UPS began its affiliation with the National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG) in 1986 at the urging of one of its employees, Siro DeGasperis. UPS has been a sponsor ever since. DeGasperis, now retired from UPS and in his late 70s, started the DeGasperis Family Foundation, which is a platinum sponsor of the Games and brings three generations to volunteer at the event each year.
Just as the Games have grown, so has the commitment from UPS. In addition to financial contributions, UPS has about 300 volunteers moving chairs, luggage, handcycles, even bowling balls, said Chris Peck, the East Region vice president of Human Resources for the company and a retired National Guard officer. You can see the UPS brown T-shirts at just about every event as employees help out in whatever capacity is necessary.
It was initially the logistics—the moving of equipment and other necessary items from point A to point B—that began the UPS sponsorship deal with the NVWG. Since 1986, the company’s involvement has grown to the point where it goes far beyond the Games. UPS is now deeply involved in Operation PAVE (Paving Access for Veterans Employment), Paralyzed Veterans of America's vocational rehabilitation program. Peck said that UPS has a commitment to hire 25,000 veterans and also to volunteer 25,000 hours to veterans’ causes. “This emphasis on veterans; it’s ingrained in the culture at UPS,” Peck said.
Back in April 2013, UPS employee, Navy veteran and product of Operation PAVE David Padilla spoke at the White House in the Joining Forces Employment Event. “Thanks to Paralyzed Veterans of America and their PAVE program, which provides support to all veterans who are looking for work, UPS hired me as a dispatch supervisor where I could use my management training I received from the Navy,” Padilla said. “And after only four months on the job, UPS recognized my leadership skills and promoted me, where I’m responsible now for dispatching 75 drivers and optimizing our delivery schedule.”
Volunteerism is ingrained in the company, too. Its Neighbor to Neighbor program lists volunteer opportunities and also allows employees to recommend volunteer opportunities. Employees can also track their volunteer hours directly online. Peck said that about 97 percent of the volunteers in Tampa this year are from the local area. He said employees near the NVWG are always encouraged to volunteer and see the event for themselves.
“The first time anyone participates in the Games in any capacity they say, ‘Wow!’ Peck said. “It’s an opportunity for veterans to compete, rehabilitate, engage in camaraderie and have fellowship. It’s a great opportunity for the rest of us to see our heroes and how their lives have been changed and get a greater sense of sacrifice.”
Peck said that his wife and daughter are with him at the Games and his son would be, too, if he wasn’t about to graduate from Army officer school in Missouri at the end of the week. “The military and these Games mean a lot to us personally, and I can assure you that they mean a lot to UPS and its employees,” Peck said.
Learn more about the 33rd National Veterans Wheelchair Games
Tim W. Jackson is a freelance writer and editor in Asheville, N.C.