Monday, February 24, 2014
Fifty-eight-year-old Joseph Easley is Construction Manager at Operation Home, a far cry from what he was doing when he graduated from college armed with a degree in business.
Born in Florida, Easley grew up as an “Air Force brat,” he says. “My dad was a pilot in the 1950s.”
Both parents hailed from South Carolina, and Easley actually lived in Florence for eight years so he calls that “home.” He graduated from high school in Virginia Beach and went on to the College of William and Mary where he earned a degree in business. While a senior in college he married his wife Cathy and after graduation, they moved back to Florence where Easley went to work for SC National Bank.
After two years, they moved to Pawley's Island and he left banking and went to work for structured building products, moving to Summerville in 1980.
While still working in the structural products field, he volunteered doing youth ministry at St. Paul's Church in Summerville. He did such a good job that the Diocese of SC offered him a job as Youth Minister.
So he left the lucrative world of building products and went to work for little money but “huge enjoyment,” he says.
“Our kids were young so we also got to do a bit of traveling, for conferences, where they got to meet other teens.”
After a few years he left that job and went into teaching at the Charleston Marine Institute and the Georgetown Marine Institute.
These are residential programs, he explains, for kids who are in the criminal justice system for the first time. “It's their last step before jail.” He taught them history and computers.
“During all this time,” he explains, “I have had, since I was 17, a love of woodworking and furniture restoration.” He says his dad taught him the art and, eventually he decided he wanted to do this full time.
So he did. He opened his own furniture restoration business, out of his home in Summerville, called Cornerstone Restoration. He got into carpentry, millwork, finishing carpentry and cabinetry. He worked on partial restorations of houses in Charleston.
“I really loved doing it and I loved being self-employed.”
His wife, he says, works with Trident United Way and came home one day and told him a friend of hers asked if she knew anyone interested in being a construction manager for a non-profit that help people maintain their homes.
“I was very interested,” he says, “because it would get me back into serving others and helping people.”
Operation Home provides critical home repairs for low income, elderly and disabled homeowners in the Tri-County area.
“We primarily repair things like leaking roofs, damaged floors, wiring and plumbing and build handicapped ramps, modify doors and bathrooms for disabled homeowner … anything that affects safety and accessibility,” he explains.
His job is to visit with an applicant, assess the need and help the client through the process. Because the organization can't repair everything in a home, Easley must help a client understand this in a gentle and compassionate manner. Although it frustrates him sometimes not to be able to do everything needed, he says, and there are “so many in need. It is difficult to choose between helping a lot a little or a few a lot …”
He is happy to have a job that combines his need to serve with his love of carpentry and construction.
He says he sees Operation Home growing. “We have a new executive director and she has great ideas to grow the organization.”
He doesn't stop there, though. He has worked with Seafarer's Ministry, providing support for crew from container ships that pass through the Cooper River terminal. Most of the crew are away from home from eight months to a year, he explains, and the ministry provides services such as providing them with phones and computers so they can get in touch with family, and provides a bus service so they can go shopping while in port.
“Because of heightened security [since 9/11] they can't leave the terminal unless there is an agency that is willing and able to take responsibility for them,” he said.
He also used to help out with the medical outreach program at St. Paul's which provides doctors, medications, prescriptions and referrals.
He loves to fish and his extended family has owned properties on Pawley's Island since the 1920s, and they meet up there about four times a year.
He volunteers for Trident United Way, spends time with his seven grandchildren and “loves the work I am doing now.”
He would also love to work on his home and refinish furniture and his next project, he says, is bookshelves for his study. His wife, he notes, has a list of projects for him.
“I would love to get more involved in the community than I have been,” he says of the future. He says he might get involved in education as he is concerned with the direction education is taking. “I hate to see us turn away from kids learning about the founding of our country and the principals that made us what we are.”
In the meantime, he makes time to help out a friend with rides to chemotherapy and companionship, lend an empathetic and compassionate ear, lend a hand wherever needed, or identify a problem and follow through with a solution.
He has had, say his friends, a big impact on many in his community and many who have simply passed through it.