Meet Joe Groh, founder of the Joseph Groh Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping those with ties to the trades industry who are living with a disability. Groh spent 35 years working in the HVAC industry, traveling the country with his family and climbing the corporate ladder. In 2008 he was VP of Sales and Marketing for PCI Inc., when his life changed forever. The married, father of three was injured in a bicycle accident near Grapevine Lake that left him a C3/C4 quadriplegic (paralyzed below the shoulders).
A determined Groh never let the accident that altered his life become an obstacle to leading a rewarding existance. Groh started the foundation a year after the accident to benefit those in an industry that has not only employed generations of Groh family members, but continued to show Joe great compassion during his recovery and rehabilitation. Groh's passion also shines through in his fondness for inspiring others with his message. Recently, Joe released his first book, From Two Wheels to Four, which details how to prevail in times of extreme difficulty or great challenge. We wanted to know more about Groh and his foundation and he was kind enough to answer a few questions:
Dawn Tongish: Can you tell us about The Joseph Groh Foundation?
Joe Groh: The Joseph Groh foundation was started for the primary reason of providing financial assistance to individuals who had some kind of connection to the construction trades (HVAC, roofing, electrical, plumbing etc.) and who are living with a life altering disability. When you have a life altering disability, you discover two things very quickly. The first is that your disability typically triggers other medical conditions that you might never have envisioned, some of which can be life-threatening. The second is that these issues require a variety of medical, rehabilitative and assistive technology items which are not covered by insurance. Additionally, if you are a major income producer for yourself or your family, you can suddenly face a major financial crisis that does not allow you the luxury of being able to purchase needed technology items. That is where our foundation seeks to be of assistance, to date we have supplied individuals with everything from wheelchair vans and home and bath remodels to shower chairs, special mattresses, standing frames (exercise equipment for paraplegics) elevator lifts and more. Prior to my accident I worked in the HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning) industry for 35 years as did my grandfather, uncle, dad and as do my brother, sister and both of my sons. The construction trades have provided opportunities and careers to many in our family and I started the foundation as a means to give back.
The secondary reason for starting the foundation was to provide information, particularly to those who have incurred a spinal cord injury. Following such an injury you have many questions and answers are hard to come by. You are also faced with a variety of decisions that often have to be made with little time and insufficient knowledge. That is why we made the links section on our website so robust, at present it contains about 130 links to a wide variety of websites in 11 different categories. We continue to search for additional relevant links, and we're now finding users of our site recommending links as well.
DT: What do you remember about the accident?
JG: A number of different things stand out in my mind about the accident itself. First, as I felt the front tire of my mountain bike sliding off the edge of the trail and knowing I was going to crash, I remember wondering how much it was going to hurt. I was unconscious for a short period of time, but when I came to I remember how strange my arms and legs felt. It felt like they were both lifted off the ground, similar to that of an animal on its back with their paws in the air. I was later told this was my brain, remembering the last position of my body on the bicycle. It was when I looked at my left arm and saw it laying on the ground that I gained my first clue as to the severity of the accident. I lay on the ground for about 45 min. in 100° heat before I was discovered by a jogger and his eight-year-old daughter. I was getting extremely thirsty at that point and the jogger offered me a drink of his daughter’s grape Gatorade. It remains in my mind as one of the all-time best drinks I have ever had. The jogger called 911 for me and I knew the nearest firehouse was only about a mile away. Shortly after his call I heard the approaching sirens, and it felt disconcerting, knowing they were coming for you. After the ambulance arrived the EMTs had a brief discussion with me and then retreated a short distance away to talk, but they were still within range of my hearing. I heard them debating the merits of calling care flight, and that provided the second clue of the severity of my accident. The thought of dying never entered my mind, but I did not know how critically I was injured. That was a good thing, because it did not cause me to think about how this would affect my wife and children.
DT: After your accident, you showed tremendous strength and faith to overcome. To what do you attribute your ability to overcome your tragedy and carve out a new life?
JG: Alas, this is the subject of my recently published book, From Two Wheels to Four. In short, I believe overcoming major adversity is a function of your upbringing, your support network and your faith. It requires a shift in focus from yourself, looking outward toward others, remembering that there is always someone worse off than you. I invite you to check out my book for more on this subject.
DT: You continue to be a role model and mentor to others. How important is it that others have this kind of positive example?
JG: First of all, I don't consider myself to be a role model, but if someone can benefit from anything I do then that is a good thing. Positive examples and perhaps more importantly, positive attitudes are critical for anyone trying to overcome a major adversity in their life. Attitude is something you have a choice over, and a positive attitude can make the difference between driving friends and family away or bonding more closely with them. It can make the difference between personal misery and happiness, it can even make the difference as to whether you live or die. When I lay on the trail waiting for someone to find me and knowing that life had unalterably changed, I told myself that no matter what happened, I would never look back, never give up and remain positive. While difficult to do 100% of the time, that pledge has sustained me through some of the worst trials of my experience. Not just words, I challenge myself to live up to that pledge, every day, one day at a time.
DT: It can be difficult for any nonprofit to pay the bills. How do you stay afloat?
JG: Our foundation has no paid members and no fixed overhead. Beyond that, we simply do what everyone must, we live within our means. We don't incur any expense that is not directly tied to raising funds. For example, when we host a golf tournament fundraiser we incur expenses, but we keep those costs as reasonable as we can in order to maximize the amount of money we can spend on our grant recipients. We typically have more requests for grants than we are able to fulfill, but we are continuing to expand our fundraising efforts throughout the industry to meet these demands. We are extremely fortunate to have a loyal group of supporters who believe in what we are doing and show that through their continued funding. A nonprofit organization is all about two things, the people and companies who make the funding possible and the people who benefit from their generosity. Without the former there would be no latter and we are simply the conduit putting the two together.
