When the Lexington, Ky., economy began to slow in 2006, Ford-Mazda dealer Paul Miller found himself with a growing stack of solicitations for help from local charities.
Miller, 89, opened Paul Miller Ford in 1953 and had seen good times and bad times in the economy. He had always been a supporter of community and charitable activities. But in the latest downturn, the dealer sensed that things were different.
"We felt like we wanted to do more," says J.P. Miller Jr., the dealer's 35-year-old grandson, whom he named general manager five years ago. "And even though our own budgets were hurting, we decided to take a new initiative to help where we could. Ford Motor Co. itself was entering into a new era with a new outlook, and we wanted to reflect that in our own community activities."
The founder, who still works at his store five days a week despite needing a wheelchair to get around, got very busy. Miller became active in supporting the University of Kentucky's Children's Hospital in Lexington, and he expanded a scholarship program that he started in 1954 into an endowment fund for the University of Kentucky's College of Medicine. He also became a sponsor for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society events and for the Lexington Hearing and Speech Center.
Miller also decided to help maintain the local environment by donating trees to a program called Reforest the Bluegrass. Since 2008, Miller has donated more than 15,000 trees to local reforestation efforts, even inviting the store's customers and employees to come help plant them throughout central Kentucky.
This year, the dealership launched the Drive One for Music Foundation to promote music education among young people in local schools. The foundation receives a donation from every vehicle the dealership sells and uses it to purchase musical instruments for children who can't afford them.