On most days, 2-1-1 Navigation Specialist Tim Grealis is at his desk, dedicated to helping veterans and their families find, understand and access community resources. A United States Air Force Veteran, Grealis brings real-life experience to his job.
But in mid-April, Grealis reached a much larger audience. He delivered a speech in the Ohio State House Rotunda for Lobby Day, to bring awareness to veteran programs in Ohio. Some of those in attendance included Rep. Marlene Anielski, 6th District; Rep. Kent Smith, 8th District; Rep. Janine Boyd, 9th District; Rep. Stephanie Howse, 11th District; Rep. Nickie Antonio, 13th District and Rep. Nicholas Celebreeze, 15th District. From the Senate, Senator Mike Skindell, 23rd District, Senator Kenny Yuko, 25th District and Legislative Aide for Sen. Sandra Williams, 21st District attended.
“Our 2-1-1 started the Help 2 Veterans program on November 11, 2013,” Grealis noted in his speech. “Since that time, we have helped 23,000 Veterans in Cuyahoga County. There are approximately 82,000 Veterans in the County.”
He also shared his personal story:
“When I was 18 years old, I joined the Air Force. I signed up because I did not have the money for college, I was eager to learn new skills, and my dad and grandfather were both in the service. After training, I went to Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana and spent two years there.
When I was discharged from the Air Force, I got a great job — I was so thankful for the skills I learned from the military. I worked in the computer industry for 21 years until I was laid off in June of 2011. I spent 18 months looking for a job. Our family — I have a wife and three boys — had to drastically cut all of our expenses, including selling our car.
What I did not know at the time was that being an Air Force Veteran could open doors for me. I wish I had known about 2-1-1 and about the Veterans’ services available to me. I finally found out about 2-1-1 when talking with a friend of mine who worked there. 2-1-1 had an opening so I applied for the job.
Since I have started this position, I have made it my mission to help our veterans find programs to help with rent, food, utilities and job finding assistance. Those are the top four needs of our veterans.”
Grealis told the story of his interaction with Charles Farris Jr., an Air Force veteran who called 2-1-1 after spending a night in a doorframe in sub-zero weather. He credits Grealis and 2-1-1 with more than helping him find shelter and food. (Read the full story)
His speech concluded with a call to action for the legislators. “Right now our program only covers Cuyahoga County. Each time I talk with our partners in other counties, they tell me how much they wish the program would serve their area,” he said. “If we were able to expand the program to our entire 21-county service area, we would cover 26 percent of the veterans in Ohio (about 210,000 men and women). 2-1-1 could be the gateway to all community services for returning veterans and for their families.”
Grealis said he was overwhelmed by reaction to the speech.
Barbara A. Sykes, President & CEO Ohio United Way, said, “Tim’s presentation on 2-1-1 and the services provided to Veterans and their families were positively and overwhelmingly received. He spoke from the heart and made us all proud … standing ovation proud!”
Major General (retired) Deborah A. Ashenhurst and Speaker of the House Clifford Rosenburg greeted Grealis and thanked him for his service and speech, presenting him with their commemorative coins.
Now that some time has passed, Grealis said he has positive perspective on the day.
“It made me proud that I am making a difference to the Veterans Community,” he said. “I just wish I could do more.”