Forest River Inc., a Berkshire Hathaway company, and publicly held Thor Industries Inc. yesterday (Nov. 4) announced the establishment of an unprecedented community foundation set up to benefit the 15,000-plus employees of the two RV-building corporate giants and their families during times of need.

The Forest River/Thor Community Foundation will be jointly funded by the two companies and will provide grants of up to $20,000 per qualifying employee or family to help cover emergency financial needs incurred in a variety of unforeseen family crises such as acute illnesses, natural disasters, fires or other hardships. Both firms are based in Elkhart, Ind.

“We have a lot of dedicated, hardworking employees that we depend upon daily in our operations, and this is a way for them to receive that bit of help, when they have an unexpected need,” said Forest River President and CEO Peter Liegl. “Both of our companies would not be able to achieve the accomplishments we have without these employees and their families, so we want to help them where we can and when we can.”

“As leaders in the industry and in our community, Thor and Forest River value our employees, and we understand that emergency situations can cause financial hardships within families,” concurred Bob Martin, Thor president and CEO. “The community foundation is an opportunity for us to give back to the people who make our companies strong by helping them when unforeseen circumstances create unanticipated expenses that can be crippling to a family. We recognize that our employees are the key to our success, which is why we hope to make this new community foundation an important benefit to them and another step in achieving our goal of making Thor a place where talented people want to work.”

Those potentially benefiting from the new foundation will be limited to employees of the two companies. And the foundation’s board of directors will leave it up to the human resources managers of the two manufacturers to vet the applicants and work to ensure that the recipients are indeed worthy of the foundation’s aid.

Bob Martin

Bob Martin

Martin, for his part, told RVBUSINESS.com that the foundation is an outgrowth of the tough times the Elkhart area experienced during the global downturn, a sequence of events that helped many Americans learn to empathize more with those in need.

“Definitely. If you look at Elkhart going through the recession and having the highest unemployment rate in the nation – and we’re definitely bouncing back – many people here have gone through tough times. And, I guess, this is just a way for us to help give back to the community. Going through that (the downturn), we all learned a lot about ourselves, our companies and our employees who live in this area. And this is something positive that we can do to help the people of Elkhart who have had a tough time.”

Martin said the idea for the foundation actually emerged about a year ago in casual conversation between executives of the two companies and got legs, so to speak, when Liegl stepped in and suggested that, instead of simply funding some standing charity, the two competitive RV builders should set up their own independent entity.

Martin said that Liegl, who was unavailable for immediate comment, played a major role in getting it all done.

“When we presented the idea to (Thor Chairman) Peter Orthwein, who thought it was a great idea, and then to Pete Liegl, Pete actually came over to the Thor corporate office and we met and talked about it and worked through it,” he said. “And really, rather than picking one large cause or foundation to support, which would have been easy, Pete suggested that we help our employees and our community. We all thought it was a great idea. Pete was right in there with the premise of where we ended up from early last year.”

Eligible employees who would like more information about the program may contact their human resources representative or view materials on the Thor or Forest River websites.