Untitled DocumentBrotherly love leads to
founding of new company By Eileen Connelly, OSU ST. ANDREW DEANERY —
Growing up in Ft. Thomas, Ky., the youngest of six children, Rob Groeschen and his brother, Tom, shared the special bond that siblings often do. Fishing together was a favorite pastime, and Rob idolized his older brother, a star athlete in high school. "We were extremely close, best friends," recalled Rob.
"Tom really took me under his wing, and I looked to up to him."
Rob later clung to those memories as he sat at his brother’s bedside with their mother, LaVern, praying for a miracle. Near midnight on a summer night in 1983, Tom, who was set to start his sophomore year in college, sustained a severe brain injury in an auto accident, leaving him in a coma. Their prayers were answered when Tom regained consciousness, but life would be dramatically changed for him and the Groeschen family.
While rehabilitation helps some people who are disabled from traumatic brain injuries (TBI), hemorrhages or strokes, many, like Tom, are unable function at their former capacity. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, at least 5.3 million Americans currently have a long-term or lifelong need for help to perform activities of daily
living as a result of a TBI and vary widely in their abilities. Such injuries can cause a wide range of functional changes affecting thinking, sensation, language, emotions and behavior.
As Rob watched his brother relearn simple tasks,
he was inspired by his determination yet haunted by the accident and the reality that the old Tom might never return. "I wondered what would happen to Tom and what was next for him," explained Rob, a parishioner at St. Columban Parish in Loveland.
As the years passed, he met and married his wife, Brenda, started a family and established his own business — a recycling and hazardous-waste-handling company called Resource One. Tom had some successes of his own, including securing a long-term job cleaning bathrooms at a local truck stop. He still faced daily obstacles, though, sometimes falling asleep and missing his bus stop on the way home from work, or wandering off and ending up the in yard of strangers across town. Rob realized there had to be more out there for his brother. "I knew Tom could do better if given the opportunity," he said. "We just needed to find that opportunity."
That’s where In Return comes in. In January 2005, Rob opened an office and warehouse in Blue Ash that houses Resource One and a non-profit company he started to assist Tom and others with special needs by providing meaningful employment, along with opportunities to improve their quality of life. In a structured yet flexible environment, Tom and his fellow In Return employees cheerfully go about their work stuffing recycled materials into four-foot-long pieces of blue/gray cloth to make absorbent "socks," used by customers to soak up manufacturing oil and grease. Each employee proudly signs off on every sock he makes. They may also be found draining the oil out of donated shock absorbers, which will then be recycled. In Return has also taken on a new venture making greeting cards. Each job is designed to be "safe and task-oriented," said Rob, giving the employees structure and room to grow.
On their breaks — 10 minutes every hour — they can enjoy playing pool or ping-pong in a cheery recreation room, providing the chance to develop their social skills. And, at In Return University, they can participate in on-site classes on a variety of topics from writing to nutrition, designed to help them acquire and develop critical life skills. "Our goal isn’t just to get them back into the workforce. We want them to come full circle," said Rob.
He, along with the family members of In Return’s employees, has witnessed first hand the difference it has made in their lives, restoring their self-esteem, providing fulfilling employment and the chance to build new relationships and attain personal independence. "Tom is out on his own now and doing extremely well," noted his brother. "He’s happy, and his pride and excitement are obvious. His success means the world to me."
So does the success of In Return, Rob added, acknowledging that the self-funded company has faced some financial challenges. He is determined to increase In Return’s customer base in order to secure the company’s future and expand its services. "This is a great concept if we can get it out there," he said. "Our goal is to be a resource for other people who want to start a company based on this model."
He estimates In Return’s current site can accommodate up to 30 employees and would eventually like to staff other job sites. He envisions training people to work in a greenhouse, another structured yet therapeutic setting.
Looking back on the accident that changed the brothers’ lives forever, Rob said, "I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, but this was a tough one. What’s important now is that Tom is making a difference in a lot of peoples’ lives. That’s what I lean on. The accident doesn’t haunt me anymore."