Co-workers unite to help friend through illness
September 4, 2013
Gary East, a project manager and rehired annuitant on the Engineering and Support Center Huntsville's Installation Support and Programs Management Directorate's Metering program, is undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer. Huntsville Center employees who have come to East's aid, more commonly referred to as "Team Gary," have really stepped up to the plate to support East and his family with more than 350 hours of donated leave, a blog site, T-shirts and armband fund-raiser, and weekly visits to his home.
Tracey Edmonds, who said she coordinates the "Team Gary" effort at Huntsville Center, worked alongside East on the Huntsville Center Chemical Demilitarization Directorate's Systems Engineering Division until he retired from federal service in 2010. When East returned to Huntsville Center as a rehired annuitant a year later, she had the opportunity to work with him again.
Edmonds said her directorate has close-knit ties that extend well-beyond their workday. That is why when their team received an email from East explaining his cancer diagnosis in April, she made contact with his family to find out what she could do to help.
East's daughter, Emily Eckley, and daughter-in-law, Kelly East, both told Edmonds about East's love for travel and their desire to start a BlogSpot for East. Edmonds said she immediately went to work on this and within a few days, "Team Gary" was formed.
"My husband always tells me I don't ever half do anything -- and in this case, I guess he's probably right," Edmonds said. "I didn't mean for it to become a large effort, but there was no way around it. It just came from my heart. I knew I wanted to help Gary and his family and just acted on it."
Edmonds said the small "Team Gary" effort she started became something big really fast. The "Where in the World is Team Gary" BlogSpot and interactive virtual travel site that allows people from around the globe to make virtual visits with East was an instant hit; and the T-shirts sold like crazy.
"The BlogSpot is a way for family and friends to show their support for Gary and his wife Ann during Gary's fight with cancer," Edmonds said. "Our goal is to gather as many photos as possible from those who are praying alongside Team Gary. The Team Gary sign is taken with photos of friends and family and friends of friends at key places. Gary's family wanted to get pictures from a dozen or more states. We reached that marker in early July."
Edmonds said several groups in the private sector have also pitched in to help out. She got a printing company in Grant to print the green (East's favorite color) "Team Gary" T- shirts at cost, another vendor purchased 25 shirts at one time, and East's local church, Rivertree Church in Owens Cross Roads, Ala., sells "Team Gary" armbands. The proceeds from all sales will help to offset East's medical costs.
George Foozer, Huntsville Center's ISPM deputy director, said he is pleased with the phenomenal support East has gotten from Huntsville Center employees.
"Typically, those who volunteer to participate in 'Team Gary' don't do it for their own benefit. They do it for the person who is affected," Foozer said. "Gary's not only a good Huntsville Center employee; he is also a good husband, father and grandfather. I want to do all I can to help."
Edmonds said Corps employees at other locations as well as employees who work on Redstone Arsenal have also joined "Team Gary." They were able to get Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick, Corps of Engineers commander, and Maj. Gen. Kendall Cox, deputy commander for military and international operations, on board with "Team Gary" holding up signs at the Corps headquarters and Huntsville Center, respectively. The BlogSpot even has celebrity posts from Mrs. America, Mallory Hagan, Miss Alabama, Margaret McCord, congressmen Mo Brooks and Jeff Sessions, author Homer Hickman and Auburn University football coach Gus Malzahn.
East's family wants to create a photo book from the photos collected for the family. Edmonds said she is excited about helping with this activity as well.
"I'd like to see folks on some of our Corps projects get involved. We want everyone included, especially those who may travel often. We'd like to get photos of people in some of our remote areas," Edmond said. "We look forward to seeing your photo up on 'Where in the world is Team Gary!'"
East, who is halfway through his chemotherapy, visited Huntsville Center Aug. 22 to personally thank Team Gary for their efforts. He said he is more than humbled by the support of his work family and wanted to thank each person who has been there in one way or another during his journey.
Edmonds said East still needs more help with leave donations and medical costs, so she wants to get more folks involved.
"I don't take credit for any of this because it is a team effort. There is always something you can do to help someone who is dealing with a problem or illness," Edmonds said. "My parents taught me that families provide support during times of need. Gary is a member of the Corps family who needs our support. I'll do whatever I can to help him and his family. It's just that simple."
Editor's note: If you would like to make a "Team Gary" sign for the BlogSpot: take a photo, and send your submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. To make a leave donation to East, contact your local civilian personnel advisory representative. To read more about East's story, visit www.caringbridge.org/visit/garyeast.