Written by Kimberly Miller, Palm Beach Post, 2007

A new policy at Palm Beach Atlantic University gives staffers more time to volunteer for their favorite charities without losing wages.

The program, called "extending hands," allows full-time employees of the small Christian university to take up to three days' paid leave a year for volunteer work.

"We've been given so much and have a really wonderful place to work and here's an opportunity for us to reach out to the community," said PBAU President David Clark. "It's our way of saying we want to endorse and encourage people to volunteer."

The university in downtown West Palm Beach has long had a requirement for students to complete 45 hours of volunteer work each year as a prerequisite for graduation.

The student effort is called "workship," a combination of volunteerism and worship. Over the years, PBAU, which enrolls 3,200 students, has amassed 2 million student volunteer hours.

Students' educational experience is enhanced by the volunteer work, which can take them to local nonprofit organizations, their own churches or on school-directed overseas trips to third-world countries, Clark said.

"It's a life-changing experience for our students," Clark said. "A lot of them are middle and upper-middle class kids, and this is a wake-up call."

Clark hopes the new policy for employees, which started this fall, will have similar affects.

Last year, PBAU assistant athletic director Daniela Laboy, spent a week in Honduras helping organize an international conference for her church.

But she used her vacation time to do it.

This year, under PBAU's new volunteer policy, she took three paid days to work for a similar conference in West Palm Beach.

"It was a big blessing that I was able to participate and get paid," Laboy said. "It provides another opportunity for us to share the love of the Lord with the community."

Married couple Eric and Patty Lowdermilk used their three days in October, traveling to Haiti to teach a marriage class to local pastors and their wives.

They stayed in a hotel with spotty electricity, and Patty got sick, but they were happy with the experience and the chance to have it without taking vacation days.

"For me, this removes a significant obstacle to volunteering," said Eric, the university's student accountability director. "You know you work for an employer who believes in this and puts their money where their mouth is."

Employees must have their volunteer work approved before receiving the three paid days. Six people have used the new volunteer program so far.

Clark said he doesn't know how much the program will cost the university, but he believes it is worth it.

"We encourage our students to be givers and we need to encourage our staff to be givers as well," he said.