WEST PARIS — Agnes Gray Elementary School has had a long-standing business relationship with Grover Gundrilling of Oxford. That relationship has strengthened over the last several years, thanks to President Rob Pierson.

Over the years, the company has donated supplies and Thanksgiving turkeys. But, when Principal Beth Clarke reached out to the company in the fall of 2017 for a turkey donation, she had no idea a unique bond was about to form, thanks to Pierson, who had recently taken over the company.

Larry Durgin, Rob Pierson, Mike Parker, Pat Paine, and Mike Carleton, employees of Grover Gundrilling of Oxford, recently spent a day volunteering at Agnes Gray Elementary School in West Paris. Submitted photo

“I said yes but only if she took five turkeys and provided me with a tour of the school,” he said.

He took the tour and learned many of the schools nearly 140 students were living very economically depressed conditions with family histories of drug and alcohol use.

“I learned these gifted turkeys were more than a celebration, they were a sustenance for the local families to feed their children,” he said.

Mostly, he learned he had fallen in love with the students and teachers. He became more and more interested in donating his time and efforts to the school, leading to what he termed ‘adopting the school’.

Grover Gundrilling employees commit to two Days of Helping each year at Agnes Gray Elementary School. The volunteers spend the day on school improvement projects, such as staining, carpentry and general campus cleanup. Submitted photo

“Rob had a different vision,” said Clarke. “It was not just about financial support and donated supplies. He encourages employees to do the work we either can’t afford to do or can’t do on our own. He regularly visits the school, spends time in the classrooms and meets with me to see what our needs are,” Clarke said.

As he visited students, he learned their stories.

“The stories I can share are heartbreaking, but they are a reality,” Pierson said. “I saw one student who appeared very agitated. It turned out the student had been diagnosed with ADHD, but they were unable to take their meds because the father sold it to have money to buy heroin.”

“Another story is that of a student who – every day – gets up and dresses and feeds her younger sibling because their father is behind bars and their mother is a drug addict. When it snows they have no way of having school cancellations or delays communicated to them, so they go through the whole routine and walk all the way to school, only to be turned back once they find out there’s no school that day.”

Pierson was motivated to do something to help the school.

“When in doubt, go do something good,” he said. “Maybe we didn’t go through and vet our process, or spend a lot of time deciding where to focus our efforts – but we felt this was the right thing to do. The school fell into our path for a reason, and we felt at the time that we’re not going to let ‘perfect’ get in the way of ‘better.’ We saw a need, and as a business, we said ‘we have to do something.’”

He and his wife, Linda, have financially supported the school’s technology initiative for the last several years, she said. He also engaged the Grover team in giving.

Last year, Pierson invited Clarke to visit the company and talk to employees about the school. “He allowed me to share the story of our school and our kids and the trauma some of them experience … the story about how the food pantry provides food for some of our kids and how the book closet provides books,” she said.

Pierson challenged his employees to give through payroll deduction. Pierson matched what was raised and the school was presented with a check for $6,410. The appeal for employees to donate directly out of their paychecks is ongoing, Pierson said.

In June, kids were sent home with workbooks, coloring books, paper, crayons, and other supplies, all donated by the company.

“It was their idea to send kids home with supplies so they could create spaces in their homes for school work and keep school in the forefront of their minds over the summer,” Clarke said.

A fall backpack drive insured students had all the needed supplies for school.

“We have also committed to two full Days of Helping to improve the grounds and building,” he said. “Agnes Gray is a school that was built in a very different time and hasn’t been updated the way it needs to be. Therefore, the school is making do with outdated equipment and facilities – and it doesn’t need to be that way.”

The most recent service day took place over the summer. A half dozen employees spent their personal time helping with school improvements and general campus cleanup.

“A parent of one of our students is a Grover employee,” Clarke said. “He showed up here and stained our outdoor classroom. It was very unexpected. It’s the people that make the biggest impact. That is why Rob was so keen on getting people here to work alongside our kids. They can provide opportunities for our kids that we don’t always get to or can’t afford. Every school needs a Rob Pierson and Grover Gundrilling,” Clarke said.

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