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dale edwin murray for the boston globe

When images of immigrant children being separated from their families at the US-Mexico border filled television screens this past summer, executives from Bright Horizons Family Solutions immediately wondered: What can we do?

Some of the Watertown-based child-care provider’s executives, including CEO Stephen Kramer, happened to be visiting its Colorado office, and took an impromptu flight to the border town of McAllen, Texas. Within two weeks, relying on area staff expertise and the company’s network of suppliers, they transformed a dull waiting area at the Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center into a kid-friendly space with rocking chairs, children’s books, and brightly decorated floor mats. The room, which gave the young travelers a place to play and relax before their families travel to their destination in the United States and await a court date, looked like many of the company’s Bright Spaces in domestic abuse shelters and prisons across the country. These are run by the nonprofit Bright Horizons Foundation for Children, with all goods and services donated.

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“We saw the need was there and we wanted to expedite [a response] as much as we could,” says Zachary Thompson, senior manager of media productions for Bright Horizons, who was also on the first trip to McAllen.

What the executives accomplished is the opposite of what corporate volunteers often do to nonprofits: parachute in full of enthusiasm but with little of the expertise needed for the work at hand. When a company sticks to its wheelhouse, it can be of much more use.

Bright Horizons is among several Boston-area companies that are trying to do good by doing what they know best. MaidPro, a nationwide cleaning service based in Boston, provides free cleaning services to breast-cancer survivors, and scrubs and organizes the homes of low-income children. The bank Rockland Trust teaches high school students how to manage their budgets and maintain a top-notch credit score. And legal organizations such as the Justice Resource Institute and the Nutter McClennen & Fish law firm help guide immigrant children and their families through the immigration process.

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Pastry chefs and bread makers from Flour Bakery + Cafe go to the Pine Street Inn homeless shelter in Boston once a month to help train residents interested in going into food service. Flour has been part of the shelter’s job-training program for several years, with employees teaching students how to make cream puffs and white bean soup, pipe icing on cupcakes, and even brush up on their interview skills. Chef Nicolle Maniscalco recently taught a class on the versatility of shortbreads and was moved by the people she met who are hoping to get jobs and become self-sufficient. “It’s unlike anything I’ve done before,” Maniscalco says.

Asking workers, especially hourly ones, to do charitable work on behalf of a company requires sensitivity and a willingness to compensate employees for their time, says Madeleine Park, a spokeswoman for MaidPro. MaidPro lets franchise owners decide whether their employees participate and has a charitable arm that pays some cleaners when the company donates services, depending on how much work is involved, Park says.

For MaidPro, which recently had a franchisee pay $63,000 to settle allegations that it violated Massachusetts law when it failed to compensate workers for travel time, fair compensation is front and center. “Our employee pipeline can be pretty fragile,” Park says. “We don’t want our employees to feel like we’re taking advantage of them.”

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In some cases, volunteer projects driven by crisis can potentially become long-term partnerships.

In McAllen, Catholic Charities will be moving its respite center to a larger facility, and Bright Horizons is exploring the possibility of creating another children’s space in the new location. More than 200 people a day can come through the center, which offers food, showers, and rest to immigrants for 24 hours before they take a bus to their destination in the United States. “It was really meaningful,” Thompson says of building out the initial space. “It’s not a short-term thing.”


Deirdre Fernandes is a Boston Globe staff writer. She can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.

Due to inaccurate information from the Massachusetts attorney general’s office, this story has been clarified to note that a MaidPro franchisee settled allegations of violating Massachusetts wage and labor laws.