By LISA CAPOBIANCO
For years, ESPN has committed itself to completing a variety of community service projects, including some that involved collaboration with Habitat for Humanity.
Working on previous home builds in Hartford, Bloomfield, New Haven, and New Britain, ESPN volunteers recently began a project right in the company’s hometown of Bristol.
The project is the construction of a three-bedroom home located at 215 Lillian Rd., located just over a mile from ESPN’s main campus. The build was made possible through a grant of $25,000 from ESPN to Habitat for Humanity—ESPN’s first financial commitment to a Bristol build and the first time in which volunteers will finish a home from start to finish, according to a press release. ESPN volunteers will build the home throughout the summer and fall, with the goal of finishing the project in time for Veterans Day in November. The home has been awarded to a U.S. veteran, Sergeant Taurean Gaston and his family. Sgt. Gaston served in combat on multiple tours in Afghanistan.
“I am happy to be home and look forward to completing sweat equity and building my home,” said Gaston in a statement. “My children are young and I know that stability will be critical to their development. Owning a Habitat home would help me move my children in to a safe environment.”
Last Wednesday, over a dozen volunteers gathered at the site to frame the walls of the home, which will stand at over 1200 square feet. Mike Rinaldi, associate manager of client support, is the president of Team ESPN’s veterans committee and is a military veteran himself.
Rinaldi said the build serves as an important project for ESPN because of the company’s commitment to recognizing veterans, especially veterans at the local level.
“It’s a great feeling we’re helping out another veteran—he is one of our brothers,” said Rinaldi.
“It’s very rewarding,” added Diane Larivee, associate director of network management systems and analysis at ESPN, who also serves on the veterans committee and is a veteran of the U.S. Navy.
Since it formed in 1989, Habitat Hartford has completed more than 200 homes in the Greater Hartford area through donations and support from thousands of volunteers from foundations, corporations, faith organizations, civic and professional associations, and schools, stated the release. The house on Lillian Avenue is one of three Habitat homes currently being built, two of which are located on Bernie Avenue. The families who will live in these houses must complete 150 hours of working in the field on a habitat house.
For Site Supervisor Paul Eckstrom of Habitat for Humanity the project hits home. He is not only a resident of Bristol, but he is also an army veteran who served during the Vietnam War in 1968-69 when he was stationed at a hospital.
Eckstrom said he feels thrilled to work on the project with other veterans.
“This project is one of many Habitat has going on right now—we just finished the sixth project in Bloomfield, and this was the next one on our list, and it’s the first time we’ve been in Bristol,” said Eckstrom, noting how there is a large population of veterans in Bristol. “We’re pretty excited to be here, and we’re equally excited to have ESPN as one of our sponsors.” “We help working families.”
The build with Habitat serves as just one of numerous service projects the veterans committee of Team ESPN completed to give back. From working with the Newington Veteran’s Home to showing support for a military send-off in Brooklyn, N.Y. to crocheting dozens of blankets for the Fisher House, the committee, which formed 10 years ago, has honored veterans in a variety of ways. The committee also made over 100 hats for the “Stand Down” event held at Connecticut’s Veteran Home in Rocky Hill, and collected sports balls for active duty military children.
Larivee said the committee is currently working with “VITAL,” a program that helps returning soldiers transition into the classroom.
“We want to help veterans transition back into school,” said Larivee, adding the committee also plans to connect with other ESPN employees working in other offices outside Connecticut who may be veterans themselves. “You feel like a fish out of the water when you come back.”
Rinaldi said that ESPN demonstrates its commitment to veterans through its current workforce. Currently, there are over 100 ESPN employees who are U.S. military veterans.
Rinaldi, who served in the military from 1991 to 1996, attributed the large number of veteran employees to the way in which ESPN helps find jobs for returning soldiers. Disney, which owns ESPN, has pledged to help find jobs for veterans through its initiative called “Heroes Work Here. Employ Excellence.” Introduced in 2012, the initiative committed to hiring at least a thousand veterans by 2015, according to Disney’s website.
As a company committed to veterans, ESPN evaluates how the skills soldiers attained while serving their country can applied to a particular position there. Rinaldi said he hopes more companies can learn from ESPN’s model of helping veterans start their careers after returning home from their service.
“We have 150 strong veterans who are all recognized,” said Rinaldi, who served as 2nd Class Petty Officer for the U.S. Navy during the Desert Storm era. “For us veterans, [the build] is a little more special.”
Comments? Email lcapobianco@Bristol Observer.com.