Marcus Hudson stabilized a ladder Friday morning for an employee at Unum who was reaching to cut down overhanging branches from a tree rooted in Brainerd High School's courtyard.
Marcus will be a Brainerd senior in the fall and said he came to help volunteer during his summer vacation because it was a good investment.
"I figure if I help out, that these people will help us back," he said. "You know, I give something and they do, too, and we all become better."
Marcus was joined during Friday's work day by several Brainerd and Baylor students from Brainerd and more than 100 Unum employees participating in the company's annual Day of Caring. The group power-washed walkways, did landscaping, cleaned windows and hauled away debris all morning.
Brainerd serves a predominantly inner-city student body, and there is no money in the budget for extensive landscaping and cosmetic repairs. School officials said some of the bushes and trees in the courtyard had not been touched since they were planted in the 1960s.
Jeana Lee, community relations specialist at Unum, said the company decided to partner with Brainerd after meeting with Assistant Principal Charles Mitchell.
"Our Day of Service is a great opportunity to expose our employees to service opportunities in this city," Lee said. "These students matter and this school matters, and we are glad to help."
Lee said Mitchell's passion for his students and the Take 12 mentorship program at Brainerd offer Unum's employees the perfect chance to be involved with the school year-round.
Mitchell is happy to see Unum realize Brainerd's potential and said the company's eagerness to invest in the school's future sets a standard for other businesses in the city.
"Today is a microcosm of what could happen in this city," he said.
Mitchell hopes the work done to improve the school's exterior will extend throughout the year, and that relationships will be built between Brainerd students and Chattanooga's professionals.
The groups of students and Unum employees worked alongside each other to beautify the campus, and conversation echoed over the sound of the pressure washers. Employees explained their jobs as they carried debris with students, and students asked questions about college as they trimmed bushes.
Nahomi Ortiz, a staffing specialist at Unum, said as a young professional it's important to balance work and giving back to your community.
"These are some of the future leaders of America," she said pointing across the courtyard to toiling students. "They deserve a good place to go to school."
Baylor junior Sydney Tindall is a part of the school's leadership program, which began to partnering with Brainerd last school year.
"It's important for me to come here and help make the campus more beautiful," Tindall said as she cleaned a window. "People say our schools are totally different, but we aren't, really. We have the same values and the same personalities, and aren't that different at all."
Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592.