A unique way to care

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A Georgia-based landscaping company hired a chaplain to support its staff through difficult circumstances and change.

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October 13, 2020

Crews at Cumberland Landscape Group benefit from having a chaplain employed by the company.
Photo courtesy of Cumberland Landscape Group

For Cumberland Landscape Group, it has been a year of rejoicing, difficulty and change: Two employees had children and two employees lost their mothers. COVID-19 hit and a few of its employees got sick. As it affected the Atlanta-area, Cumberland experienced a delay in work.

Employees feared for their jobs, health and families, says CEO Billy Van Eaton.

Van Eaton and his leadership team then considered their employees’ needs and how they could create an employee-assistance program. He wanted his employees to have an outlet and a resource in the company for their mental and spiritual needs.

Picking a service.

While gathering ideas, he says he listened to a podcast named “Faith-Driven Entrepreneur” that discussed hiring a company chaplain, who supervises them and how to do it. This was a new idea to Van Eaton.

“I’ve known about chaplains for a long time. I haven’t really heard about them in the business world. I’ve heard about them for sports teams, schools, stuff like that,” he says.

From there, Van Eaton investigated a few organizations and decided to contact Corporate Chaplains of America. After speaking to a few representatives from the company and feeling the organization aligned with his faith and his company’s core values, he met Chaplain Tim Mitchell.

Mitchell worked in the corporate world before going to seminary and becoming a chaplain. He studied Spanish and lived in Latin and South America for years, so he able to communicate well with Cumberland’s largely Latino workforce. “I speak Spanish, not great anymore,” Van Eaton says. “So, the fact that Tim can connect very easily with our guys, I think it’s huge. Again, we want to try to remove barriers as much as possible and language is one of those barriers that exist.”

Speaking Spanish was a requirement Van Eaton had for hiring on a chaplain. After multiple interviews, Van Eaton hired him.

The price is determined by the number of employees and since Cumberland only has about 50 employees, Mitchell costs $600 per month to keep on staff.

By being fluent in Spanish, Chaplain Tim Mitchell was able to connect with Cumberland’s largely Latino workforce.

Making a difficult choice.

Prior to hiring, Van Eaton says he discussed this decision with his leadership team, who was hesitant to hire a chaplain.

Despite sharing a similar faith, his team thought it was inappropriate for the corporate workplace and crossed too many lines.

He stayed persistent, showing them how a chaplain could help as many of the changes in life occurred in his employees. After a couple of months, the team began to support the idea, Van Eaton says.

“I think what really won me over was just understanding the day-to-day stress that everybody has in this environment,” says Pernell Roberts, VP of operations at Cumberland.

“It’s stressful enough because you deal with the elements and everything else that’s going on. And then, you throw in this COVID thing that just that hit and it just kind of shook the foundation for everybody… So, I felt like having that service available now stood out to me more than ever before.”

This idea wasn’t out-of-character for Van Eaton. He prayed before board meetings at a previous company, had led a Bible study at Cumberland and openly discusses his faith in the office, but despite this he still wasn’t completely confident with the idea.

“I definitely felt some nervousness. I just didn’t know how it would go to be honest… my nervous side is less than it was when we started, but we’re dealing with people which are unpredictable,” he says.

He had considered going with a secular option by hiring his brother, a counselor, to help at the company. He says he didn’t want to try out multiple ideas to see what works. Rather, he wanted to “pick a lane” and choose one service to invest heavily on.

“I never pulled the trigger on it,” he says. “I liked the faith idea, I guess.

“I liked that he could be nimble enough that he could be just a counselor, or he could be kind of a pastor and get pastoral care. So, I liked the combo.”

Employees are under no obligation to speak with the chaplain, who is also on call 24-7.

The chaplain’s services.

