Industrial steel processing is a tough business, but George Vorel doesn't hesitate to hire recovering addicts. Here's why.
Posted in , Jun 25, 2018
I’m the founder and owner of an industrial steel processing company in Carnegie, Pennsylvania, called Envirosafe. Our 25 employees sandblast large pieces of fabricated steel, then apply coatings and paint to prepare the steel per strict specifications for construction projects across the United States. Drive over a bridge or walk into a building and it’s possible Envirosafe processed the steel for it.
It’s tough, exacting work. Giant forklifts and cranes carry up to 20-ton pieces of steel to sandblasting machines that have to be adjusted precisely for every job. Full-time inspectors on our 80,000-square-foot factory floor ensure that the steel we process is safe to use in construction. Employees must be focused, alert and ready to respond if something goes wrong.
Surprising as it may seem, Envirosafe welcomes job applicants who have a history of alcohol and drug abuse, arrests and even stints in prison. We’ve hired a number of guys with backgrounds like that. Some of them have established successful careers here.
Why would such a high-skill, high-risk industrial operation go out of its way to help people most employers wouldn’t consider—especially industrial employers?
There’s a story behind that question. My family’s story. I’ve learned through experience that addicts and anyone else who makes a big mistake in life deserve—no, need—a second chance. No one should be shut out of society because they were ensnared by addiction to drugs or alcohol. If I didn’t believe that, my wife, Marg, and I would have given up on our own daughter a long time ago. We didn’t give up, and neither did she. And so neither does Envirosafe.
Growing up in a dysfunctional family, I learned to be self-sufficient from a young age. I trained as a mechanical engineer at the University of Cincinnati and decided early in my career that I’d be happiest running my own business instead of working for someone else.
I started Thermojet Inc., an industrial combustion service company, when I was 28. Along the way, I married my high school sweetheart, and Marg and I had three children—two girls and a boy. Our younger daughter took after me. When she was 12, I jokingly told her that if she could refrain from watching TV for a whole year, I’d give her $500. She earned that $500.
Around that time, I sold Thermojet and could have retired comfortably. I indulged myself with sports cars, family vacations and expensive hunting trips.
A few years later, I got restless and started Envirosafe with my son, Mike. We built up the business until we were handling steel for big construction projects in New York City, on military bases and at oil and gas facilities around the nation.
On the parenting end, I swore I wouldn’t repeat the child-rearing mistakes that had made growing up hard for me. I was affectionate with my kids and spent time with them coaching, vacationing, fishing and bicycling—all the things I never experienced as a child. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough to keep our younger daughter out of trouble. She was in eighth grade when the police caught her drinking beer with friends in a park late at night.
We gave her a big talking-to and reassured ourselves that even good kids do that sort of thing sometimes. But she kept hanging around with those friends, and we didn’t know how to shield her from their influence.
Her grades declined. She turned sullen at home. After getting her driver’s license, she and a friend—the daughter of a school principal—took off in our car with a crazy plan to drive to California. Finally she called us, and we figured out where she was: Colorado. My wife flew there and drove the girls home.
Our daughter entered her first rehab in her junior year of high school. She barely graduated from a program for at-risk students. Less than a year later, a friend introduced her to heroin as a cheaper alternative to the opioid pills she’d been abusing. Before we knew it, she disappeared into hard-core drug use.
Owners of industrial steel processing companies aren’t known for being in touch with their feelings. The pain of watching my daughter spiral out of control was like nothing I’d experienced. My wife and I tried everything. We tracked her down, tried to talk her into treatment and even brought her home—only to have her steal from us to feed her habit.
One thing we hadn’t tried much was prayer. We attended church regularly but, like I said, I lived by a self-reliant philosophy. Surely there was some way we could fix our daughter. How could I build successful businesses but not do a thing about my child’s addiction?
One fall, I threw a bunch of gear into a Jeep and headed to a hunting camp in northern Pennsylvania. I needed to clear my head. It was evening when I arrived at the camp. I turned off the engine and sat in the gathering gloom.
I needed to think. Marg and I were having a hard time—many marriages struggle when there’s addiction in the family. I looked at the passenger seat and saw a hunting magazine. Beside it was a Bible. I’d brought it thinking it might have some wisdom to offer. I sure needed some.
I picked up the Bible and opened to Paul’s letter to the Romans. Here’s how little I knew the Bible—I thought maybe that chapter had some good parts about gladiators!
I started reading at chapter 12: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
What was this about? Definitely not gladiators. But it sounded like what I needed—to be transformed, to have my anxious, heartbroken mind renewed.
I read on: “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is— his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
God’s will. What did that mean? For me? My daughter? Our whole family?
I needed those answers most of all. “Lord,” I heard myself pray. “Transform me. Renew me. Show me what your will is for me. I can’t do this on my own.”
I glanced at the dashboard clock. It was just about 9 p.m.—how long had I been sitting there? Out of habit, I reached for the radio to listen to news headlines. The radio must have been tuned to a Christian station. A pastor was just wrapping up his sermon.
“Let us conclude by turning to Romans, chapter 12,” he said. Then he read out the very Bible verses I had just read. A chill ran down my spine.
I couldn’t wait to get home from that hunting trip. I had no magic insights about treating my daughter’s addiction. But I did know how my own life needed to change. Marg and I began praying more. We recommitted to church. I went to Bible studies, classes, anything to learn more about this God who had spoken to me in the Pennsylvania hills.
Our daughter continued to struggle. She landed in jail several times, and I visited her. What I stopped doing was trying to fix her. “I’m praying for you, and I love you,” I told her.
I prayed for other inmates I saw. Some of them I knew. Ours is a close-knit area, and by this point the scourge of opioids had claimed many local victims. A small group of church families began meeting weekly to pray for our children and the drug problem scarring our community. Through that group, we began a weekly support meeting for addicts and their loved ones. When our church started a prison visitation ministry, I was quick to sign up.
At last my daughter got sick and tired—as they say in recovery—of being sick and tired. She entered rehab and stuck with it. She’s been sober for 12 years now. She earned a master’s degree in social work and is now employed as a drug and alcohol counselor.
About five years ago, she wanted me to meet someone. “Dad,” she said, “this is the guy who introduced me to heroin. He needs a job.”
Maybe, once, I would have wanted nothing to do with this guy. But he too had turned his life around. Like my daughter, he deserved a second chance.
Envirosafe was looking for workers. There’s turnover in this business. The work is not easy. I thought about the people I’d encountered in the jails and prisons I’d visited. How hungry some of them were for a fresh start.
“How would you like to try working at my company?” I asked my daughter’s friend. He said he would.
He turned out to be a terrific employee. Smart. Motivated. Eager to learn. It took me and Mike a long time to trust him. But gradually we did.
We began considering other applicants with black marks on their record. We’ve never recruited people with checkered backgrounds. But we’re open to them. Provided they’re willing to work hard and submit to random drug testing, we offer them a job.
We’ve hired dozens of guys looking for a second chance. Not all of them work out. Even my daughter’s friend, after close to four years of sobriety, relapsed and had to be let go. He continues to fight for sobriety. Opioids are among the hardest drugs to kick, and addiction is so often a disease of relapse.
Thanks be to God, our daughter’s sobriety has held. She got her second chance and, in a way, so did I. I’ll never forget that night in the Pennsylvania hills. I know now what God’s will is for me. And for Envirosafe. God extends his infinite mercy to a world that so badly needs it. I try to do the same.
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