Local Initiative for Global Service

Lavy Windows is a little company that packs a big punch
Christina Lewellen
October 1, 2011
SPECIAL FEATURES | Operations, Channels, Close-Ups

 
Giving Back

EXCELLENCE IN COMMUNITY SERVICE


Lavy Windows
 

Camden, Ind.

With just a handful of employees and serving homeowners and contractors in a small strip of counties in northern Indiana, it’s impressive to think of the hundreds of children and multiple communities Lavy Windows supports as part of its community service initiative.
Guided by the passionate leadership of owner Ken Lavy, the company has made a meaningful impact in Honduras, where it has built houses, supported day shelters for children, outfitted schools with curricula and built a water treatment facility to provide clean water to local residents. “The reason I like working down [in Honduras] is that you can do the most with the money you have,” Lavy says. “You can get a good bang for your buck. You can help out a lot down there for the money you spend.”
Where most window and door companies focus their efforts locally—supporting a cause, building a home for a family in need or sponsoring a children’s baseball team—Lavy Windows finds that supporting families in Central America can be equally fulfilling. “A lot of people in our community know what we’re doing,” Lavy says. “People know we pay it forward.”
 
 Lavy Windows has taken up a global initiative in its community service, helping the people in Honduras build homes and community infrastructure.
Regardless of whether Lavy Windows receives any community recognition for its efforts, the leadership will continue to support the initiative it began years ago. “He’s not doing it for the recognition,” says Gary Delman, founder of Sunrise Windows, the primary supplier to Lavy Windows. “He’s doing it because it’s the right thing to do. He and his wife are very modest. It’s just something he feels strongly about and he doesn’t have to announce it to the world.”
And while Lavy recognizes that there is plenty of work to do in the United States to support families and communities in need, he believes that the important thing is for companies and individuals to stay committed and passionate about a good cause. “People need to just get involved with something and feel good about it,” he says.
HELPING HONDURAS
Lavy visited Honduras in 2005 with an interest in owning international real estate. “I traveled around the country and saw the people,” he recalls. “I fell in love with the people within five days. The respect they have, the respect the children have for their elders, the appreciation they show—it was just magnificent to me.”
He also recognized that there are many challenges to overcome in the day-to-day lifestyle of those living in Honduras. Of the 8 million people who live in Honduras, nearly 60 percent live below the poverty line—and that number jumps to 75 percent in the more rural areas of the country, according to Osman Hope, a faith-based organization that aims to help the families in Honduras.
Through a connection he made with one of his employees who had family in Honduras, Lavy discovered Osman Hope and the work the organization was doing in the San Pedro Sula region of Honduras. Osman Hope provides daytime supervision and nutritious food for children who would otherwise be left alone while their parents work. “They shelter about 150 kids during the day,” Lavy explains. “They have parents but they’re day orphans because their parents are gone during the day. We provide a shelter for them to go to and we enable them to go to school.”
Providing a structured environment gets many of these children off the streets and places a priority on early childhood education. “It’s mandatory to go to school until the sixth grade [in Honduras], but after that, they have to pay,” Lavy says. “That’s why we also support some with scholarships to go to high school.”
Unlike supporting U.S. families in need with organizations like Habitat for Humanity, the people of Honduras don’t have much need for donated building products like windows and doors. “In the third world, they’re lucky to have an opening for a window. It doesn’t make sense to send thermal windows down when they often don’t have glass in their windows,” he notes.
 
