The final preparations for the big night are in full swing, and it’s clear that people are a bit on edge. A play will be staged on the following day at the Heydenmühle community in the Odenwald region, and those who are not acting in the play will at least be in the audience to enjoy their friends’ performance. A total of 40 people with mental handicaps live here in an old mill that was renovated in 1997 by a parents’ group and an association for promoting the interests of handicapped people. “Together, we have created a refuge here that is tailored to meet special challenges,” explains Hans-Ulrich Wurm, the area director of the Heydenmühle workshop. He is obviously proud of the work that has been accomplished here.
While the residents of the old mill start their dress rehearsal, the festival tent on the Merck company grounds in Darmstadt is filling up with people. Every two years, the Merck Benefit attracts employees and their families to a colorful evening full of music, fun for the kids, and a show program. In the knowledge that they’ll be eating, drinking, and having a good time for a good cause, this year 4,000 people are streaming into the festival tent on the company grounds. All the revenue from the sales of admission tickets, food, and beverages will be donated to a good cause, while the company will pay the costs of the event. In addition, Merck employees are working hard to make the event a success, whether they are serving food and beverages, manning the entrance gates, hosting the show acts, or selling the “Benefit Thaler” coins that are the only currency used for payment this evening.
A wood splitter that brings people together
Merck "Benefit Thaler": every euro is donated to a good cause. The company bears the cost of the event
The inhabitants of the Heydenmühle community won’t find out until later just how successful the celebration in Darmstadt has been. They will be one of the groups receiving a donation from the money raised by the Benefit. “We will invest this money in a wood splitter that we will use to make firewood,” explains Hans-Ulrich Wurm. The firewood is sold to provide additional income for the facility, which is organized according to the principles of anthroposophism and is not only a home but also a workplace for its residents. Heydenmühle offers a life in harmony with nature, and part of that is the opportunity to work and feel useful.
In the plant nursery, the carpentry workshop, the weaving workshop, and the kitchen, the residents work under conditions adjusted to their special needs. They raise vegetables that are sold locally, build deck chairs that can hold their own with those made by competitors, do gardening, and produce firewood. It is especially the gardeners — tall, strong men — who can work off their excess energy by splitting wood in the winter, when the natural world is resting. “After all, not everyone is satisfied with sitting around the fire and cracking nuts in the wintertime,” says Wurm.
Some of the revenue from the Merck Benefit is also donated to hospice associations and youth organizations in the region, all of which have been carefully selected by a committee composed of members from the Benefit team. The initiator of this event is Mirjam Brenner, a warehouse employee at Merck. “During a hospital stay in 1997, I noticed how unhappy the HIV patients were. What they urgently needed was support — emotional and financial support,” she explains.
The problem she faced was how to raise funds without simply asking people for money. “I knew that Merck was involved in socially beneficial activities and that my colleagues were ready and willing to work for a good cause,” she says. Together with Works Council member Hans-Peter Preusch, she asked the management for funding — and was thereupon asked to submit a concept for collecting the needed funds. The idea of staging a benefit was received with enthusiasm by everyone involved. “We used to stage a similar event at the Merck site in Gernsheim,” recalls Preusch, who has been on the organizing team for the benefit from the very start. Incidentally, a rousing benefit was held for the 17th time in September 2010 at the Merck site in Gernsheim. The sale of tickets to the 2,500 guests generated EUR 12,000 in all, a sum that was distributed to a number of organizations, including a local animal shelter and an association that supports senior care.