Corporate Citizenship of the Year — Winner: The Simon Konover Company, West Hartford
When Jim Wakim, president and chief operating officer of The Simon Konover Co., rejoined the real estate company in 2008 as part of a succession plan, he remembers discussing job responsibilities with company founder Simon Konover, including one message that still resonates today.
" 'Jim, make sure we're doing enough,' " Wakim remembers Konover saying, referring to myriad philanthropic efforts of the West Hartford company that develops, owns and manages office, industrial, mixed-use, retail, multifamily and hospitality properties from the Midwest to East Coast.
Konover, who launched the company in 1957 and died in 2015, was instrumental in numerous causes, including The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for seriously ill children and their families founded by Paul Newman in 1988 in Ashford. The camp touts a "different kind of healing" and serves 20,000-plus children and family members annually, for free.
Konover Construction, a subsidiary of then Konover Associates, built the camp, a "massive project" worth about $13 million to $14 million, in just nine months, said James Canton, CEO at Hole in the Wall Gang.
The camp is Konover company's largest annual fundraising cause, with Team Simon Konover donations and those from business partners exceeding $1 million over the last decade through the annual Camp Challenge featuring cycling, running and more.
"We have a long relationship with the Konover family and the company," Canton said. "The contribution is massive going back 30 years."
Wakim, whose company has about 50 employees locally and another 250 nationally, said the giving is rewarding.
"We wish there was an opportunity for us to have this level of support with every need that's out there; we know that's not possible," said Wakim, a lawyer who worked at the company from 1995 to 2003, then left for private practice before being invited back as COO, adding the title of president in 2010. "We walk away with so much more than what we bring to the table."
Konover employees are motivated to help, hooked from their first camp visit, he said.
"It's all about these kids and it's all about their families," he said.
Canton said the company's support has helped the camp expand its reach. Company CEO Jane Konover Coppa, Konover's daughter, immediately agreed to make the company lead sponsor of the Camp Challenge 10 years ago when the idea was birthed, he said. While Konover and its sponsors and partners have raised more than $1 million, additional support from individuals and companies brings the event's total impact to $2.3 million over 10 years.
Hole in the Wall Gang has extended its camp activities from Ashford to hospitals throughout the Northeast, going from about 10 hospitals a decade ago to more than 40 between Boston and Philadelphia, Canton said.
"That is tied directly to the increased support that we've received over the years, especially from the Camp Challenge ride and The Simon Konover Co.," Canton said.
"When I hear Jim Wakim speak about camp, I'm just really touched," Canton said. "I'm touched that a business leader could be that humbled and that moved by a camp and by the children and families that we serve. It reminds me that the mission just speaks and moves people."