FORTUNE + JBS
How JBS is making a lasting impact in a small Arizona community
Through its Hometown Strong program, JBS USA is investing in the residents and town of Tolleson, Ariz., delivering a vital Library on Wheels, and soon, a much-needed community aquatic center.
In southwest Arizona, the average high temperature from May through September is 104 °F. Unfortunately, for the 7,200 residents of Tolleson, a small town just west of Phoenix, the public pool has been closed for five years. But beyond not having a much needed area to cool off on hot days, longtime city manager Reyes Medrano, Jr. believes there have been more serious ramifications to a lack of pool access in the community.
"We need a pool for a whole host of reasons, but one of the main ones is health. COVID-19 is the second pandemic our city is facing-the first is diabetes," Medrano, Jr. says. "Swimming is a great way to get exercise."
In 2017, plans for an aquatic center were drawn up by the city, but ongoing budgeting concerns kept the project from becoming a reality. The construction costs would be around $1 million and would need to be funded by taxpayer money, which is no small thing in Tolleson, a working-class, majority-Latinx, small town. That is why leading food company JBS USA, a large employer in the area, stepped in to cover the cost as part of its $100 million Hometown Strong initiative. Initially launched in May 2020 to help rural communities recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the program has evolved over the past two years into a wide-ranging investment program for locally driven projects that help build a better future for the rural municipalities JBS calls home.
"To me, Hometown Strong means that enriching our JBS team members and the communities we're all a part of creates a sense of family," says Claudia Uribe, human resources director for the Tolleson facility. "We are in constant communication with city officials, offering support and feedback from our people, and sharing how excited we all are to see the projects come to life. The aquatic center is sorely needed, so we take a lot of pride in JBS playing a big part in getting it built."
The first Hometown Strong investment in Tolleson was a $250,000 contribution to get a Library on Wheels, which serves more as a rolling tech lab designed to meet the needs of the 21st-century than the bookmobiles of yesterday, up and running in 2020. The Hometown Strong team wanted to make an instantaneous impact, so the project was selected from a list of 10 ideas that Tolleson officials proposed to JBS. A mobile library had been on the City Hall wish list for a long time due to the Tolleson library's small size and lack of accessibility for every family. When the pandemic shuttered schools and the harsh realities of remote learning set in, the timeline for the library accelerated to expand access to educational resources for the town's children. "The benefits of the Library on Wheels were immediate for our kids," says Medrano, Jr., "and we continue to bring them more learning opportunities."
Making a lasting impact
As an employer with nearly 1,800 team members, JBS is always looking for ways to give back. The company has long provided food and support for community events, but when COVID-19 hit, JBS kicked into overdrive right away by securing personal protection equipment for employees and citizens, establishing Tolleson's first coronavirus testing site at the firehouse and leading successful efforts to get people vaccinated that included a "Your Shot at Free Meat For a Year" giveaway.
To identify which Hometown Strong projects would have the most meaningful impact, JBS looked to local leaders and the team members who call Tolleson home. "Those of us who live and work in Tolleson know what we really need," says Uribe, "and JBS has been there to invest in the projects that are beneficial to the community."
The Hometown Strong Impact in Tolleson to Date
1,700+Tolleson Based JBS Team Members
$1M Donated to construct the aquatic center
$250K Donated to construct the library on wheels
$2.1M Total Hometown Strong Investment
Soon, workers will be able to take a post-shift dip just up the block from the JBS facility. Sweet relief from the heat is on its way to Tolleson in 2023, a year ahead of schedule thanks to Hometown Strong. The blueprints feature both indoor and outdoor pools, water slides, a gym, a fitness center, classrooms, and plenty of shade. By all appearances, the aquatic center will be a valuable community gem.
"When I heard the name Hometown Strong, I said, 'That's perfect for us because that's who we are,"' says Medrano, Jr. "Thanks to JBS, you're going to see Olympic-caliber swimmers coming out of Tolleson one day."
To learn more about JBS's Hometown Strong initiative, please visit hometownstrong.jbssa.com.