For small businesses, doing good is part of the job For small businesses, doing good is part of the job

For small businesses, doing good is part of the job

Duke Energy recognizes small businesses that make giving back to the community part of their mission


Small businesses are a powerful economic engine and a catalyst for good in their communities. During National Small Business Week (May 5-11), Duke Energy is spotlighting small businesses in its service area that are dedicated to giving back.

May is Duke Energy In Action month, when the company emphasizes community service and encourages employees to volunteer in their communities. During small business week, Duke Energy employees are volunteering side by side with employees from the small businesses.

These organizations share Duke Energy’s commitment to community service and charitable giving. And, they prove that every small company, from a mom-and-pop shop to a high-tech startup, can make a big difference.

Starling Marine organized volunteer efforts after Hurricane Florence
Morehead City, N.C.



Brothers Bryan and David Starling grew up boating and fishing at Atlantic Beach, N.C.

They opened Starling Marine 11 years ago, and it’s truly a family business: Holly Starling, Bryan’s wife, and Dana Starling, David’s wife, play integral roles.

The company has sponsored fishing tournaments to raise money for families in need and provided a boat that was raffled to raise money for the Do It For Drew Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing deaths caused by medical errors.

Last year, Team Starling moved into high gear after Hurricane Florence did extensive damage to the area. Starling Marine’s showroom became a makeshift command center in the storm’s aftermath, despite having part of the roof blown off. “Our roof was leaking,” Holly Starling said, “but we worked around it.”

Word soon spread that people could call the Starlings for help. Entire families – well over 100 people – came to the business to offer assistance. As calls for help came in, volunteer crews were dispatched to tarp roofs, cut down trees that had fallen on roofs or were blocking driveways, clean up debris and more. They helped locate temporary housing for people whose houses were uninhabitable. They even siphoned gas from their boats to supply fuel to people in need.

One of Starling’s boat manufacturers, Regulator Marine, donated $10,000 to Carteret Warriors for Recovery to buy mattresses. Holly Starling is a board member of this nonprofit started after the storm. The all-female volunteer group has assisted more than 450 families.

“Our business became like a church,” Holly Starling said. “It turned into a community gathering spot for families to volunteer, have fellowship and support each other.” 

AC&M Group encourages clients to get involved in the community
Charlotte, N.C.



Since their founding 15 years ago, AC&M Group has used cultural insights to help clients connect with consumers. “Culture goes beyond race and ethnicity,” said Natalia Flores, AC&M Group’s PR director. “If you have outdated perceptions of society, you’ll miss your target.”

While AC&M Group is Latino-owned, their work goes beyond the Hispanic market. They help clients engage with consumers in a variety of segments – the African American community, the LGBTQ community, sports fans and others. 

“Our passion is building bridges of access,” said Flores. That goes especially for underserved populations. “Every opportunity we have, we educate clients on civic responsibility.” 

AC&M Group encourages clients (including Blue Cross NC, Bojangles’, National Gypsum, SOCCER.COM, Sherwin-Williams and more) to make community service part of their marketing plans. The agency also considers diversity and inclusion an essential component of marketing. “It’s not an add-on,” Flores said. 

Some AC&M Group clients are nonprofits whose mission involves enriching lives. Quest is a new outdoor recreation and education center in north Mecklenburg County. Nestled inside the Latta Nature Preserve, Quest is to open in 2020.

Creative Player, an organization offering after-school youth soccer in a safe environment, is another community partner. “Soccer really pulls at our heartstrings,” said Flores. “It’s an important sport for many cultures.”  

The agency does more than counsel clients to be community-minded. They lead by example. Company principals volunteer with organizations including the Latin American Chamber of Commerce and the YMCA.

Bayer Becker’s employees volunteer with a variety of nonprofits
Cincinnati, Ohio



Being active in the community goes with the territory at Bayer Becker. The design consulting firm has four offices in the region, and employees are encouraged to be active in their communities. It’s a local focus aimed at making a difference close to home.

Bob Garlock, vice president of landscape architecture and planning, serves on five boards in Warren County, Ohio, where he lives. Some – the Urban Land Institute and the Hamilton Township Zoning Commission – are related to his field. Others are philanthropic. Project Excellence, for instance, recognizes outstanding teachers from all school districts in Warren County, at their annual awards dinner.

On Earth Day, Garlock’s team volunteered as a group. They asked Voice of America Metropark, a 435-acre park with a stocked lake and 9 miles of trails, how they could help in a “done-in-a-day” project. The park needed new signs installed. Bayer Becker delivered.

More than one-third of Bayer Becker’s 55 employees – civil and transportation engineers, land surveyors, landscape architects and city planners – volunteer with at least one organization, and most volunteer with multiple nonprofits, said Garlock. From Boy Scouts of America to public schools, from Rotary clubs to the Cincinnati Zoo and from animal rescue to Habit for Humanity, Bayer Becker employees are involved with a variety of disciplines.

Besides taking care of communities, Bayer Becker puts a premium on taking care of the environment. “We believe ecology and ecological stewardship,” the company’s website says, “are an inseparable part of [the human] environment.”

Bowles Mattress Co. wants every child to have a bed of their own
Jeffersonville, Ind.



Opal and George Bowles started their mattress company in 1975. Today, their three grown children – two daughters and a son – run the company. And they manage it with the same values George and Opal instilled in them.

“My mom always thought we were uniquely qualified to provide a product people need,” said their son, Billy Bowles, president. “If people are in a situation where they don’t have a bed – they’re homeless, recently out of prison or a storm or fire has destroyed their home, Mom felt we were blessed to be able to help. One thing everyone needs is a place to sleep.”

