At the inception of the project, we sat down with members of the community to meet their leaders and ask for their input on what was needed. We wanted to be sure to include the community leaders in developing all aspects of the project.

One of the first requests from the leaders was the establishment of a community center, as there was no gathering place for the residents. So we undertook construction of a center where community events, meetings, classes and sporting events could be held. The resulting 14,000-square-meter center, named Menino Deus Community Polo, includes a 740-square-meter gymnasium for sports and activities; two multi-purpose rooms; and washing and dressing rooms, including facilities for the physically handicapped. The center also includes a kitchen, a square, an outdoor stage, a ballpark, a sand playing field for sports, as well as other facilities.

We have hosted many social activities at the Menino Deus Community Polo over the years. One of the first programs we undertook focused on teaching young people how to take part in their own growth and development as well as in the social development of their community. Through the programs, we encourage social, cultural, intellectual and professional development. About 1,500 children and teenagers and about 350 adults have participated in the activities over the years.

The Community Polo is currently open daily, in three shifts. In the morning and afternoon, activities are offered to children and adolescents. In the evening, the center is open to adults for events and social activities. Some of the projects and activities are developed in partnership with other institutions. One of these is a project called Menino Deus Speaks English, offered in conjunction with the Language Institution Schütz & Kanomata. The program not only offers English classes to participants, but also promotes cultural exchange with people from other continents.

Other examples of partnerships include projects such as Excellent Footballers, with the Municipal Secretary of Tourism and Leisure of Santa Cruz do Sul, and Athletes of the Future, which includes volleyball, basketball, soccer and handball activities, with the Industry Social Service (SESI) and University of Santa Cruz do Sul (UNISC). In partnership with the Federal Government and the Municipal School Menino Deus, volleyball, mathematics and music lessons are offered through a program called More Education. For adults, the gymnasium is available for sports activities through the program Community Games.

Also at the Community Polo, a group of women meets regularly to organize volunteers in the area, and an organization called Group of Peace and Love in the Third Age, coordinated by the local unit of the public health system, hosts meetings. Together with the Municipal City Hall, meals are offered to those in need, in a kitchen built by Universal in 2008.

Every year, we organize a Christmas party at the center which is attended by about 1,100 underprivileged children. We host a luncheon and a visit from Santa Claus who hands out Christmas gifts to the children.

Through the Social Management Project, we provide technical and managerial support for the operation of the center. The center continually works to form new partnerships to develop projects that benefit the community.

Recognizing that employment is a key factor to a community's success, we established the First Job Project, which offers several programs designed to help residents find work. We help them organize the documents necessary for employment, offer job training, professional behavior training, and workplace training courses. Once they are employed, we offer the services of a social worker to ensure individuals are adjusting well in their workplaces. In the first year of the program, Universal Leaf Tabacos employed 60 people from Bairro Menino Deus, giving them their first job opportunities. By the end of 2004, 240 more people were employed. Presently, about 300 people from Bairro Menino Deus are employed per season.

The success of the Universal Leaf Citizen Program was recognized by the Brazilian authorities. The project was given the “Top Cidadania” award in 2006 by the Brazilian Association of Human Resources (ABRH-RS), which is awarded to social programs recommended as examples to be followed by other communities.

The program was also awarded the prestigious Golden Leaf Award in 2008 for “most impressive public service initiative.” The award, given by Tobacco Reporter magazine and sponsored by the company BMJ, recognizes outstanding public service initiatives from around the world.

Not only is it rewarding to see the social improvements from projects like this one, but it also creates a better working environment for our company and our employees.