Finding Common Ground in Unexpected Places
Jim King never takes his ability to walk, see or hear for granted. For the past three years, he has volunteered as a ski coach with Common Ground Outdoor Adventures, which provides life-enhancing outdoor recreation for over 3,600 youth and adults in Utah with disabilities. Programs include skiing, fishing, hiking, biking, rafting, rock climbing, ice skating, snowshoeing and more.
Jim has worked at Kimberly-Clark’s Ogden manufacturing facility in Utah for over 31 years, and he currently serves as a maintenance team leader. He said that Kimberly-Clark is “the best thing that ever happened” to him from a career standpoint.
“I have been able to work in so many different jobs alongside incredible teammates and pursue all of my aspirations,” said Jim. “Plus, I love working for a company that produces essential products and makes people’s lives better on a daily basis. That’s pretty special.”
Jim said that Kimberly-Clark gives its employees the avenue to make an impact, and that the company empowers everyone to use their unique skills, talents and gifts to strengthen and care for their communities. Earlier this year, the company announced a goal to advance the well-being of 1 billion people in underserved communities around the world by 2030, and each of its employees plays a pivotal role in making that goal a reality.
Never take your health for granted
Jim has been an avid alpine skier ever since he was a kid. When he heard about Common Ground’s mission, he jumped at the opportunity to share his passion for the sport with others – especially those who wouldn’t otherwise have an opportunity to experience the thrill and freedom that comes with skiing down a mountain.
On Saturdays from December through March, Jim and several other volunteers greet youth and adults at Beaver Mountain, where they make sure to meet each individual’s unique needs from the moment they arrive. The disabilities vary, but many are blind, deaf, mute and/or unable to walk. Ensuring that everyone has the appropriate equipment, is safe and feels comfortable is critical.
“Volunteering with Common Ground has given me a new perspective on the diversity of people and a deep appreciation for my health. Many of us take so much for granted when we have a lot to be grateful for…imagine what your life would be like if you couldn’t walk, see or hear? That’s the reality for many of the kids and adults I have the privilege of spending time with each week.”
Safety always comes first at Common Ground, and Jim translates his safety mindset from his job at Kimberly-Clark to his volunteering efforts. He has adopted a lot of the safety protocols from the plant to the slopes. For Jim, safety is an attitude, and he tries to model it every day in his professional and personal life.
Jim checks to ensure that every individual wears the proper high-visibility gear, that all equipment undergoes a thorough safety inspection prior to use, and that the team has a plan in place in case something goes awry on the slopes or an individual has a medical issue. Jim also confirms that he has back-up support at all times.
Define success differently
Everyone’s goals are different when they arrive at Beaver Mountain. Jim once spent a lot of time helping a little girl put on ski boots and a snowsuit, but she ran out of energy due to her medical condition before they even walked on the snow. Her victory for the day was simply experiencing the thrill of wearing ski gear for a few minutes.
Others just want to experience what it feels like to stand up on skis, while others only need a little help getting into a ‘bucket’ after a chairlift ride before Jim and others accompany them down the mountain.
“Seeing the smiles on their faces and hearing their laughter is why I do this. At the end of the day, I may get more out of this experience than the people I’m trying to help.”
Alex Ristorcelli serves as the program director at Common Ground and said that the nonprofit relies on volunteers to fulfill the mission of the organization.
“We simply couldn’t operate our programs without people like Jim,” he said. “He exemplifies what we look for in a volunteer – he has patience, a kind heart and is compassionate. Showing up literally and figuratively for our clients is critical, and Jim embraces this mentality.”
The volunteers at Common Ground help create a sense of community and belonging for everyone involved. “We may all have different stories,” said Ristorcelli. “But we’re a family here and share a common ground.”
Leadership starts with care
Jim’s work with Common Ground reminded him that we all want to be heard and valued – regardless of any physical or mental disabilities, and regardless of our age or life stage. We should never make assumptions. We all have different strengths, weaknesses and challenges, and Jim said it’s how we choose to tackle those challenges that matters most.
His work with Common Ground has also impacted how he approaches leadership in his job at Kimberly-Clark.
“We have such a caring culture here at the plant, and it’s something I try to embody every day as a leader. My goal is to lead with care and put people in places where they can flourish and succeed,” said Jim. “I try to do the same when I’m working with Common Ground. Success looks different for everyone, and sometimes it’s having the courage to put on the ski boots when you can’t see what’s in front of you.”