DT: How can the people of North Texas and beyond meet your needs for 2014? What are your biggest needs?
JG: The obvious need is for money, because without it we cannot extend grants. Beyond that however, we need to continue to expand awareness of our foundation and what we are doing, in order to attract new sponsors and new potential grant recipients. After our first golf tournament fundraiser in 2010, it took us seven months to create enough awareness of who we were before the first request for a grant came in. We want to continue to spread the word of who we are and what we are trying to do so that those in need will contact us, and those who identify with our work will fund us. On the "How Can I Help" tab of the foundation website,(http://www.josephgrohfoundation.org/) there is a prewritten letter entitled Spreading the Word. Interested individuals can download this document and e-mail it to potentially interested parties, be they sponsors or grant recipients. Awareness of the fact that we exist is a critical first step in everything that happens.
DT: What is the most memorable moment in your experience at the Joe Groh foundation?
JG: Without question it involves a request we received from the Chicago area in 2011. We were contacted about a home and bath remodel by Denise, the sister of Deb Clapperton. In 2000 Deb had a brain aneurysm, leaving her physically and mentally disabled. Her husband, an HVAC service technician cared for her and their two daughters. Her husband, Jim, was diagnosed with cancer in 2002 but found to be in remission in 2003. Then, the unthinkable happened. Just before Christmas of 2005, he had a fatal heart attack. Deborah's sister Denise, also runs an HVAC contracting business. She took over Deb's care with funding provided by Jim's life insurance. The money ran out however in 2011 and Jim and Deborah's house was foreclosed on. At that point, Denise moved Deb into her mother's house, which was ill equipped for Deb's needs. At that point Denise discovered the foundation online and requested assistance with the home. Her request came at a time when the foundation was extremely low on money, so we turned to our other resources. One of the foundation board members is part of a national organization of contractors, and he helped the foundation find a Chicago area plumbing contractor willing to act as the general contractor on the project. The plumbing contractor also recruited 100% volunteer labor for everything required in the project, which ranged from building an outdoor ramp to widening doorways to completely renovating a bathroom for handicapped access. The foundation paid for the materials involved, some of which the plumbing contractor managed to be supplied at cost. The retail value of this effort was about $35,000 and the final outcome completely transformed Deb's life.
One of the volunteers in that project was a tile contractor who had a seven-year-old daughter who is living with the effects of multicystic hydrocephalus, which is a condition resulting from malformation in the brain during fetal development. That resulted in her having cerebral palsy and cortical blindness. The contractor lives in a typical bungalow style house which features a number of stairs to both the front and back doors. For years this contractor had been carrying his daughter in her wheelchair up and down the stairs every time she went out, but it was getting to the point where this was more and more difficult, particularly in the harsh northern winters. He requested from the foundation a wheelchair lift to remedy this situation, and by that point the foundation had sufficient funds to meet his needs. I believe this story is a classic example of people coming together in time of need, and of the silent generosity exhibited by so many in this industry and in this country.
DT: What part does a good mental attitude play in overcoming any setback in life?
JG: I believe it is everything, and I can't even imagine overcoming a major adversity without it. There aren't many people paralyzed to the extent that I am, technically I was paralyzed at the C3/4 vertebrae so the only thing I can move is my head. I am fortunate not to be on a ventilator. About one year after my accident, Baylor Rehabilitation (where I had done my rehab) called me and asked if I could visit another individual who had been injured in a motorcycle accident and was paralyzed like me. He had asked to talk to someone who was in his condition because he felt that no one understood his situation. He was very depressed and his goal in life was to convince the Texas Legislature to legalize euthanasia for people such as himself. I went down to visit him and his wife with my wife and sister, and we had a long visit, lasting all afternoon. I fully understood where he was coming from but my goal was to try and have them understand that there is life and hope beyond this injury. We stayed in touch by e-mail over the next six months, and I remember one Friday when he e-mailed me to tell me he had recently been approved for a fentanyl type patch. These are typically prescribed for cancer patients experiencing moderate to severe pain. His spinal cord injury was classified as incomplete, meaning he could feel sensation below the point of injury, while mine is complete and I can't. He felt that would improve his quality of life. Sadly, I was contacted by his wife three days later that he had passed away in his sleep over the weekend. Perhaps he had received his wish, but it reaffirmed in me the need to be positive, because your attitude affects everything and everyone around you..0
DT: Why did you decide to write a book detailing your ordeal?
JG: I have always loved writing, and in the business world I wrote many position papers, strategic planning documents and even speeches, either for myself or for superiors. In February of 2013 I was asked by an industry group to be a keynote speaker at their international convention in Fort Worth, where the theme was overcoming adversity. As I prepared my speech, the thought occurred to me that I had the elements for a book. At about the same time, the pastor of our local church conducted a sermon series on overcoming adversity, and he attributed those to your background, your support network and your faith. That strongly resonated with me, and those two incidents were the inspiration for writing my book. In my book I credited our pastor for the elements of his sermon series, but I added a fourth factor – a sense of humor! Humor can be a HUGE factor in helping to overcome obstacles and bring people together in a way that nothing else can. Hopefully, you see some of that in my book.
If you'd like to nominate a local resident for a BubbleLife community profile, contact Dawn Tongish at firstname.lastname@example.org or find her on Twitter at @DawnTongish.