The company often works with organizations charged with helping people in need – United Way, Salvation Army, Red Cross, churches, Veterans Administration. “We look for where the need is greatest,” Billy Bowles said. The company has donated or discounted thousands of mattresses over the years, including about 1,000 to the many Build a Bed events the company has been involved with. 

Those events could be led by AmeriCorps, Metro United Way, schools, churches or Sleep In Heavenly Peace, a national nonprofit with the goal of ensuring every child has a bed of his or her own. On community Build A Bed days, community members, including high school and vocational school students, build beds from scratch.

Bowles Mattress employees have come together dozens of times with other community members to provide beds for students who teachers identified as being without a bed of their own.

“This is such a cool project,” Billy Bowles said. “So many people help out – teachers, students, parents, corporate sponsors, retirees, agencies, materials suppliers – wood, hardware, pillows, refreshments. It’s a team effort.”

Community Health Centers of Pinellas takes a holistic approach
Tampa/St. Petersburg, Fla.



The team at Community Health Centers of Pinellas (CHCP) believes there should be no barriers to high-quality health care. That’s why the organization operates 12 centers throughout the Tampa/St. Petersburg region. Many are in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods and allow people to walk in for care. All 12 centers are located along bus routes, offer appointments and see walk-in patients. Many have extended and Saturday hours.

A patient-centered approach is aimed at treating the whole person, said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Nichelle Threadgill. “A patient may walk in to be treated for just a cut, but we’re going to try to get an overall picture of their health. For example, we’ll look at your immunization status and ask if you’ve been screened for, say, cervical cancer. Our goal is to look at you in a holistic way and to impact your long-term care and quality of life.” 

Community Health Centers of Pinellas County employs only board-certified pediatricians and family practice providers. CHCP also offers specialists in obstetrics and gynecology, dentistry nutritionists, chiropractic and behavioral health. In 2018, the staff saw more than 55,000 patients – many of them uninsured or underinsured. Most patients are on Medicaid. They charge on a sliding scale so that patients pay what they can, if they can. Everyone is welcome, regardless of their ability to pay.

The centers play a role in training future medical professionals. They work with dental and medical schools and their residency programs to train tomorrow’s health care leaders.

Community affiliations are essential in the work the staff does. The staff volunteers with Habitat for Humanity, local schools and the Police Athletic League. CHCP cares for patients – and the community as a whole.

C-Forward helps nonprofits with IT services and encourages employees to volunteer
Covington, Ky.



For 20 years, C-Forward has provided businesses and nonprofits in Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky with IT services and software. During those two decades, the company has been a catalyst for good.

Reliability is one of the company’s cornerstones. “Clients know they can depend on us,” said Dale Silver, vice president of client services. “We’re on call 24/7.”

Brent Cooper founded C-Forward in his basement in 1999. Today, the company operates out of a historic downtown building. Cooper is now board chair, having left day-to-day management two years ago when he became president of the North Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

“Brent always had a give-back attitude,” Silver said. “‘If it’s good for the community, it’s good for us’ was his thought. And it’s still our belief.”

Many of the causes C-Forward supports are rooted in their clients’ areas of expertise, which are as diverse as child advocacy, support for people dealing with addiction, and ending homelessness. The company supports the Heart Mini-Marathon, Autism Speaks and provides ongoing funding for Maker Space, a collaborative educational workspace for kids to make, learn and explore. In addition, C-Forward is a major sponsor of BLINK, a four-day, public art installation in Cincinnati that’s expanding to Covington in 2019.

Employees are encouraged to volunteer. For every two hours of volunteer work an employee performs, they’re eligible for an hour of paid time off. Silver served as president of the Rosie Reds, a philanthropic organization founded in 1964 to support the Cincinnati Reds. Today, the group supports nine area colleges and Kid Glove Organization.

Recently, C-Forward outfitted an entire computer lab at the Lincoln Grant Scholar House, a home for single parents who are full-time college students. The company donated 15 computers and provided the setup and supports the ongoing computer maintenance.

Gunnells Marine helps keep Lake Greenwood clean
Greenwood, S.C.



Gwen and Barney Gunnells started Gunnells Marine Unlimited in 1986, but their love for water sports goes back even further.

They were raised on Lake Greenwood, S.C. Barney Gunnells grew up boat racing with his father and two brothers. Both have always been competitive water skiers. The lake is home to them. “It’s just 26 miles long,” Gwen Gunnells said. “It’s quiet and calm – a small lake suited to smaller boats.” 

Barney Gunnells began working in the industry in 1970 when he was 14. He worked for Greenwood Marine as an outboard technician and ultimately bought the business.

Gunnells Marine also serves Lakes Hartwell, Keowee, Russell, Rabon, Strom Thurmond and Murray. Clemson University and other colleges have water sports teams. The high school even has a fishing team. Gunnells Marine often outfits those teams with equipment. The Gunnells contribute to high school fishing teams and Lander University’s water ski team.

The company leads the effort to keep Lake Greenwood clean. The staff also volunteers with Preserving Lake Greenwood to keep the lake and the shoreline clean. “We’ll take a work boat out and haul whatever comes out of the lake,” Gwen Gunnells said. They’ve found tires, broken docks, two catamaran floats.

They’re big on safety. And every Gunnells’ Marine boat comes equipped with a Coast Guard kit as well as an on water instructional lesson for driving and docking.

Gwen Gunnells plays an active role in Connect Lake Greenwood, a volunteer group that promotes lake activities such as concerts, movies, boat runs and July Fourth fireworks.

In 2017, Connect Lake Greenwood created a walking and biking trail along the lakeshore at Greenwood State Park. (A Duke Energy grant helped create the trail.) The 3 ½-mile trail offers long and short routes and beautiful views of the lake that’s central to life in Greenwood. 

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