Community Initiatives Spotlight Series: Mary Lou Kelly

DPR Construction’s Community Initiatives (CI) efforts to support organizations with a focus on “building possibilities for the under-resourced,” are driven by a group of DPR employees – DPR’s CI Champions – who volunteer to execute these programs, such as event coordination, fundraising, offering operational guidance, youth programming, and acting as a liaison between DPR and its nonprofit partners.

The CI Spotlight Series focuses on these individuals.

For the past four years, DPR senior project engineer Mary Lou Kelly has played an instrumental role in coordinating community service initiatives in the Nashville area, supporting nonprofit organizations that serve under-resourced youth such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of Middle Tennessee and Gallatin Shalom Zone.

Mary Lou Kelly headshot
DPR senior project engineer Mary Lou Kelly has played an instrumental role in coordinating community service initiatives in the Nashville area. Courtesy of Mary Lou Kelly

Q: Who or what inspired you to take on the role of becoming a CI Champion?

I worked out of DPR’s Raleigh-Durham office before moving to Nashville, and I remember De’Lisa Stringer asked me to come meet her to discuss CI. Although I didn’t know much about what the responsibilities of a CI Champion entailed, she thought I would be the right person to fill the role and had faith I would do a great job at onboarding new people to support our philanthropy efforts. Once De’Lisa trained and set me up for success, there was no turning back –I was hooked! From then on, I grew to become very passionate about DPR’s role in supporting the communities we work and live in.

Q: What were some challenges you faced as a new CI Champion?

I learned early on that it’s difficult locking down volunteer schedules for up-and-coming CI events. People in my office know that I am not shy when it comes to blasting emails, so I really do try my best to recruit as many people as possible to better support our community partners. Another challenge is balancing my own time between coordinating for CI and my core DPR responsibilities as a senior project engineer, especially now that I’m working on a multi-year data center project. It’s important I find a balance between CI and our project team’s daily responsibilities. It really helps to have a great task force behind you to help plan and execute.

DPR volunteers with School of Construction participants
School of Construction event in 2017 with youth enrolled with The Boys & Girls Clubs of Durham & Orange Counties. Courtesy of Mary Lou Kelly

Q: Why is it important to build strong relationships with our nonprofit partners?

The organizations we tap into need more support than meets the eye, and once we connect with them as dedicated community partners, we continuously ask how we can help make decisions to better serve their clients, which are the kids. Just being there for them through our core pillars, whether it be through educational event programming, operational guidance or identifying their construction needs, makes a huge difference.

One time, back in Raleigh, one of our nonprofit partners reached out about their air conditioning breaking down and didn’t have it within their budget to resolve the issue. For DPR to be able to quickly send someone over to their facility and help fix their maintenance problem was just huge. The construction-focused support we provide our partners is truly indispensable for their operations.

DPR volunteer group photo
Service September project for the Andrew Jackson Boys & Girls of Middle Tennessee Club in 2018. Courtesy of Mary Lou Kelly

Q: What does being a CI Champion mean to you?

I love that I have a part in creating positive changes for these organizations that pour everything into their youth programming.

As a CI Champion, I have a hand in sharing construction career options through organizing educational programming and events. Being able to teach young people, and especially under-resourced youth, that they can have a career in doing what they love every single day is very special. Whether it’s me or our volunteers from various construction backgrounds, having the chance to share what we do for work opens their minds to possible career paths they may not have been exposed to prior.

Mary Lou painting
Mary Lou painting the walls of the Andrew Jackson Boys & Girls of Middle Tennessee Club for Service September in 2019. Courtesy of Mary Lou Kelly

Q: Share a time when you felt proud to champion a DPR community partner.

A big part of what makes DPR a unique community partner is how we can jump in to support with construction and renovation projects and getting their facilities where they need to be. This past July, DPR’s Nashville office completed updating the warehouse for PENCIL, a nonprofit that connects businesses with Metro Nashville Public Schools. What’s funny is that I ran into a woman in my apartment complex, which is about 50 miles from the PENCIL warehouse, and she said, “I was just volunteering at PENCIL today and the whole place is buzzing about this company, DPR Construction, who gave them a whole facelift!” I must have been wearing a DPR Construction shirt, but it was pretty wild to hear that word had got around about our company’s role in PENCIL’s facility renovation.

That project took place from June to July, and I recall we had many facets donated such as the flooring, painting and labor, then our DPR craft went in to do all the drywall and put new ceilings in -it was a major project for us this year. So, while it was nice hearing the recognition, it’s ultimately knowing that we’re making a significant difference in a nonprofit’s day-to-day operations that remains a part of what makes me so proud to work with our CI efforts.