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A Gift in Return: New England Sheet Metal Contractors Provide Support to Military Families

June 22, 2012
SMACNA Boston uses money from its general operating fund to support military families, whether the family member is deployed or actively serving at home.

The Boston Chapter of Sheet Metal Air Conditioning Contractors National Association (SMACNA) has shown a commitment to the U.S. military since the time of operation Desert Storm 21 years ago. The association has continuously supported U.S. military troops and their families through several programs funded by its contractor-members.

According to Tom Gunning, executive director, SMACNA Boston, sons of three SMACNA Boston contractors have attended the United States Navel Academy and the United States Military Academy.

“Supporting our military is a natural fit for SMACNA Boston’s charitable efforts,” Gunning says. “Our troops sacrifice so much for our well-being at home—we need to remember how fortunate we are, and take care of our own.” SMACNA Boston spends approximately $50,000 on military programs each year, depending on need.

Financial Support for Military Families
At a Boston Chapter meeting in winter, 1991, SMACNA member Jeff Chase, president, Cox Engineering, Co., Canton, MA, made a motion to divert SMACNA advertising funds to U.S. troops in Desert Storm, and their families at home. He had no idea that the program he started would last for 21 years.

"A lot of our employees and office staff were being called to serve in Desert Storm," Chase explains. “We had been talking about buying advertising with Boston sports teams—the Celtics and Bruins—to promote SMACNA Boston. It just came to me at the end of the meeting: Why not give that money to the families of our troops instead? I just threw the idea out to the 25 SMACNA contractors at the meeting, and nobody dissented. It was unanimous—we didn't need a formal vote.

"Desert storm came and went quickly," Chase continues. "None of us expected that, 21 years later, our help would still be needed. The program was suspended after the end of the Gulf War. But, when March of 2003 came around, and our kids were asked to serve again in the Iraq War, we revived it."

Today, SMACNA Boston uses money from its general operating fund to support military families, whether the family member is deployed or actively serving at home. “Each family receives $900 a month,” says Chase. “SMACNA donates $500 and the other $400 comes from Local 17. Today, there are up to 15 families we’re supporting at any given time. It’s just too bad our kids have to deal with this. They really shouldn’t have to.”

'Carepacks' Effort
SMACNA member Rick Donohue, vice president/treasurer at Harrington Brothers Corp., Stoughton, MA, is an Army veteran. Drafted in 1972, he remembers serving in an “unpopular” war.

“A lot of us served at a time when it wasn’t cool to be in the military. The day I was discharged, I was spit on at Oakland international airport. If we can bring a little smile to a face of a lonely soldier far away from his/her friends and family, then it’s all worth it. We need to keep in mind that all the freedoms we have are because of their effort.” Donohue’s son, Evan, just enlisted in the Army and will report in October.

Donohue is one of the originators of Carepacks, an organization dedicated to sending care packages to U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s a non-profit organization staffed and managed entirely by volunteers and began with one package Donohue sent to his son-in-law eight years ago. Carepacks just celebrated its 15,000th package sent on June 23, where it was recognized with a citation from the Massachusetts State Senate, presented by Senator Robert Hedlund, as well as a citation from the Weymouth Town Council and Mayor Sue Kay. Donohue says many hands helped to accomplish this feat.

“Through the end of 2011, we spent $170,000 on shipping and $202,000 on everything that went into the boxes. SMACNA contractors have been very generous to our cause,” he says.

Jobs and Training
The contractor-members of SMACNA Boston pull their employees from Sheet Metal Workers Local 17, and have received the same commitment from the union leadership. The union and the contractors focus first on those members who serve in the military. Cox Engineering employs six of them—all through Local 17’s Apprenticeship program and an affiliated national program called “Helmets to Hardhats”.

Harrington Brothers Corp. also enthusiastically employs military sheet metal workers from Local 17. Stephen McKunes is one of them.


McKunes recently returned from a deployment and three activations in the United States Air Force Reserve. Having returned from a four-month deployment to the US Reservist Forward Operating Base in Southwest Asia in 2009, McKunes was glad to have his apprenticeship spot waiting for him through the Helmets to Hardhats program.

McKunes had already gone through two of the five years’ apprenticeship training at Local 17 when he was deployed for four months in 2009. “Then, I came back to continue my apprenticeship, and the Air Force activated me three times to our home station at Westover Air Force Base in Chicopee. I spent 7 months there in 2010, about a month in 2011, and just returned home a few weeks ago from a 3-month activation,” McKunes says. He was hired by Harrington Bros., and will reach Journeyman status in spring, 2013.

Help for Wounded Soldiers’ Families
SMACNA Boston donated $5000 raised at a membership meeting last Christmas for the Fisher House Boston, which serves wounded soldiers and their families. Fisher House Foundation donates "comfort homes," built on the grounds of major military and VA medical centers. These homes enable family members to be close to a loved one at the most stressful times.

According to Jen Deluca, assistant to the board of directors, the $5000 donated by SMACNA Boston was timely. “It just happened that last winter was the first time we’ve had to reach out to a hotel since our suites were all filled. We will never turn a family away,” explains Ms. Deluca. “That $5000 enabled us to provide the hotel rooms our families needed.”

Tom Gunning adds a closing remark on the sense of commitment to these causes:

“We feel strongly at SMACNA Boston that, as an employers' association, we need to take care of our employees, our military, and our community.”

For more information on SMACNA and its member-contractors visit click here. For information on Sheet Metal Workers Local 17, click here.