We hear a lot about job creators these days. But Drew Graham, president and founder of Ship-Right Solutions in South Portland, has taken that one big step farther.
He’s a life saver.
“She’s a terrific investment,” Graham said Friday, sitting in his small conference room with receptionist Mary Plummer. “This is not a big company and I’m not a sit-in-the-ivory-tower president. I’m working — and I know when somebody knows what’s going on.”
Plummer, 30, is a single mother of three — Elizabeth, 5, Tyler, 3, and 1-year-old Emma. A resident of Maine since moving here from New Hampshire in 2005, she’s worked a variety of temporary jobs in recent years because she’s “a little bit prideful” about making it on her own without a Section 8 housing subsidy or other government benefits for which she undoubtedly would be eligible.
Last March, the job-placement firm Manpower dispatched Plummer to fill a temporary slot at Ship-Right Solutions, which warehouses and distributes products for mail order and online businesses and also provides an array of data management services to clients all over the country.
Plummer, who lived in Portland at the time, had no car.
But she somehow managed each morning to feed and dress the three kids and walk them to day care at the East End Children’s Workshop at the bottom of Portland’s Munjoy Hill. From there it was on to Monument Square, where she would catch a municipal bus for the ride over to her new workplace in the Rumery Industrial Park in South Portland.
Plummer liked Ship-Right Solutions from the start.
“It’s a very tight-knit group and I think everyone here is very aware of each other,” she said. “They look out for each other.”
Plummer performed so well that by July, Graham made her the company’s full-time receptionist and also began funneling some account-management work her way.
In other words, life was good. Not perfect — Plummer and her kids’ father have what she calls a good “working relationship” but live mostly separate lives — but in this economy, things certainly could have been worse.
Then things got worse.
It started in October, when Plummer and her children had to move out of an apartment on Washington Avenue in Portland because the owner planned to renovate the building.
Scrambling as usual, Plummer located and leased a three-bedroom unit at 7 Montgomery St., just steps from the day-care center, from owner Sheldon Ashby.
What happened next is the fodder for two cases — one initiated by Ashby, the other by Plummer — now on file in Portland District Court.
At issue are two competing allegations.
Plummer says upon moving in, she discovered the apartment had a bedbug infestation so bad that she ended up bringing Emma, her baby, to Maine Medical Center for treatment of bites on her legs.
Ashby counters that he “personally (hasn’t) seen any” bedbugs in the building in the 22 months since he bought it. But just in case, he said, he has a preventative maintenance contract with a local pest-control company to keep it bedbug-free.
Ashby, meanwhile, initiated eviction proceedings against Plummer on Nov. 3, alleging she was behind in her $350-per-week rent.
Not true, says Plummer, who says she was current on both the rent and her security deposit, which she was paying in increments until she reached an agreed-upon $2,100.
Bottom line, fearful of bedbugs biting her kids and faced with an eviction notice, Plummer found herself once again in a state of crisis. And when she showed up at work on the morning of Nov. 8, it showed.
“She beat me to work that morning — on the bus,” recalled Graham. “And she and some of the gals from the office were talking and she was crying — and I never hear her complain and she always has a positive outlook. And then I’m hearing about her having spent the night in the emergency room (with Emma).”
Too much baggage for the workplace? Time for a chat about how what happens at home needs to stay at home?
Not on your life.
“I just said, ‘That’s enough. I’ve got to do something about this,’ ” said Graham.
Emerging his nearby office, he told Plummer to find a place to land — she quickly procured a room with two double beds at the Maine Motel on Main Street in South Portland.
Then without batting an eye, Graham told her to put it on the company credit card.
Plummer and her children have been there since.
“We could have been homeless,” she said. “We could have been in the family shelter (in Portland). That was my biggest fear.”
It’s still a miracle in progress.
Plummer now gets up even earlier each morning, takes the kids via South Portland’s 24A bus over to their day care in Portland and then takes the 24B bus back to work. At the end of each day, she then does it all again in reverse.
She’s also looking for a new apartment and trying to get landlord Ashby to make good on his court-mediated agreement to refund $1,000 of her security deposit. (The latest disagreement is over how clean Plummer left the premises.)
Graham, meanwhile, recently logged on to his computer and put out an SOS to his many contacts on behalf of his struggling employee — one of 50 lucky enough to work for him.
In only a few days, Graham’s friends and associates have replaced just about everything on the laundry list of clothing, furniture and other household items Plummer had to have hauled to the dump rather than risk more bedbug bites. They’ve also come forward with cash donations, gift cards and other offers — there’s even talk of a used car.
And it’s not just Graham. Throughout Ship-Right Solutions, fellow employees have stepped up to help Plummer with whatever she needs — from toys for the kids to storage space for the donations until she finds a new home.
Graham, savvy business owner that he is, has two reasons for weaving his own social safety net beneath a worker in need.
One can be heard in an unsolicited telephone call Graham received from a client in Texas long before Plummer’s world starting coming apart.
“Drew?” the man said in his Texas drawl.
“Yeah?” replied Graham.
“Mary Plummer,” said the customer.
“What about her?”
“She’s excellent, son,” the customer replied. “When I give her something, I know it’s done. I move on.”
Still, there’s more to Graham’s generosity than his ability to know a good employee when he sees one. It’s rooted in another oft-heard theme these days — how to narrow that gaping divide between the haves and the have-nots.
“The economy hasn’t been good for this company — we’re not doing that great,” Graham said. “But I have three little kids. And I’m blessed — I have a nice house in Cumberland.”
It should be noted that those three little kids in Cumberland, upon hearing about the three little kids at the Maine Motel, selected their six favorite stuffed animals and told Daddy to bring them to work the next morning.
“I don’t know,” Graham said. “It just seems to me like the right thing to do.”