In 1996, construction and engineering firms in the Sacramento, Calif., area came together to establish Champions for Children (CFC), a program run by Sierra Forever Families that raises money to provide permanent homes for children in foster care through adoption, reunification and guardianship. The program—which seeks to place children in homes before they are emancipated—has helped more than 450 kids in the last 16 years.

Because it costs approximately $5,000 to place one child in a permanent home, CFC is constantly seeking support from individuals, businesses and organizations. When the group approached Terry Risse, president of Sacramento-based Iron Mechanical, to become a board member, he was eager to get involved.

But there was one minor setback: CFC wanted donors to pledge $5,000 a year. Having only been in business for a few years, Iron Mechanical had limited funds to donate—forcing Risse to brainstorm a creative way to raise the money. He approached his employees and field personnel about starting a Copper Fund in which scrap copper is collected on jobsites and in the office and traded in for cash to support CFC. Employees rallied behind the idea and built a four-foot wooden box to hold collections.

“It created a great camaraderie in the company,” Risse says. “Usually people take the scrap copper and cash it in, but everyone on our jobsites was looking out for the kids, which created a very cool atmosphere.”

Immediately, Risse noticed an uptick in the amount of scrap copper being recycled; in just three months, he had the $5,000 he needed for CFC.

Now that the fund has been successful for more than a year, Risse and Sierra Forever Families are marketing the idea to other electrical, mechanical and plumbing contractors in the region. Risse also sends out a newsletter article each time a child is placed in a permanent home to remind employees of how their efforts are helping the community.

“The Copper Fund is a no-brainer. It’s simple, it doesn’t take any money or work, it deters copper theft, it creates great morale and it makes the company more productive,” Risse says. “The whole thing is an awesome blessing.”

For more information on starting a Copper Fund, contact Risse or Kimberly Cox at Sierra Forever Families.