Our September Hero is Gary Thompson. Gary Thompson has been a part of the organization’s family before our name was Easterseals. For many years, his leadership guided the organization as it embarked on a new social enterprise. His financial expertise mentored Easterseals when it faced drastic changes in government funding. And this year, his love and support as the first honorary chair of Our Serve: Military Appreciation Day led us to a record-setting fundraising event.
Over two decades ago, when Gary first met Lisa FitzGibbon, former president and CEO of Easterseals, he knew right away that he wanted to be involved in the organization. During a long conversation, Lisa said to Gary, “We can either give people with disabilities and disadvantages, the skills to transition to the workforce and be proud, self-sufficient members of society or we can leave them alone and we’ll be supporting them for the rest of their lives.” The minute Gary heard that remark, he knew he had to be involved.
After a short time at P&G, Gary started his own business, OKI Systems, in his basement with his wife. By the time Gary sold the business 33 years later, OKI Systems had grown to employ 330 people at seven locations throughout the TriState.
Gary Thompson was board chair in 2004, and his business savvy, entrepreneurial spirit and financial expertise led Easterseals to its decision to start Building Value, a social enterprise for reused building materials focused on ensuring individuals in need get the chance to start a career in construction. The social enterprise will celebrate its 15th anniversary next year.
“Easterseals gives people the skills to earn self-respect, to earn self-sufficiency, and the pride of taking care of themselves. To see someone that was destined to be on the Dole for his or her life, being a producing member of society, that’s powerful. And you can imagine what it means to every one of those people. I’ve talked with many of them and how thrilled and excited they were to be able to be productive” shared Gary.
Before coming to Easterseals, Gary felt hesitant about hiring someone who was not the very best however, he shares that “Easterseals taught me that there are really good people out there that you might have to do some work on, but they can be excellent employees.”
We are so thankful for all that Gary has done for Easterseals. His support and dedication has not gone unnoticed. Pam Green, president and CEO, said it best, when she said: “Gary was the board chair when I joined Easterseals 15 years ago, and he has remained a great friend to the organization and the individuals we serve. Gary is a classic entrepreneur: he cuts right to the heart of every issue, and focuses on the path forward rather than where we are at present. It mirrors Easterseals approach when we are working with people who have barriers to employment: where do you want to go, and what do we need to do to get there?
I believe Gary’s ability to singularly focus on mission is a reflection of his background in the Marines. I greatly admire and respect his commitments: service to country, to family, to community and to the causes he believes in.”