Humanitarians win lifetime service award from Ritter, Hickenlooper
by Tara Miller
A grateful, retiring lawyer and his wife wanted to bring harmony to his law firm of 28 years. Inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr. the couple also wanted to make a difference in their community, one person at a time.
Ten years and hundreds of service projects later, Holland & Hart Foundation founders Sam and Jean Guyton recently received the MLK Lifetime Achievement Award from Gov. Bill Ritter and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper. The presentation on Jan. 13 was at Boetcher Concert Hall at the Denver Center for Performing Arts, with a celebratory concert by the Colorado Symphony Orchestra.
"We woke up the next morning and thought we were dreaming," Jean Guyton said. "Even though we founded the organization, we were merely symbols of the hundreds of people that are a part of it. We accepted it on behalf of everyone who has volunteered."
How did the Holland & Hart Foundation attract such attention? The Guytons and foundation volunteers have traveled to Mississippi in a moving truck to deliver school supplies to an impoverished school district. They’ve refurbished Denver Children’s Home with fresh paint and new furnishings. They’ve created a therapeutic garden for the Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center. These projects are just a few of many that have effectively improved people’s lives, all over the world.
If you don’t already know about this powerful — yet humble — couple, then let’s start with a little background.
Coming from small towns in Maryland and Mississippi, respectively, Jean and Sam grew up in communities where everyone was family. They each developed a strong sense of giving back, by helping develop communities into families.
Sam was hired by Holland & Hart in 1964, as the fortieth attorney there. The firm now has 15 offices in eight states. Soon after retirement, Sam and Jean discussed ways to bridge the gap between the staff and the attorneys at the firm.
"With the firm growing so fast, we were concerned that the employees would lose the sense of community and family, which is what the founders of the firm were so passionate about," said Jean.
Sam added, "It was important for us to keep the culture of the firm alive and eliminate an overwhelming sense of hierarchy. The founding of this foundation had a dual purpose — if we cared for our community together as a whole, then we would care for and respect one another in the office."
They got to work on a proposal. Attorneys and staff alike would find important community service projects. It was to be a team effort to raise the money, organize and spend the time to make it successful. The Guytons placed it on the desk of Scott Barker, a leader at H&H, and with his blessing the foundation was formed.
"We give a great deal of credit to Scott for helping us envision this happening, and also the firm founders, Steve Hart and Joe Holland, for focusing on life outside of work and requiring lawyers and staff to do pro bono and community work, long before the foundation was formed," said Sam.
Once everything was set in motion, the Guytons began recruiting staff and attorneys at Holland & Hart, along with their families, to get out in the community and discover Denver’s needs.
"We wanted to not only involve the employees at the firm, but their children and spouses as well," Sam said. "The foundation planned and organized all of the details — all we needed were the attorneys and staff to find an hour or two here and there to donate. We were amazed by the overwhelming dedication to the causes."
Over the years, all 15 offices have come up with community services activities. They too raise funds to nurture the services enough to thrive. Some service projects are local, but more than a few have been national or international.
"Each office formed their own internal community, which allowed them to find out the needs of the larger communities outside the office," Jean said. "Each office has a different personality because of the size and location, so they were encouraged to be creative."
"While it wasn’t an original intention, we have had lawyers and staff come to work at the firm because of the foundation," Sam said. "We’ve also had countless clients donate money and time to the foundation."
The Guytons have discovered two overarching themes, after years of donating time and money.
"The first theme is the power of one. Each of us can make a difference in this world," said Sam. "The second theme is pay it forward. If you help someone, the hope is that they’ll be inspired to help someone, and so on."
"As lawyers, we are the movers and the shakers who make things happen in our communities and world," Sam said. "By volunteering to do community service, they find out what the needs of their communities are and how they, with their knowledge of the law, can take care of those needs."
"Legal professionals can’t be isolated. They have to rub elbows with those in need. They have the power to make changes, but only if they know what needs to be changed."