Westmont Magazine Serving Those in Service
Mark Baird ’77 and Craig Johnson ’79 have a lot in common even though they don’t know each other. Both attended Westmont in the 1970s. Both played soccer for the Warriors for a season. And both men have started programs to help the military.
Mark launched HirePatriots.com in February 2005 to help Marines supplement their military pay. After he and his wife, Tori, moved to Oceanside, Calif., in 2004, they started a carpet cleaning business. To their surprise, several Marines wanted to work for them to make some extra cash.
“We thought something should be done if these guys need money,” Mark says. “They were sacrificing a lot for their country, and we wanted to help them. Seeing so many young military men and women in town and then going home and watching the news in Iraq was disturbing. Meeting some of the military wives with children in our neighborhood made us acutely aware of their struggles and financial difficulties, especially those with husbands deployed to a combat zone. Young wives were running out of money, losing their car or their utilities.”
Mark didn’t know anything about computers, but he worked with a consultant to set up a Web site where people in the San Diego area could list part-time jobs for Marines such as painting and yard work and full-time jobs for their spouses.
The free service caught on quickly, and television crews showed up to do a story. Stations across the country picked it up, and Mark started getting requests to go nationwide. His goal is including job listings for every base in the country. The original name of the site, HireMarines.com, has since changed to HirePatriots.com. It gets 10,000-15,000 hits each day.
“I was a Christian school teacher for years, so I have a heart for people who struggle financially,” Mark says. “Financial stress can lead to divorce, and we want to help strengthen military marriages. It’s a great way for the community to connect with the military.
“Some of the people who have benefited the most are the elderly,” Mark adds. “There are always chores and jobs too difficult for senior citizens. They often adopt the military people who help them and provide a place to go to get home-cooked meals and to relax and watch TV in a warm and caring environment.”
Mark and Tori work seven days a week to find and list jobs on the site; they have borne the considerable cost themselves, mortgaging their home. “We hope to find a corporate sponsor,” Mark says.
“This is one of the valuable lessons that Westmont (and the Bible) taught me: Live a life of service to others,” Mark says.
It was Christmas time Last year when Craig Johnson discovered a gift he could give to wounded soldiers: calling cards. The military provides medical care, but doesn’t pay for long-distance phone calls. “What a great way to help out these brave guys who are sacrificing so much and are hurt,” Craig says. He mentioned the need for calling cards to people in his office, and they liked the idea and wanted to help. He decided to make it happen.
Craig got in touch with Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Tex. Would they accept donated calling cards? With gratitude.
Then he started looking for the best price and found the 99 Cents Only stores sold 99 minutes for 99 cents. “It was perfect,” he says. The calls are limited to 30 minutes, and he has to write PIN numbers on each card, but he is happy to spend this time.
Initially, eight people contributed money for the cards; that number has now grown to 30. Craig sends 300 cards to Brooke each month. He approached the company that makes the cards, Wildgate Wireless Inc. in Culver City, Calif., and asked if they would donate as well. Vice President Richard White, a Vietnam veteran, agreed to contribute 100 cards a month.
“We could send 300 a week,” Craig says. “The need is tremendous.” Brooke has one of the best burn centers in the country, so some soldiers stay there for as long as a year. Opal Rieras, a Brooke staff member, has worked out a distribution system; each new patient packet includes a phone card.
A social science major at Westmont, Craig served an internship with the chaplain at Moffett Hospital during his semester with the San Francisco Urban program. The experience changed his plan to become a medical social worker, but he never forgot the needs of critically ill patients.
After graduating, Craig worked for Representative Bob Lagomarsino and then became a lobbyist for First Interstate Bank and later for the Southern California Association of Governments. For the past 10 years he has worked in regional economic development for the Los Angeles Community Development Commission.
When he gets 20 more contributors, Craig wants to start at program at Bethesda Naval Hospital as well. “All military hospitals have the same need, and it is a small thing to do for these brave people who put themselves in harm’s way,” he says. “Staying in touch with friends and family means everything when you are in the hospital. It’s the least we can do. They deserve it.”
“Seeing so many young military men and women in town and then going home and watching the news in Iraq was disturbing.”
Mark Baird got a scholarship to attend Westmont but left after two years due to poor health. He graduated from Vanguard University and spent 20 years teaching every grade from kindergarten through junior college at Christian and inner-city public schools. His daughter, Amy Baird ’93, also went to Westmont.