details of the employees’ situations, but not their names, and they are vetted by the supervisor and committee. Though they don’t look for a specific number of families to support each year, they’ve never turned one away.
“We’ve always found a way to support them,” Kirk said. “Several departments are very generous in sponsoring families.” Many offices that participate will sponsor more than one family, or smaller groups team up to take on larger requests. The Budget office even once nominated an employee from within its own staff who was facing particular hardship that year.
At times, employees have felt a special connection with the beneficiaries. This year, one nominee is raising his son and daughter as a single parent following the death of his wife. Two contributing employees could relate, having lost their own spouses and experiencing similar circumstances themselves, so their two offices teamed up to sponsor him.
The season of giving culminates in a celebration that would be the envy of many offices (and may be reminiscent of the popular TV show “The Office,” without the bungling boss). The atrium of Lyman Hall becomes center stage for a performance contest, dessert contest, and tacky holiday clothing contest, as well as door prizes and a visit from Santa. Gift donations are brought to the party, all wrapped, and supervisors pick up their employees’ gifts to keep the recipients anonymous.
“We hear stories from supervisors of the families when they receive the gifts, a lot of them in tears,” Kirk said. “A lot of these families would otherwise not have gifts for their children or grandchildren, and some are struggling to just pay their bills.” In many cases, families have taken on an additional responsibility of caring for an older parent, grandchild, or other extended family members who have added strain to their finances. The 2016 efforts supported 14 employee families, and Kirk estimates they’ve supported around 175 families over the years.
The “service” part of Tech’s “progress and service” motto has become a hallmark for the way Kirk manages his office. They also do an annual fall clothing collection for the Atlanta Mission and contribute to the Buzzin’ Back to School supply drive held by Georgia Tech Human Resources each summer, which also benefits Tech families.
“It’s as important as any other work we do,” Kirk said. “We’re willing to put in the extra time to do it. It’s a morale booster and creates good will and camaraderie.”
Kirk at Work
Kirk, who has made a career in the public sector, previously worked in local and state government, as well as at the University of South Carolina before coming to Tech 16 years ago. He and his wife left behind three adult children (and now seven grandchildren) when they relocated to Atlanta for the job.
His cycling began following a knee surgery eight years ago, and he then found a way to weave it into his commute. It’s only led to a handful of wipe-outs over the years — thankfully, he always wears a helmet.
Kirk’s team is responsible for overseeing Tech’s $1.7 billion budget (as of Fiscal Year 2017), including all submissions from campus departments. They prepare all budget schedule documents for the Board of Regents and
support Tech’s executive leadership team in its
“We try to give people good data and advice,” he said. “We have a huge budget compared to the number of students because we have so much sponsored research.”
Kirk’s group also works with all capital projects on campus. Even in instances where funding may come from outside Tech, such as private philanthropy, Kirk’s team still has to project and budget for every facility’s ongoing operation and maintenance.
Though his career is financially focused, Kirk has always been drawn to the human aspects of the job. He took an interest test in college that matched him with “helping” professions, such as ministry, counseling, and education, but he finds similar fulfillment in his work with finances.
“You have to look beyond the numbers and see who or what the money will go to,” he said. Kirk also does presentations and educational sessions, including speaking at a Staff Council Inform Tech event last year on Georgia Tech’s Colors of Money. “I like to use comics. Numbers can bore people. You have to laugh about budgets and finance so you don’t cry.”