23 April 2018 Culture

Elastic Builders Return from Volunteer Time Off in Mexico

By Jay McDonald

Last year, a neighbor friend convinced me to join a service trip headed to Honduras for 5 days to distribute shoes to children for the new school year. I’d been looking for more ways I could give back to the universe for all the good fortune I’ve had and this seemed like just the way to do that. The shoes were needed and very much appreciated by these low-income families, but more importantly, the shoes were a means to engage directly with children who do not get much exposure to people outside of their communities.

We worked with local community leaders to determine the most needy children, measured their feet, and provided them with their new shoes. Along the way, we'd play, tell stories about our own families, and share smiles and laughs. We had long days and it was hard work at times, but in the end, the gift I gave was to myself. I came away from it feeling enriched and I wanted to share the story with my co-workers, so I sent a simple email suggesting that people consider taking some time away from work, their families, and their friends to go volunteer.

I got a ton of supportive replies from Elasticians who were also looking for ways they could do more. Then, amazingly, not too long after that note, the company got an email from Shay (our CEO) and Leah (our head of HR) announcing our Volunteer Time Off (VTO) and Charitable Donation Matching programs. My wheels started turning immediately. I started researching ways that I could organize a group to go do something good, something fun, something together. It took me a few months to decide to partner with Habitat for Humanity International and get an invitation out to begin recruiting a team of Elasticians, but it only took ten hours to fill the trip with the participants needed. We were a diverse group across departments, age, gender, and even continents. Through personal investment, crowdfunding, and the matching program, we were able to raise $12,000 in donations for Habitat for Humanity to be applied to the actual home-build project we worked on.

The trip itself was magical. We converged upon San Cristóbal de las Casas in the highlands of the Chiapas region of Mexico to spend a week working alongside an indigenous Mayan family to build a safe and sturdy home. We showed up on day one with positivity and a willingness to take on any job required: shoveling, mixing concrete, bending rebar, laying cinder blocks. Naturally, there were language and cultural barriers -- initially, there was a cordial distance between us and the host family. But that quickly developed into conversation and laughs -- and eventually hugs and tears when we put down our hammers on the final day. The amazing connections we made, the relationships we were able to build, and the lifelong memories we made for ourselves are hard to express.

We each lived our own journey that put us in Mexico in March 2018, and it was a personal decision we each wrestled with, especially since this was a very difficult time of the year: following Elastic{ON}, the Engineering All-Hands meetings, and during the 4th quarter of the fiscal year. It required significant sacrifice to step away from families, friends, jobs, pets, and other commitments to pull this off. It required significant investment in money, physical effort, and time.

As we spent time reflecting as a group during and after the trip, one common thread we kept coming back to was just how meaningful it is to work for a company that provides such an impactful benefit as VTO. Using our VTO was our way of demonstrating to the company that it is a valuable benefit and, at least for our group, doing it together somehow made it something even bigger.

I want to thank the following people who joined me, as well as their managers, substitutes who filled in, and others behind the scenes who made this happen.

  • Suzie Hall, Talent Advisor from California, USA
  • Shaunak Kashyap, Logstash Developer from California, USA
  • Thom O'Connor, Vice President of Services from Colorado, USA
  • Elena Todeva, Office Manager from Amsterdam, the Netherlands
  • Harvey Wilson, Photographer and Videographer from Amsterdam, the Netherlands
  • Larry Yang, Territory Sales Manager from New York, USA

Here are a few excerpts of the reflections we shared with the company.

Larry Yang (Ordinary Human Takes Part in Extraordinary Experience)

Elastic is my first full-time job. I work in sales, I live in NY, and my parents are immigrants that worked very hard so that I’ve been able to live a privileged life. I’ve volunteered here and there with various organizations, but nothing like this before.

To be very honest, I signed up for this trip because I thought it would be fun. I thought it would be a great way to explore a new country, spend time with my fellow Elasticians, and hopefully help out a little. I knew next to nothing about Habitat for Humanity, didn’t know what we would be doing, and even bought the wrong flight initially.

