Mike Guerrera
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Mike Guerrera

Fulfillment Operations Manager, Grand Circle Corporation

Mike Guerrera's life has taken many unexpected turns, but one thing has always been a constant: his commitment to giving back to his community. It's a commitment that serves him well at Grand Circle Corporation, where philanthropy is a way of life.

Mike didn't begin his career at Grand Circle. After graduating high school in the suburbs of Boston, he enrolled in flight school, with dreams of a career in aviation management and flight operations. Fate—and finances—intervened, however, and he left after only a year to "transition into the workforce," as he puts it.

His first jobs were in retail management, and he also drove a limousine for 15 years. "I met a lot of interesting people," he says. "It was exciting and different." Eventually, however, he tired of working nights and weekends. Fate led him next to Grand Circle Corporation, where he recently marked his 13-year anniversary.

A Grand Old Time at Grand Circle
Even his career with Grand Circle has been filled with twists and turns. He started out as a customer service representative in the call center, but within a year, he was involved in a terrible motorcycle accident. "People were amazing," he marvels. "I was able to work from home for ten months. It renewed my commitment to the company and to [Grand Circle Corporation chair and co-chair] the Lewises."

By the time he returned, the corporation was consolidating Grand Circle Travel and Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) into its Boston office space, and Mike was instrumental in smoothing the way. From there, he joined the Help Group, "answering the questions of associates rather than travelers," he explains. His next step was in the documents department, where he excelled and was promoted to supervisor.

Today, he serves as fulfillment operations manager, responsible for the mailroom, the documents group, the inventory area, the gift program, and office supplies. "It's been a wild ride," he admits. "But it's a lot of fun."

Staying on Top of "Up & Out"
Part of what makes work fun for Mike is the opportunity Grand Circle provides to give back. "I've been involved in community service right from the start," he says. For "about eight years," he headed up the Food Harvest Project, an annual event in which a team of associates and friends would go to a farm in a Boston suburb for a day and harvest food to be distributed to those in need. When that ended, however, "I started looking for something to do instead," he says.

The community service team at Grand Circle's Boston headquarters had already established an Up & Out program, in which associates help people move from homeless shelters into new homes. By the time that Mike was looking for another service project, Up & Out had begun to focus on the New England Center for Homeless Veterans (NECHV), which serves more than 1,000 veterans a year. Many of the Center's veterans have battled substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder and are now committed to getting their lives back on track.

The new focus of the program resonated with Mike. "Growing up, I had always looked up to the military," he says. "My grandfather was a marine in World War II, and it meant a lot to me to give back to men and women who have given so much."

Up & Out handled eight moves last year—including one for a family of seven—and is on track to complete a total of twelve moves pver the course of 2012. Mike serves as coordinator for all of them. Currently, the trend is for a department within the company to take responsibility for each move, under Mike's guidance.

The team involved first works with the NECHV to select a veteran who is ready to move. The veterans are responsible for securing their apartments, and if they sign a lease for a space within an area that the team can access, they become eligible for Up & Out. "I leave it up to whoever's doing the move to choose," Mike explains.

Once the beneficiary has been determined, the team meets with him or her to get the keys—and to gain a sense of his or her needs and likes and dislikes. "It's eye-opening for the team leaders," Mike says. "They're pretty humbled by the simplicity of their requirements. It might be something as simple as a throw rug to put by the bed, so they have something to put their feet on in the morning."

About two weeks before the move, the team begins soliciting donations from their colleagues at the office. "The outpouring throughout the organization is amazing," Mike says. Not only do people give monetary donations, they also purchase goods out of pocket or bring in gently used items for an apartment that needs everything from furniture and linens to toiletries and food.

The actual move usually occurs on a Saturday. Associates gather at Boston headquarters and load up their cars and the company van, then spend the morning cleaning, moving in furniture, stocking kitchen shelves—even baking cookies, Mike reveals, "so there's a nice smell when the veteran comes home."

Once the veteran arrives, the team gives a sparkling cider toast, and presents the veteran with the keys. "Then we leave them to enjoy their new space and their new start," Mike says.

Other Ways of Giving
There's an enormous amount of work and organization that goes into running Up & Out, but Mike still finds time for other ways of giving back. At 2011's Grand Circle Foundation awards banquet, he became acquainted with Jon Feinman, executive director and founder of InnerCity Weightlifting, an organization dedicated to providing positive alternatives to youths caught up in gang violence. Mike was touched by Jon's efforts—and by the difficulty Jon faces in finding a community that will accept his program. "It's tough when you think you have a great idea, but there's always someone trying to knock you down," Mike says. "I've kind of taken him under my wing and hope to move him soon into a new space."

Grand Circle Foundation provides $25,000 a year for the Associates' Fund, and a team of associates determines how these funds will be allocated among various local charitable organizations. Mike not only successfully secured a Grand Circle grant for InnerCity Weightlifting, he now serves on the board of the Associates' Fund.

Just this month, he spent an evening at the Greater Boston Food Bank with a Grand Circle team, helping to sort thousands of pounds of food for distribution to the hungry. He has also walked to raise funds for the Jimmy Fund, a Boston charity that supports the fight against cancer in children, and he swam for Save the Harbor/Save the Bay, another Boston-area nonprofit, a scant year after his disastrous motorcycle accident.

Recognizing Excellence
Though Mike has never sought the spotlight for his amazing efforts, it's not surprising that it has been directed toward him anyway. Last year, he won the Excellence in Service award, an internal Grand Circle award given to eight associates each year.

One of the benefits of winning the award is inclusion in an annual trip to an exotic location. 2011's Excellence in Service team traveled to Burma. Even then, Mike couldn't resist spearheading a charitable project. "We were going to visit an orphanage where there were all girls, and I saw that a lot of them had no footwear," he says. "I thought, flip-flops are very inexpensive and very light. Why not bring some?"

He was hoping for donations of about 20 pairs of flip-flops, but within three days of sending out an email to his colleagues at Grand Circle, he found himself with 100 more pairs than he expected, plus more: shampoo, snacks, and money to help with transporting the goods. "There were 90 girls at the orphanage, and we were able to present each one with new sandals, a bottle of shampoo, and snacks," says Mike. "That's a testament to the people here at this company. Their generosity just blew me away."

Similarly, Mike's own generosity has blown others away, including the decision-makers at Grand Circle Foundation. They recognized his contributions at this year's annual awards banquet with the Annual Excellence in Community Service Award, an internal award given once a year to the one associate who best exemplifies the company's commitment to community service.

"It's very humbling to be recognized, but a lot of people do a lot more," Mike says modestly. "Grand Circle makes it so easy, the effort you need to do it is minimal." In fact, Mike encourages others to get involved—and not just by his example. "It's a great way to meet people in other departments," he says, adding, "Doing what you can to help others changes the way you feel about yourself, other people, and the company. It teaches you a lot about yourself."

Excellent advice from someone who excels at helping others.

Featured in our April 2012 E-Newsletter. Read the full issue here.