Former steelworker gives back to Baltimore
Wednesday, 19 June 2013 12:43

Griffin awarded grant for service to community

by Nicole Rodman

    Former Bethlehem Steel electrician Edward Griffin was devastated when he was laid off after the company was sold in 2003.
    For 12 years, he worked at the company and the shipyard until he got the news that he was out of a job.
    “I repaired ships, ran cable, installed equipment and set-up equipment for all the other craftsmen to complete their work,” Griffin told The Eagle.
    Though he was facing hard times, Griffin did not wallow in misfortune.
    Rather, he pulled himself up and, using his skills and determination, went from jobless to job creator.
    Now, he works to give back to those who seek the same chance.
    After losing his job at Bethlehem Steel, Griffin, a Baltimore City resident,  worked for Comcast while earning his associate’s degree in electrical engineering at Baltimore City Community College.
    After facing layoffs again in 2010 while working as a driver for a human services agency, Griffin and a few fellow workers decided it was time to start a business of their own.

“Cleaning was something many of us had done in the past, and I had a lot of the equipment needed to get started, so we decided to give it a try,” Griffin noted.
    Using a $14,000 grant from the Presbytery of Baltimore (the governing body for central and western Maryland Presbyterian churches), Griffin and his partners formed a business cleaning lawns for homes and businesses.
    Today, Griffin’s company, A Touch of Class Cleaning Service, has 70 clients, including preservation companies that hire the service to clean and maintain the lawns of foreclosed properties.
    While Griffin’s service has grown since its start in 2010, the fact that he pays out 60 percent of the company’s income to his workers leaves Griffin with only a small amount to actually purchase equipment.
    Hearing about grants available from a new foundation, BMe, Griffin decided to apply.
    BMe (Black Male Engagement) was founded in 2011 in Philadelphia and Detroit as a way to highlight the important work being done by African-American males in their communities.
    “BMe is based on a simple truth — that there are thousands of black men who are assets to their communities — and if the rest of us got behind people like these, the city would have more to celebrate,” BMe founder Trabian Shorters noted in a press release.
    The program, which was expanded to Baltimore this year, is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Open Society Foundation.
    As part of their mission, BMe awards $15,000 grants to black men working to improve their communities.
    Soon after sending in his application for a BMe grant, Griffin received the good news that he had been selected.
    In choosing him for one of their awards, BMe focused on Griffin’s dedication to hiring employees who have trouble finding work due to past issues such as incarceration and drug addiction.
    For Griffin, hiring such workers is all about providing second chances to those in need.
    “It’s important to hire returning citizens because everyone deserves a second chance, and if they committed a crime, they have already served their sentence,” Griffin explained.
    He added, “If their conviction resulted in a five-year sentence, when they get out, they should not have to live a life sentence on the outside of prison, being refused a chance to improve their lives, care for their families and return good will to the community in which they harmed.”
    And, while he has never been in jail or dealt with drug addiction, Griffin approaches the issue with humility and empathy.
    “There is a saying in the church, ‘But for the grace of God go I,’ which is used when we talk about someone who has fallen on hard times or is less fortunate than we are,” he explained. “That it’s only by the grace of God that I am not in their shoes.”
    As Griffin pointed out, the only issue he has ever had in hiring such workers is in finding clients who will accept workers with prior criminal records.
    “We have seen that these men and women are hungry and eager to work,” he said. “The problem is with individuals who have a stereotype against them and they can never seem to get beyond their past mistakes.”
    As Griffin explained, he usually sends workers with past issues to “special jobs we get from homeowners, churches, etc., that are welcoming to returning citizens.”
    As for his plans for the $15,000 BMe grant, Griffin’s company will put the funds toward the purchase of new equipment, such as a vehicle and lawn maintenance equipment.
    He also hopes to grow his business by using some of the grant money to hire someone to file the company’s minority business application.
    With this application, A Touch of Class Cleaning Service would become eligible for government-level jobs.
    Ultimately, Griffin seeks to give back, both to the less fortunate and the city that he calls home.
    “If you don’t give up after you lose a job, or can’t get a job, there are still opportunities to provide for your families using your talents, especially in the service areas,” he concluded. “My goal is return Charm City to the city it claimed to be, cleaning one house at a time.”