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Highlights | Giving back is part of IT Services culture

  • Approximately 140 UW Medicine Information Technology Services (ITS) employees volunteered for the third annual ITS Cares community service campaign.
  • ITS Cares hosted 11 in-person events, 11 craft projects and eight item drives.
  • The five-week event contributed nearly $50,000 of value in donated time and items to area nonprofit organizations.

When you think of UW Medicine Information Technology Services (ITS), you probably focus on software upgrades and big medical records projects. Community service efforts like beach clean-ups, no-sew blankets and headstone cleanings likely don’t pop to mind. But they should.

(Left to right): Paul Haak, Eric Neil. Headstone cleaning volunteer work.

Each October, the department engages in a five-week community service project called ITS Cares. This year’s event supported 43 nonprofit organizations. Volunteers worked on 31 projects, contributing nearly $50,000 of value through donated time and items.

“This is a passion project for those of us involved,” says Stephanie Schuster, the analytics principal business analyst who spearheads ITS Cares. “We look forward to it every year, like a big gala or wedding. It’s the adrenaline and warm fuzzies that come from doing things for other people.”

The origin of ITS Cares

ITS Cares is an initiative designed to bring joy and meet community needs. But it was conceived as a happiness-boosting effort for department employees during the pandemic. Schuster says she modeled it after the team-building exercises the department used nearly a decade ago during a large electronic medical records project.

“When our entire department went remote during COVID-19, morale took a big tumble as we worked in isolation,” she says. “We needed something to bring mojo back to our department — something to make us rally around a shared mission.”

The answer was a multi-week community service project filled with activities employees could complete at home or in socially distanced ways. For the first ITS Cares in 2021, Schuster and her colleagues organized 25 events, including beach clean-ups and craft projects like crocheting hats for patients.

In 2021, 78 IT Services employees (13% of the department) and 30 of their friends and family participated. They held 25 events that supported 23 nonprofit groups. That year, contributions to the community topped $16,500.

For the second year, Schuster and the ITS Cares planning team started planning early. They used email, Teams messages and a SharePoint site to help interested employees sign up for events. Their efforts succeeded. In 2022, 114 employees and 50 friends and family participated. They held 30 events that supported 22 nonprofit organizations. Their contributions resulted in more than $28,000 of value through donated time and items.

Success in 2023

ITS Cares had its largest, most successful year in 2023. The team hosted 11 in-person events, completed 11 craft projects and organized eight item drives.

Schuster attributes the success to the ITS planning committee’s role in organizing the effort: Nina Etier, Vanessa Lipton, Elena Moreno, Reco Kirksey, Gian-Luca Matsuda, Angelic Hinton and Rafiq Rahim. Plus, the roughly 140 employees — nearly 25% of the department — and 82 friends and family who were involved.

The wide range of in-person events included a heart and stroke walk, a Halloween party for Seattle Children’s Hospital and food distribution for a local food bank. Employees got crafty, making various items, including tie-dye sheet sets, decorated reusable grocery bags, travel-size soaps for rest stops and blankets for palliative care patients. In addition, they collected books, baby supplies, toys and pet supplies.

Nina Etier, volunteering at local food bank.

Altogether, Schuster says, their contributions led to a banner year. Their volunteer efforts totaled $48,775 of value through donated time and items.

The impact of ITS Cares

Schuster says ITS Cares consistently exceeds expectations for the nonprofit organizations it supports. Since the pandemic, many groups have seen fewer volunteers contributing time and services. In contrast, ITS Cares overperforms.

“The reaction from the groups we work with is like a jaw hitting the floor. They’re amazed at the quantity of whatever we bring to their table,” she says. “For example, we made 150 pet blankets for a nonprofit animal adoption center last year. This year, we completed 176.”

Donated pet blankets.

Schuster says ITS Cares does as much for their team as it does for the community.

“We lost a little of our normal lives during the pandemic. We’ve all experienced burnout and negativity in the world,” she says. “With ITS Cares, we can come together to complete a positive activity that hits all the good things in human life. We get that sense of connection and a huge dopamine rush that comes from volunteering and giving as part of a team.”