Mitchell comes in twice a week, both on Mondays: once for the a.m. dispatch crew and again for the branch meetings, Roberts says. He opens the meetings with a thought, which covers a variety of subjects like personal finance, wisdom, love and having a positive attitude at work. He will quote scripture, but Van Eaton says it does not resemble a sermon much. After this, he prays.

Mitchell comes to company to get to know people and build relationships. He doesn’t push anyone to talk about anything personal and he keeps everything confidential.

“(When Mitchell’s there,) he just gets to know people, so there’s no strict format,” Van Eaton says. “He’ll talk to people and ask about their families or their weekend, or, you know, and just kind of guide through conversation and see if people want to go deeper.”

Some want to go deeper in conversation and really enjoy Mitchell’s presence, some don’t and some are still unsure. Van Eaton doesn’t want anyone to feel pressured to talk with Mitchell. He says he wants them to think of the chaplain as a resource if someone needs him, as a counselor or spiritual advisor.

“I think people need to be talking about (difficult situations in their lives),” Van Eaton says. “Those things need to be brought into light so that people don’t feel like they’re carrying them by themselves, and the hope is that (Mitchell) can be someone that can help walk along people and be a comfort for them.”

Roberts says he understands the importance of this kind of service for his employees.

“I think about people that are dealing with mental illness and people are just walking around you every day and you just have no idea of the burdens that carrying and the weight that they have on their shoulders,” he says. “And I think having that service, having that available to them is, to me, it can be life altering for that for them, because they have someone that they can talk to and they can get help if they need further assistance.”

Van Eaton says Mitchell can offer advice on many subjects: how to raise children, how to make a marriage work and how to create a budget for their families. He focuses a lot on finances because he came out of the financial world and is knowledgeable about it.

Mitchell is also on-call. If an employee calls him, he will call back within 15 minutes, no matter the time. If he doesn’t, Corporate Chaplains of America puts a pinging noise on his phone until he calls back. If this doesn’t work, a chaplain in a higher position or a regional manager get involved, Van Eaton says.

The new normal. Mitchell has been there for several months now. Roberts says it was a bit odd for some of the employees in the beginning: it was new, they didn’t know who he is, they didn’t know if he was going to push his beliefs on them. They were suspicious and reluctant to speak with him. Now, Roberts says they love him. He knows many of them by name and they respond to him when he comes in and talks. “I think has been a great – the chemistry that he’s been able to build in this short period of time,” he says. “My guys are in and out. We’re talking 15 minutes in the morning, so you don’t have a whole lot of time to build relationships, but he’s able to do that.” The only complaint Van Eaton has received about Mitchell is that the chaplain spoke for too long, about 20 minutes, before one of the team meetings. He feels more comfortable with the service the longer Mitchell is there. He hasn’t seen a big impact on the company yet but is standing by it to see where it goes. “And I think that in some sense, like with the chaplain, it’s kind of like we’re on an adventure,” he says. “We’re going to see what happens.”

Woodland Environment in Ohio joins LandCare

Woodland Environment was founded in 2016 by two industry veterans in Columbus.

In July, Woodland Environment owners Jeff Rupp and Craig Nye sold their company to LandCare, becoming partners in the business.

Woodland Environment was created in 2016 when landscape veterans Rupp and Nye created their commercial landscape management business to serve the real estate industry in Columbus. With over 30 years of combined landscaping experience, they saw an opportunity to offer personal service backed by a strong commitment to quality work and a great environment for employees to grow, according to a company press release.

When they first considered merging their business, they wanted to ensure they found a partner that would allow them to stay connected to the team they had built while providing the support and autonomy to continue to grow within the market, the press release said.

“LandCare gave us the opportunity to continue to run the business as partners, with the confidence that our values and principles would never be compromised,” Rupp said. “When considering the implications of joining a larger company, that was it for us. It was LandCare or continue on our own.”

Independent of LandCare, Rupp and Nye were building a healthy company; however, they found there were aspects of the business that made it difficult to navigate.

