Mobile, Mardi Gras serve as backdrop to this year’s Elevator Escalator Safety Foundation meeting, focused on communication and a commitment to kids.

An evening executive board meeting and Welcome Reception kicked off this year’s Elevator Escalator Safety Foundation (EESF) Annual General Meeting (AGM) held February 15-16 at the Renaissance Mobile Riverview Plaza Hotel in downtown Mobile, Alabama, home to both the EESF and Mardi Gras, which was underway during the time of the meeting.

Following Wednesday evening’s welcome, the EESF board members met Thursday morning for several hours before lunch to review their year and discuss future plans and projects. Chairman Tom Sybert presided over the morning board session, as well as the afternoon’s Annual Membership Meeting, which followed an Italian lunch, complete with fettucine Alfredo, pizza, spaghetti and meatballs and tiramisu.

Early in the Thursday morning proceedings, Sybert reminded all in attendance of the EESF’s mission, saying, “We are here to try and prevent accidents. That’s what we do. That’s the bottom line. All of your support is key, and no matter how difficult things are with procedures, etc., we need to stick with it.” Those statements set the tone for a day full of new ideas, updated information about the implementation of EESF’s new program and an agreed-upon need for increased communication to facilitate growth.

Following the Pledge of Allegiance led by Vice Chairman Mark Mullins and introductions around the room, all new incoming board members were announced. They include Ken Garst of Great Lakes Elevator Service, Inc., treasurer; T.Bruce MacKinnon of Elevator World, Inc., secretary; and Cornelius Walls of Formula Systems, National Association of Elevator Contractors (NAEC), representative. The group then accepted all new board members. Sybert announced he would remain as chairman for another year to help with the various board transitions, and Mullins would remain as vice chairman. Sybert called for board members to think of possible new members to nominate to the board in the future. 

As the business of the day began, Sybert relayed to the group the board meets once a month via conference call, which has been found to help plans move forward in a timelier manner. The changing of the fiscal year from July 1-June 30 to the calendar year is one such plan already approved, thanks to more regular meetings. The Foundation will also be changing accounting firms beginning April 1. According to Garst, the new Atlanta-based firm will allow for a “cleaner document that will result in more transparent financial reporting, which is exciting.”

Safe-T-Rider Update 

Sybert updated the group on the new Safe-T-Rider program, which was officially implemented this school year. EESF Program Director Laurie Dueitt said more than 40,000 printed program packets have been requested by schools, with 13,000 already mailed. More than 100,000 packets have been printed in anticipation of future requests for the 2016-2017 school year. While the digital program is also available, many schools still prefer the printed program, said Dueitt. While Dueitt currently puts together the packets for mailing, it was agreed that additional help may be needed toward this effort in the future.

EESF Executive Director Nikole Gore-Layton said the program is being promoted through advertising in NEA Today, a publication of the National Education Association, as well as through EESF’s website and social media outlets and on Google, thanks to a Google AdWords grant. “We applied and received a Google grant that gives us US$600 of free advertising a month, which has been a wonderful thing for us,” said Gore-Layton.

Sybert shared the Google Analytics of EESF’s website, and all agreed the numbers were quite low, with more views to the Safe-T-Rider page than all other program pages combined. The question was raised by Matt Pike of KONE whether having so many programs, including Rise Up Safe Rider, A Safe Ride and HomeSafe, takes away some of the value from EESF’s most popular program, Safe-T-Rider. Conversation ensued about ways to increase traffic to the various web pages. Gore-Layton said a marketing firm specializing in work with nonprofits has been hired to help market the program.

Pike proposed setting aside funds each year in anticipation of updating the program every 10 years, allowing it to stay relevant. “Change is hard, but it is inevitable,” Pike said. “We love the new program. Though KONE has its own program, we do our best to make sure both programs are out there. KONE will continue to push the Safe-T-Rider program.” Sheila Swett, executive director for the International Association of Elevator Consultants, agreed with Pike, saying, “We wholly support EESF. It is our industry charity, and my job is to make sure my members are aware of it, buy into its mission and contribute to it.”

Fundraising Efforts

Sybert reported that EESF’s fundraising efforts, led by Campaign Chairman Michael Langer, safety director for the IUEC, have proved fruitful so far this year, with more than US$70,000 raised toward the Foundation’s US$160,000 goal. “thyssenkrupp has come back donating US$25,000, NAEC has increased its donation, and IAEC has given extra in honor of its 25th anniversary. These are just a few donations to highlight. We are feeling really good about donations this year,” said Gore-Layton.

Sybert reminded the group that EESF is 100% funded by donations, and that it was the Foundation’s responsibility to show something in return for those donations. Members applauded the call to action and contributed ideas ranging from creating a sort-of “Where in the World is Safe-T Girl and Safe-T Boy?” social media game; scheduling the next AGM in conjunction with another major event to boost attendance; and having EESF staff attend and present at regional events, as well as at NAEC’s NexGen meetings, allowing the program to be introduced to new audiences.

As ideas were exchanged and refined, EESF Canada Chairman Gord Pattison stressed the need for increased and sustained communication to foster greater future success for the U.S. and Canadian programs.

Before the close of the day, new board members were installed, and retiring board members, Ricia Sturgeon-Hendrick of Elevator World, Inc.; Gary Saxon, formerly of Schindler; and Rob Merlo of The Merlo Agency, were recognized. Sturgeon-Hendrick, the only retiring member in attendance, was thanked for her 25 years of service to the Foundation by Sybert, who presented her with a plaque commemorating her work and featuring a refurbished CS-1 car switch, circa 1925-1935, courtesy of C.J. Anderson & Co.

Past board member Doug Witham helped end the day with eloquence, saying, “You guys should be proud of all you’ve done. The pureness of the thrust continues. The struggle has always been the same – for years – and there has been great progress.…. And, tonight, all drinks are on GAL.”

That evening EESF hosted a party at Veet’s, a downtown Mobile bar with a balcony overlooking the Mardi Gras parade route. Guests were treated to the Order of Polka Dots parade, which featured 15 floats and many local high school marching bands. Everyone enjoyed the challenge of catching beads, Moon Pies and all manner of trinkets almost as much as watching the efficient City of Mobile clean-up crews strip the streets of barricades and debris once the parade was done. As one attendee put it: “It’s like it never happened. Impressive.” It was indeed an impressive end to a productive two days.

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Elevator World Editor / VP of Editorial