Double Duty
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Double Duty

Boston associates honor the memory of their colleague's veteran father by helping a homeless veteran move

In 2009, when associates in Grand Circle's Boston headquarters devoted a Saturday to renovating the New England Center for Homeless Veterans (NECHV), little did they know that that service would continue to reverberate into the present day. So moved was the Grand Circle team by the plight of these veterans—most of whom have battled substance abuse and post-traumatic stress—they made the decision to make the NECHV the focus of the company's Up & Out program.

Up & Out is a program in which Grand Circle volunteers help families relocate to—and even furnish—new homes. The program is on track to help twelve homeless veterans into new homes by the end of this year.

Last month's move was especially poignant for members of Grand Circle's People & Culture department. Grand Circle's manager of corporate culture and history, Mark Schianca, had recently lost his father, John Schianca. Mark's colleagues decided to help a veteran move in John's honor.

Because John had served in the Air Force, the Grand Circle team decided to sponsor the move of Jim Gately, a man who had served in the Air Force from 1952 to 1956. A former employee of the U.S. Postal Service and of one of the convention centers in Boston, Jim had been in and out of the NECHV for ten years. Now in his seventies, he was ready to move into a permanent home, in a 96-unit apartment building in Boston's West Roxbury neighborhood.

Julie Kremer, director of special events for Grand Circle and leader of the service event, worked with NECHV to find out what Jim owned already and what he needed. She discovered that "he had two suitcases of clothes, and that was it." Nor was there anything in storage for Up & Out recipients. So two weeks before the move, Julie's team of "about ten" began gathering donations for Jim's new apartment among Grand Circle associates.

The donations flooded in, and Julie headed to Ikea for the bigger items. On the Friday night before the move, the team loaded up their own cars and the company van for the event, and then reconvened at 7:30 Saturday morning at Jim's new apartment complex. "The whole department went in and built," Julie marvels. "Everyone felt they contributed."

In all, the company supplied a bed, side table, and dresser for the bedroom; a couch, chair with a stool, a TV stand, and side tables for the living room; and a dining room table and four chairs. In addition, the team brought in pots and pans, dishes, towels, bedding, and all the necessities. They stocked the refrigerator with food and even brought artwork to brighten the walls. "Mark handles the [Grand Circle] gallery, so he's really good at knowing where to hang things," says Julie. And all was done with a mind to Jim's preference for a black-and-white, modern style.

"He was blown away by what we did," Julie smiles. "We completely changed his life and gave him one less thing to worry about." What particularly touched Julie about the experience was Jim's plan to acknowledge the help he'd been receiving from his brother and sister-in-law. "Now that he has a home," she says, "he wants to have them over for dinner."

In a way, Julie is instilling the seed of service in her own family. The winner of 2011's Excellence in Community Service award, an internal honor bestowed at Grand Circle Foundation's annual awards banquet, Julie asks her family for a check instead of a gift for her birthday each year. "I use it to buy something for a veteran's apartment," she says. "Then I take a picture of it and tell them, 'This is what you got me for my birthday.' Now they really look forward to it."

While the experience of moving Jim into his new home was rewarding in itself, Julie is especially glad to have been able to pay tribute to a friend. "When Mark's father died, we wondered what we could do for him," she recalls. "Then we thought of moving a veteran. What better way to honor his father?"

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