Woodland Environment owners Jeff Rupp and Craig Nye will stay on after the company was sold to LandCare.

“LandCare brought us access to resources that really took the day-to-day administrative work out of the equation,” Nye added.

“Now, we’re allowed to focus entirely on growing relationships with our customers and team members while expanding our business at a much higher rate. We are still owners and are still deeply committed to this business, but now we have the backing of a larger support team dedicated to helping us grow.”

LandCare is a national company serving over 20 states across the country. Once publicly traded and subsequently owned by private equity investors, it is now privately held by its leaders.

“We have constancy of purpose,” said Mike Bogan, CEO of LandCare. “We have a long-term perspective on building our company the right way. We focus on organic growth and see these acquisitions as a means of expansion only when we can bring likeminded team members that are aligned to our core values together. I’ve known, worked with and respected Jeff and Craig for many years. They fit perfectly into our team and it’s exciting to work together with them again.”

Woodland Environment has already rebranded as LandCare.

Argonne Capital invests in Schill Grounds Management

In partnership with Schill, the private investment firm is seeking additional acquisitions in the commercial landscaping industry.

ATLANTA — Argonne Capital Group has made a controlling investment in Schill Grounds Management, a privately held commercial landscaping company based in Cleveland.

Proceeds from the investment funded shareholder liquidity and the acquisition of McCoy Landscape Services, a complementary landscaping company in Marion, Ohio. The investment paves the way for Argonne and Schill to make additional investments in the commercial landscaping industry.

Schill was founded more than two decades ago by Jerry Schill, who will continue to serve as CEO and maintain a meaningful ownership stake.

Argonne was attracted to the commercial landscape market because of its recurring non-discretionary revenue model, fragmentation and natural resistance to economic cycles. In partnership with Schill, the private investment firm is actively seeking additional acquisitions in the commercial landscaping industry.

“Jerry Schill and his team have set the standard for best-in-class service in Northeast Ohio for more than 25 years and shown remarkable resilience during the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Bill Weimar, managing director at Argonne. “Argonne is excited to be partnering with the Schill team to support the company’s efforts to accelerate growth organically and through acquisitions.”

Since founding the company in 1993, Jerry Schill has led Schill Grounds Management through periods of expansion. The company added multiple locations in Northeast Ohio to serve the year-round landscaping and snow and ice removal needs of over 700 multi-family, commercial, office, health care and industrial properties.

“Argonne will be a great partner to help us execute the next chapter of growth,” Schill said. “The firm brings a significant amount of expertise to our organization and has a history of working with closely-held businesses like Schill to achieve great results. I am excited to leverage the combined experience of Schill, McCoy and Argonne to provide a customer experience that is unmatched in the industry.”

Advisors on the transaction were Jeff Harkness of Three Point Group and King & Spalding LLP. Plexus Capital provided senior debt financing for the investment.

SavATree acquires Jordan’s Tree Moving & Maintenance

SavATree will incorporate Jordan’s into its existing Fort Collins, Colorado, branch.

BEDFORD HILLS, N.Y. – SavATree, which offers tree, shrub and lawn care, has acquired Jordan’s Tree Moving & Maintenance of Fort Collins, Colorado.

Jordan’s Tree Moving & Maintenance is one of the largest local tree care and tree transplanting companies in the Front Range. They have been servicing customers in Northern Colorado and Wyoming since 1984. SavATree will incorporate Jordan’s into its existing Fort Collins, Colorado branch.

Jordan’s service offerings range from tree pruning and trimming to tree transplanting and removals. In addition to current offerings, clients will now have access to a wider range of services including professional lawn care, plant health care, organic options and consulting services.

“We are thrilled to join forces with Jordan’s Tree Moving & Maintenance. Our shared commitment to exceptional service and customer satisfaction will ensure a smooth transition for all clients and allow us to expand our reach in the west," said SavATree’s Executive Chairman Daniel van Starrenburg. "This acquisition builds on the successful acquisition of Mountain High Tree, Lawn & Landscape and Swingle Lawn, Tree & Landscape Care.”