Ken Lavy, founder of Lavy Windows, believes the "biggest bang for the buck" in Honduras is supporting the educational system. He and his team contribute to day shelters that provide food, supervision and education to children in Honduras who would otherwise be orphaned during the day by working parents.  
Instead, Lavy dedicates money from his business—garnering additional support from community organizations like the Rotarians and his suppliers like Sunrise Windows—to buy building products native to Honduras. “Cement is a staple down there and they have treated wood products,” he says. “I can buy stuff from right here in the States and make sure it’s paid for.”
Lavy organized a trip to Honduras with 15 supporters to build two houses in the course of a week. The local Osman Hope team decided which families would receive the houses. “I have super honest people I trust and I don’t have to worry about a single nickel of support we send down there,” he says.
In addition to building a house for about $3,000, Lavy notes that supporters can send a child to school for a year for about $300, and providing a water treatment system for an entire community—a project Lavy spearheaded in recent years—can be accomplished for as little as $27,000. The response, he says, is overwhelming appreciation. “It’s like you’re a part of their family,” he says. When we did the water project, it was that way with the whole town. I still go back there to visit and they’re nothing but smiles.”
Lavy, who took over the family construction business in 1987 and transitioned the company to specialization in windows, doesn’t specifically market his involvement with Honduras to his customers, though he admits that his passion often comes through with the people he meets and his company’s customers. “I talk about it a lot because it’s a big passion of mine,” he says. “Even in sales presentations, it comes up a lot of times. There’s a certain percentage of people who like to know that the people they’re supporting in business are helping other people, but that’s not at all why we do it.”
A LASTING IMPACT
As a small company and a passionate individual supported by community organizations and other businesses, Lavy likes to think that the momentum he has built for supporting Honduras will continue for years to come. “I was once asked if I would like to help as many people in my retirement years as I do now,” he explains. “That question struck me and stuck with me. As much fun as I have doing this, I would hate to think that I couldn’t do it in retirement.”
So Lavy has begun supporting initiatives in Honduras that have self-sustaining aspects to them. For example, this fall, Lavy is helping a single mom get started with an incubator business. “The idea is that we’ll ship clothes down there to her so she can sell them in a store,” he says, noting that this concept may work for others as well.
More significantly, Lavy undertook a personal effort to supporting a bi-lingual school. He purchased 18 acres on which a fruit orchard will be planted. Not only will the orchard create local jobs, but the proceeds will support the private school. “As much as I’ve been down there, I see that the place you can make the biggest difference is with the kids and the education, starting in kindergarten. You can give someone a house, and that’s well and good, but if you can help a classroom full of kids, that’s going to do the best job long term.”
Lavy took a trip to Honduras this fall to check the status of the orchard project. The land, he says, is in the process of being cleared and the fruit trees will be planted shortly. Though it will take several years to produce fruit, the farm will be self sustaining for years to come. “I will turn it over to a foundation and it’ll just keep on going indefinitely,” Lavy reports.
 
 Lavy with a Honduran child on one of his recent trips to work in the Central American country.
COMPANIES THAT CARE
Supporting Honduras and the Osman Hope organization is time consuming and takes Lavy away from his business on occasion. Still, with the support of the Lavy Windows team, he does not consider his passion a burden on the business. “It absolutely is not [a burden],” Lavy says. “It would be more of a burden if somebody told me that I couldn’t do it. It’s such a big, important part of my life.”
Whether helping around the world or around the corner, Lavy feels strongly that businesses—no matter how big or small—have an obligation to find a way to give back. “Like most of us in the industry are, I’m an ingrained capitalist,” he says. “I think capitalism only works with compassion. They only work together.”
Sunrise Windows’ Delman says it’s a natural fit to partner with a company like Lavy Windows. “At the end of the day, it comes down to having a similar value system,” he says. “His goals mesh with what we’re trying to do as an organization. When we see people like Ken going the extra mile, it’s easy to say, ‘Yeah, we’ll help you on that.’”
Don Loomis, western regional sales manager for Sunrise Windows, has known Lavy for more than a decade and points out that his efforts in Honduras, in addition to his involvement with other community organizations, has earned Lavy the honor of Rotarian of the Year in his local chapter. “This is a great story of giving back at a very high and committed level,” he says.
 
Click here to see the other 2011 Dealers of the Year.

Contact Christina Lewellen, senior editor, at clewellen@glass.org.