CoverMyMeds pays employees to pursue passion projects on the company's dime.

CoverMyMeds pays employees to pursue passion projects on the company's dime.

The four judges listen to pitches as individual as the people presenting them. One contestant wants to run the Boston Marathon. Another hopes to build a sustainable playground in Clintonville. A third dreams of a knitting cruise to Alaska. Some presentations are funny and low-tech, others gut-wrenchingly personal. The marathon guy? He GoPros a run from his suburban home to the beer taps inside the Downtown headquarters of CoverMyMeds.

The pitches are part of "CoverMyQuest," a 3-year-old annual contest sponsored by the fast-growing prescription authorization company in which employees compete for $3,500 grants and paid time off to pursue personal passion projects on the company's dime. In late August, CoverMyMeds gave five winning contestants a financial boost to learn Mandarin, make a medical and dental mission to Honduras and develop a science and technology educational initiative, among other things. Since its inception, the program has awarded $43,500 to 15 employees.

One of this year's winners was Jacquelyn Garcia, who persuaded her supervisors and judges to let her work from a livable mobile office (a Winnebago, if she can find one for $3,500). She plans a six-week trial run with an interactive twist: Her colleagues will determine where she goes. "[CoverMyQuest] seemed kind of weird at first," she says, "Like, 'Why are you doing this random thing that you don't have to do for us?' But after seeing part of the process, it made me aware of parts of people's lives that I wouldn't have known."

Software engineer Peter Mueller, another of this year's winners, will use his award to help a former CoverMyMeds employee travel to Iceland with his mother, who has terminal brain cancer. Why did Mueller compete to benefit someone else? He recently lost his stepfather, a lawyer who often took payment in vegetables and venison, thus earning him the nickname Atticus Finch. "I started talking about my stepdad and how he helped people," Mueller says.

Across the board, participants say CoverMyQuest is about more than an exchange of money and some paid time off. It's about something bigger.

"Being a part of this process has … let me know the 90 presenters," says 2015 recipient Nicole Brabham, who judged this year's contest (winners are required to judge the following year). "There's so many of us that work here, and this allows us to get to know [colleagues] on a personal level."

Or in the words of Harper Lee's Atticus Finch, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."