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Volunteer Profile: Russ Thomas

April 6, 2015

Originally published in the Florida Times-Union

“If an organization’s business is its brain, then culture is the soul,” said Russ Thomas, CEO of Availity, an innovator in health information technology.

Innovation and the freedom to think in new ways is a cornerstone of Availity, one that it hopes makes as much of a difference in the community as it does in the workplace.

After a banner year in local community impact through volunteerism and philanthropy, Availity was the recipient of the United Way’s Summit Award for companies with 100 to 500 employees.

Availity CEO Russ Thomas says service is in his company's DNA. Photo cred: Ryan Ketterman
Availity CEO Russ Thomas says service is in his company’s DNA.
Photo cred: Ryan Ketterman

It also received the Circle of Honor award for the second consecutive year for strong employee participation in a workplace giving campaign.

The company has become a corporate model in its investment in Ribault Middle School, where 46 Availity employees have teamed with Achievers For Life to mentor students at risk for not completing their education.

That commitment has resulted in a $100,000 corporate gift and more than 340 hours spent helping middle schoolers reach their goals, perform better in academics, and realize that they have “the power to change their world view.”

“I see Ribault as an opportunity for people to give of their treasure and their talent,” Thomas said.

Thomas, who is a mentor himself, emanates a passion for leading in a way that promotes serving others.

“We’ve been blessed with strong growth in our business; giving back to our communities is one way to show appreciation for our success.”

Right Atmosphere

While acknowledging the challenges of asking employees to participate in a workplace giving campaign, Thomas believes that the right atmosphere can inspire employees to offer their support.

“We have a culture of transparency. If you have something you want to get involved in and roll up your sleeves for, bring it to us, and we’ll see how we can support it together,” Thomas said.

From field days to spelling bees, Availity has cultivated a successful relationship with Ribault Middle.

The company has also branched out to connect with employee passions, sending teams to the American Heart Walk and sponsoring the Tour de Cure for diabetes.

While Availity’s work in the community has tangible results that reap rewards, Thomas knows that it can’t be done alone.

“We still need to meet the basic needs. We must broaden the base,” Thomas said as he called on other organizations and executive leaders to create a culture where giving of time and resources is “just part of their DNA.”