How Small Gestures Turn into Big Legacies: The Story of Paul Riggins

It started with a $5 bill. Ten days before Christmas in 1992 Paul Riggins taped a $5 bill to the outline of a Christmas tree hanging on the wall of the factory where he worked. Expecting that someone would take it, Paul vowed that if it remained at the end of the week he would give it to charity. To Riggins’ surprise, his co-workers began taping their own bills to the tree. Word spread quickly. A handful of $1 bills. A few more $5 bills. Some 10-dollar, 20-dollar and 50-dollar bills followed.


Paul – a career Machinist and forty-seven-year employee of Citizens Energy Group – dreamt of a way to serve the needs of others. But he never imagined his simple act would create a legacy that lives today.


For over a decade, proceeds of the Paul Riggins Giving Tree have benefited United Christmas Service, and the giving doesn’t stop there. Maybe its “something in the water” at Citizens because they are consistently a top contributing company to United Way’s annual campaign and a leader in service to the Central Indiana community. Earlier this year Citizens teamed up with Bowen Engineering Group to participate in a United Way Day of Caring, restoring playgrounds for underserved preschools in the Indianapolis community.


Beyond “hands-on” work, their premier sponsorship of United Christmas Service and Winter Assistance Fund programs, Citizens’ employees also serve on United Way’s board, provide leadership for various committees and affinity groups and support numerous United Way agencies. In 2010 they were one of four companies recognized with the Spirit United award for making United Way a centerpiece of its employee giving and volunteer opportunities.


“Citizens Energy Group is a proud supporter of the United Way of Central Indiana because it is an organization that has a profoundly positive impact on the quality of life of thousands of Indianapolis area residents,” says Jennifer Mentink, Corporate Events Coordinator and United Way Engagement Committee Chair. “Employees love the connection with the families we support. We look forward to United Christmas Service all year.”


Today, fifteen years after the late Paul Riggins taped that 5-dollar bill to the Christmas tree, the spirit of giving continues to thrive. Employee Ken Whittington, who runs a Citizens Energy groundwater treatment plant, shares a similar generosity of spirit. In his spare time, Whittington is a gifted artisan, making one-of-a-kind jewelry entirely of glass. In 2013, working under the mantra “every little bit helps” Ken decided to try his hand at unique glass ornaments and icicles to sell to his fellow Citizens employees to benefit United Christmas Service. To date he has raised hundreds of dollars, and this year alone created 200 exclusive items to sell at the company Christmas party. Ken’s time and materials are 100% donated.


“Employees wait all year to stand in line for Ken’s pieces,” Mentink remarks, “Not only are they a great Christmas gift, but they are simply beautiful.”


This is a story about legacy. Paul Riggins’ legacy, and now Ken Whittington’s. This year, Ken’s eight-year-old granddaughter, Lilly Hutcheson, crafted forty hand-made bracelets to sell alongside her grandpa’s ornaments, withal proceeds going to United Christmas Service. Perhaps years from now, someone will pass Lilly’s bracelet down to their granddaughter and the legacy will live on. Because you never know the impact a small gesture of gift will have.


Ready to sing? On the fourth Day of Giving, United Way gave to me … four Christmas ornaments, three Merry Money vouchers, two cheerful bothers, and one way to help my community.


We all owe a big high five to our friends at Citizens Energy Group and their many generous employees! Share this story using the hashtag #uwci100 and tell someone how easy it is to donate to United Christmas Service, today.


Stay tuned tomorrow for the Fifth Day of Giving, and more singing.