Giving Back: Channel@Work Teams With Habitat For Humanity To Build Homes In Greater Los Angeles

The city of Inglewood lies about 10 miles southwest of downtown Los Angeles and worlds away from the glitz and glamour of its neighbors like Hollywood and Beverly Hills.

It's a city of 110,000 residents where more than 22 percent live below the poverty line, only around 15 percent have a college degree and nearly 30 percent of households are run by single parents, according to recent data from the U.S. census and the Los Angeles Times.

And it's poised for a comeback.

With the NFL set to move the Rams back to the Los Angeles area and into a planned $2.6 billion Inglewood sports complex -- scheduled to be completed in 2019 -- there's renewed interest in revitalizing the community.

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Microsoft funded the annual philanthropy venture, through which Xchange attendees participated in a homebuilding project in greater Los Angeles.

At a Channel@Work homebuilding project for Habitat for Humanity on Monday, attendees of this week's XChange Solution Provider 2016 conference in Los Angeles played their part in helping that revitalization.

"That neighborhood hasn't changed much since the '60s. It's really been forgotten and left for dead," said Lisa MacKenzie, who grew up in Inglewood and is now partner and senior vice president of The Channel Company, which hosts XChange and publishes CRN.

Through Channel@Work, the channel community comes together ahead of each XChange conference to donate goods and services to a charitable organization in the event's host city. For this year's project, Channel@Work teamed with Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles to help build homes in Inglewood. The project, funded by longtime Channel@Work underwriter Microsoft, brought together nearly 50 solution providers, IT executives and employees of The Channel Company for a day of giving back.

"You lose sight sometimes of what you have until you are able to be part of something that's much bigger than you, and much bigger than what we're doing here," said Eric Martorano, general manager at Microsoft, who has personally championed the Channel@Work effort for the past eight years. "It's been the most fulfilling thing I've done in my career, being part of something like this."

At the construction site, Channel@Work participants spent the day sawing boards, painting and hanging siding. The homes have been under construction since November and include units that will be accessible for wounded military veterans. There are already 1,000 applicants hoping to receive one of the houses.

"You're side by side with people working, you're doing things you wouldn't normally do together, so it's a lot of fun and very rewarding," said Carmine Taglialatela Jr., vice president of business development at Delaplane, Va.-based solution provider TecPort Solutions, who worked on the housing project. "It's just a great opportunity to give back and help people that are less fortunate. They say that everyone who gets one of these homes has to put something into it, so it was very rewarding in a lot of respects, and I think everybody that was out there, all the volunteers, felt the same way."

Several other technology vendors also sponsored the Channel@Work project in Inglewood, including Carbonite, Dell, Juniper, Kaspersky Lab, Oracle, Samsung, Veritas and WTG.

"We were able to really put sweat equity into someone's home. It was great to see at the end of the day lots of people were writing on the walls, 'Welcome to your new home,' " said Mary Catherine Wilson, director of channel marketing, North America, for Dell, which has been sponsoring Channel@Work for five years.

"It's an opportunity for all of the solution providers and for all the vendors and The Channel Company to give back to the community, I think that's really important. We're in a city that's hosting us and being so gracious that we should give back," Wilson said.

Angie Medina is part of a Habitat Partner Family that has already moved into a home of their own and now is working to help others acheive their dream of home ownership. The mother of five described her own experience receiving a Habitat for Humanity home in a video message to XChange Solution Provider attendees.

"For my family and me, this was the beginning of a wonderful journey to be able to own our own home, and it changed the dynamics for my children, their self-esteem, their confidence, their education skyrocketed. [Having] a place to call home was magnificent," Medina said.

The project held personal significance for The Channel Company's MacKenzie, who as a child attended an elementary school just around the corner from the Inglewood construction site.

"I grew up with a lot of families that were in need, that could have used something like this, that had broken homes, multiple children living in broken-down, dilapidated houses," MacKenzie said. "It's really helping to take that community into the next era."

Channel@Work is no stranger to Habitat for Humanity. In 2009, the project worked on a Habitat building site in New Orleans in a neighborhood that had been devastated by Hurricane Katrina four years earlier.

Since then, Channel@Work has helped charitable groups focused on veterans, children and families throughout the U.S., including Wounded Warriors, Boys & Girls Club and numerous smaller local organizations.

"It not only changes the lives of the people you're doing it for, it changes your life too and puts things in perspective," said Microsoft's Martorano. "Sometimes we all get caught up in the day-to-day, we get caught up in what's going on in the industry and we forget to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. We've done some pretty amazing things as a community. We've made some unbelievable impact in people's lives."

Martorano said he's committed to funding Channel@Work for as long as possible, noting that philanthropy is core to Microsoft's culture, starting first and foremost with founder Bill Gates.

"I honestly think, doing Channel@Work now for eight years, competing vendors, competing partners, everybody's on the same page with the common goal of giving back and doing something special," Martorano said. "I don't think there's a person that walks away from this saying they didn't get more out of it than they gave."

Steven Burke contributed to this story.