“We have always been very committed to providing the highest quality service to our customers,” said Jordan’s Tree Moving & Maintenance owner David Jordan. “Finding a company with that same philosophy makes this a terrific match.”

Perennial Plant Association honors three landscape designers

The entries comprise 11 categories based on residential, commercial, educational and temporary/seasonal designs.

Entries are evaluated on effectiveness of herbaceous perennial plant material used through the implementation of new cultivars, color combinations, textures and seasonal combinations.
Photo courtesy of Land Morphology

During the Perennial Plant Association’s 2020 virtual Annual Meeting, three landscape design companies were recognized for their exemplary projects. The entries comprise 11 categories based on residential, commercial, educational, temporary/seasonal designs and price of production.

Initiated in 1992, the Landscape Design Awards program recognizes design projects that are exemplary in use of herbaceous perennials to help create balanced and beautiful landscapes. The “after market” applications of the growers’ products and the design, installation and maintenance of plants in gardens and natural settings are also of special interest to the Perennial Plant Association.

Each year, judges evaluate the landscape designs and select the best entries based on the effectiveness of herbaceous perennial plant material used through the implementation of new cultivars, color combinations, textures and seasonal combinations.

This year’s recipients included Campion Hruby Landscape Architects, Tony Spencer and Richard Hartlage and Garrett Devier.

This year’s recipients include:

• Campion Hruby Landscape Architects received two Honor Awards for their Children’s Garden at Hospice of the Chesapeake project and Skywater project. They also received a Merit Award for their Tudor House project. Per the PPA press release:

The judges felt the Children’s Garden at Hospice of the Chesapeake was a truly impactful project. Done with a shoestring budget and generous donations from the local landscape industry, the Children’s Garden is designed to “create a sanctuary of healing, reflection and sharing for families that were suffering unthinkable pain.”

The team “loved the idea of a highly modern structure set into a wild, unruly landscape” for the Skywater project and the landscape architects were able to “influence how position and rotation to take advantage of waterfront views, avoid damaging existing trees and minimize grading.”

The Tudor House project featured an urban property where the landscape architects included “large swaths of native shrubs and colorful perennials (that) drift through the garden, pulling together new and old spaces.”

• Tony Spencer: The New Perennialist received an Honor Award for The New Perennial Pond Garden project. This project was designed in 2016 and “is a local Canadian expression of the New Perennial movement in naturalistic planting design, whose ethos is about making gardens in symbiosis with nature.”

• Richard Hartlage & Garrett Devier with Land Morphology received an Honor Award for their Creekside Contemporary Residence project. This project transformed a former horse pasture into a 5.6-acre garden that “offers a series of garden rooms programmed for family-oriented activities.”

Saunders Brothers helps renovate White House Rose Garden

In June, the Saunders were invited to the White House to consult with a few landscape architecture firms.

Employees of Saunders Brothers were on site for the unveiling of the White House’s newly renovated Rose Garden in August.
Photo courtesy of Saunders Brothers

PINEY RIVER, Va. – Saunders Brothers and NewGen Boxwood, introduced by Saunders Genetics, were involved in the renovation of the White House Rose Garden, unveiled to the public by First Lady Melania Trump in August.

In June, the Saunders were invited to the White House to consult with landscape architecture firms Perry Guillot and Oehme, van Sweden and Associates on options for boxwood cultivars. This collaboration was the first step in a process that culminated in the selection and installation of over 400 Saunders Brothers boxwood, including 350 NewGen Independence from the NewGen Boxwood collection.

Saunders Brothers advised the project committee in the selection of better Boxwood Blight resistant NewGen Independence for the formal parterre hedges. Identifying Boxwood Blight resistant cultivars for the update was specifically a part of the master planning.