Luckily for me, I got an experience that was so much more than what I expected. I got to experience the feeling of being exhausted, but wanting to work harder for someone other than myself. I got to meet an amazing local team of Habitat for Humanity heroes that cared for us and made us laugh. And I got to meet a family that had very little, but still cooked lunch for us everyday.

With this experience, I'm coming back with a personal desire to give more. To give more patience and understanding to my coworkers and customers. To give more time and attention to my friends and family. And to give more to strangers around the world that could use a helping hand.

To end, a call out to everyone else early on in their career: We’re so lucky to be here at Elastic. We have great leadership that supports initiatives like this. I know it’s daunting to take a week off and I don’t know all the circumstances in your lives, but please think about taking advantage of this great program. I promise it’s worth it!

Special thanks to Ryan McGinty, the team that I’m lucky to work with (Danielle Abraham, Peter Kim, Dave Moore), our leadership for creating and supporting this initiative, and most importantly, Jay McDonald, for leading this charge and making this happen.

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Elena Todeva

No words can describe how amazing and important this experience has been for me. I am infinitely grateful for having been able to be part of this trip. What a great company Elastic is for enabling its employees to do something like this.

Many, many thank yous to all of the managers who greenlighted this trip, and to our substitutes: without you we could not have gone and built a house for this family.

If you can, you should take advantage of your VTO. I know it is difficult to step away from your job and family to go volunteer but it is soooo worth it. Maybe a whole week abroad is not for you, but you can still volunteer; maybe just single days spread out over the year and no need to go abroad if you feel more comfortable staying where you are. But, you should definitely give it a try. Trust me, you will not regret it.

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Suzie Hall

This trip (like most things at Elastic) became something that was bigger than just one person, group, or team.

Together we bent rebar, carried cement buckets, tied wire to the bent rebar, and dug through concrete, mud, and dirt. We helped build the foundation of a home where precious moments will be shared. Once again, our distributed team, many of whom have not met face to face, bonded together to be a part of something truly meaningful. I couldn't have asked for a more amazing and dedicated team of Elastic Builders.

It takes a village to have adequate back-up when someone takes time off, and I am truly humbled to have such an amazing team of builders and managers!

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Thom O'Connor

The trip to San Cristóbal de las Casas for Hábitat para la Humanidad was a wonderful and fulfilling adventure, as well as very hard work. The most rewarding part of the experience for me was the time spent working side-by-side with the family, the professional builders, the Hábitat staff, and my Elastic colleagues. As one team, we were all collaborating in moving tons of dirt and concrete, tying rebar, and building the foundation of a home together across at least three languages with individuals from seven or more countries and nationalities. All the while, sharing our experiences, our music, and our care for one another. As Rosa spoke to us during the closing ceremony, it was incredibly moving to hear her say that they would always remember this experience and would share the story with their grandchildren and future generations, and that we would always be a part of their home. Hugely grateful to Habitat for Humanity International for being an amazing organization to enable this program, and to Elastic for the support, for the generous VTO program, and for opening my eyes to this experience.

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Shaunak Kashyap

Growing up, just taking a look around every day, it was plain to see that not everyone was as fortunate as me, many not even close. I understood from early on that if I shared what I had, however little, I could help level the playing field a bit.

Today I’m a tech industry worker living in Silicon Valley. I make a comfortable living and have a fantastic work-life balance. It’s a privileged life, one that I’m fortunate to have thanks to the various opportunities afforded to me over the years. To not recognize my privilege and use it to help those less so would be a shame and a waste.

So thank you Elastic and the generous VTO program. Thank you for giving my colleagues and me a week out of our lives to lend a hand to those who need it most. Thank you to Habitat for Humanity for the opportunity to work alongside Rosa and her family in building their new home. After hearing Rosa speak about having a house where she could help raise her grandchildren, that she’d tell them the story of how that house came to be, I know her words and the memories we made will remain with me always. Thank you for letting me have a small part in her story.

As Jay said during one of our many conversations in San Cristóbal, paraphrasing a quote he’d read recently: “As we rise, we must lift”.

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