Dedicated to Serve: Translating the Gray Way Thousands of Miles from Home
Core values and our people are the heart of what makes Gray the company that it is today. The facilities we design and build, the relationships we steward, and the success we enjoy are all thanks to the set of values that we live by as a company coupled with the incredible team members who make it possible every day. Part of what makes the company unique is that the ‘Gray Way’ is actually ingrained into the team members. It isn’t picked up and dropped off at the front door, but these values are lived and demonstrated every single day.
These core values boil down to service. Whether it be: we put safety and quality of life first; we are customer and relationship driven; or we treat others the way we want to be treated, the basis of these values is a lifestyle and mindset that puts others first. When it comes to safety, relationships, and the way we treat people, it’s impossible to live up to these values without approaching them with a service-first attitude.
“The desire to serve has been instilled in us for many years,” says Mark Garrison, assistant design manager at Gray. “Growing up in church, our families — both my wife’s and mine — were usually serving in some capacity.”
The Garrison’s gave their time, effort, and energy to serve both here locally and overseas on various mission trips throughout their 14 years of marriage in association with their church. But this past year, Garrison and his family took service to a new extreme.
“We have previously done short-term mission trips of one-to-two weeks with other teams but had not yet committed for a longer project,” says Garrison.
The Garrisons were approached in 2015 to develop plans for a hospital construction project in Zambia, Africa. Initially, the new surgical theatre building facility was scheduled to take 12 months to complete. Little did the Garrisons know when they said yes that 12 months would actually turn into 20 months before it was all said and done.
Still, with the desire to serve burning in their hearts, the family felt like this was the right opportunity for them.
“This project was just the natural next step as our desire to serve continued to grow,” explains Garrison. “This was a time where we were able to use our professional skills to help serve. And because of the nature of the project, our professional experience fit very well with the need.”
Taking the Leap
Making this kind of move isn’t easy. It takes planning, not just at home, but also at work. Garrison knew the only way this would be a success was if Gray was onboard and supportive of the endeavor.
“When we were first presented with the opportunity to go, our first move was to contact Gray,” says Garrison. “I met with Susan Brewer, vice president of human resources, and Brian Fain, senior vice president with Gray AE, to discuss the opportunity and what it would look like in my relationship with Gray. They were very encouraging and supportive!”
With that support, the Garrisons signed up, began the process of filling out paperwork, applying for visas, and started preparing to move their family of six to Africa, at least for the foreseeable future.
The Garrison’s work included assisting the medical team at Mukinge Mission Hospital Zambia, an association of World Medical Mission and Samaritan’s Purse, and overseeing the building of the new facility. After completing all the proper paperwork, the Garrisons took the leap in the spring of 2019 and headed to Africa.
“Nothing can really prepare you for living in rural Africa,” says Garrison. “However, our years of family camping, backpacking, and Mark’s years in the boy scouts helped in the acclimation process.”
As you can imagine, life in Africa was quite different than life in Kentucky, but the Garrisons adapted to their surroundings and made a new, temporary home in Zambia.
“We didn’t have most of our previous conveniences that we were used to from back home, but we found out that, with each other, we actually had more than we ever needed,” says Garrison.
A dozen or more other missionaries in the area all gathered with the Garrison to form a small community. This group shared meals, worship, and recreational time to help form a close-knit bond that held them together through the struggles of living in Africa.
“We still struggled with the day-to-day of life,” explains Garrison. “We had responsibilities at home, including homeschooling and chores, and not to mention the daily power outages that could last anywhere from 4-15 hours a day, which then would lead to water outages.”
The Gray Way
When it came time to start mixing cement and laying block, Garrison knew that the way to build the new facility was the same way that he had experienced with Gray build during his nine years at the company, by starting with people.
“Much of the early stages of the project were spent building relationships,” says Garrison. “The team was mostly made up of men from the surrounding villages.”
Garrison understood that this project was more than an opportunity to provide a new facility or extension for the local hospital. It was about relationships and developing people’s skills.
“Our goal was not only to oversee the construction, but also to invest in the local workforce, teaching, and training people in a different way of construction with a focus on safety and quality,” says Garrison. “Gray leadership heard about our early struggles stressing safety on the jobsite. They donated funds to purchase work suits, boots, gloves, glasses, and other safety gear to help us teach safety on site.”
As work began, Garrison and his team started carrying out the plans for the facility. Work was running smoothly, and the team seemed to be getting along fine, but something was missing: comradery.
“One memorable point in the building project came when we decided to hire a cook to prepare lunch every day for the people working on site,” says Garrison. “The meal we provided didn’t just help fill up empty stomachs; it provided building blocks for trust and brought us closer together as a team.”
As the project continued, Garrison and his team adapted as needed to the developing plans. Due to the location of the hospital, numerous trips were needed for supplies throughout the project. Garrison says he and the team put more than 30,000 kilometers on a truck during their time in Africa with frequent trips to warehouses, quarries, and the occasional showroom.
As the project pressed on into the later stages the work became less physical, more skill was required. This included a major solar panel bank installation on the roof and complete power system upgrade for the facility to combat the daily power outages. Thankfully, all the hard work Garrison and his team had put in early on began to really pay off.
“The time we spent training and teaching early in the project paid off later on, when we got to the more technical aspects of the facility, as we were able to delegate tasks to workers and they didn’t need as much oversight as previously required,” says Garrison.
After more than 20 months, the originally scheduled 12-month project was finally complete.
“What proved to be the best parts of this experience were the relationships we made, the people we encountered, and seeing how God worked through so many circumstances,” says Garrison.
The Garrisons eventually packed up and headed back to the U.S. after finishing the project, but they carried with them the memories of new friends and experiences.
The new facility provides a host of new surgical opportunities for the hospital, and the Garrison’s were even able to complete several smaller projects during their time in Zambia. “Every good project needs a side project,” Garrison noted. Their side projects included: eight solar-powered systems on different missionaries’ homes, two small apartment remodels used for short-term personnel, hospital updates to its administrative office building, improvements to the local community pool, and the rehabilitation of the pediatric and malnutrition ward at the hospital.
Despite all the success, it was the people who remained as the lasting impact from the journey. The ability to help train and equip a group of local workers is not something that the Garrisons take lightly, and the entire project is something they are proud to have lent a helping hand.
“This was God’s project. We were just blessed enough to be a part of it by acting in His will for our lives.”