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Engineers without borders (EWB) volunteering work.

Skills-Based Volunteering: Supporting Communities Around the World

Posted 29 Aug 2019 by Kimberlee Sinclair Executive Director, H.B. Fuller Company Foundation

H.B. Fuller employees are passionate about using their talents to give back to those in need – and we want to support and facilitate their efforts. Skills-based volunteerism leverages the specialized skills of volunteers to build infrastructure and capacity for nonprofits. Kellen O’Brien, a scientist at H.B. Fuller, has taken a hands-on approach to skills-based volunteerism. He has used his professional skills to help underserved communities around the world access clean, safe water.

Kellen O’Brien, a scientist at H.B. Fuller, has taken a hands-on approach to skills-based volunteerism.Meeting Community Needs

Kellen first connected with Engineers Without Borders (EWB) as a college student, when he had the opportunity participate in an engineering project in Ghana. After he joined H.B. Fuller, Kellen joined the EWB Minnesota Professional Chapter. He hoped to get involved as a volunteer with another engineering project – but ended up leading the project himself. As a team, a group of local professional engineers and scientists decided to take on the water challenges of the community of Milla Tres, Honduras.

After an earthquake in 2009 cracked water tanks, the residents of this rural community had been living with limited access to water, which was often contaminated and not safe for drinking. To ensure an adequate, clean water supply, Kellen and the team set to work on a plan to construct a new gravity-fed water system that is designed to support 25 years of population growth.

Developing Skills

As the project lead, Kellen coordinates between the design team, the logistics team, the local community, and the Honduran nonprofits that support the project, ensuring that everyone involved is on the same page. Kellen shared that, through his project lead role, he has gained valuable skills that translate to his role as a scientist at a global company. In particular, he has strengthened his communication skills and ability to manage a cross-functional team of volunteers with different levels of expertise in civil, structural and construction engineering.

To support his volunteer commitment, Kellen has used H.B. Fuller’s corporate volunteering programs, which allowed him to take time off of work to travel to Milla Tres several times to work on the water system.

Personal Impact

Beyond strengthening his personal skills, Kellen’s involvement with the project has also given him a different perspective on how he can support those in need. He described seeing firsthand the barriers to accessing clean water as a humbling experience. This experience also has reinforced Kellen’s commitment to volunteerism, not as a way to find recognition but, instead, as a way to share his own resources with those in need. The bottom line for Kellen is, “If you can give back, you should.” The water system project in Milla Tres is still moving forward, driven by community support.

Kellen is one of many H.B. Fuller employees who are willing to give of their own time and talents to make a difference for those in need. As a company, we are proud to offer corporate volunteering programs that support our employees and make community service the easy choice. For more stories of how our employees give back, follow #HBFullerCares on social media and visit

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