Woman's labor of love is helping other veterans
TAMPA — Christmas was only a couple of days away, and Leisha Griffin was busy. The president of Vykin Corp., a Tampa defense department contractor, wasn't buying presents, though, or swinging big deals with her downtown Tampa company.
She was under the trees at Veterans Memorial Park and Museum on U.S. 301, filling gift bags for homeless veterans.
It's a labor of love for Griffin, 39, who began the information technology company in Tampa almost six years ago. A U.S. Navy veteran from 1993-97, Griffin worked in intelligence gathering and analysis during her tour, and that eased her path into civilian life and the company she started.
She wanted her company to do something more than just business, she said, so about four years ago, she and her staff settled on working with veterans. Many of those who work at Vykin are veterans.
"We were looking at charities and we chose something that was close to our hearts," she said.
Veterans advocates suggested setting up a holiday lunch and gift bag giveaway, and Griffin complied. Most of the staff participate in the volunteerism.
Griffin said involving younger, non-veteran staff members is important.
"It's a nice opportunity for them to come and talk to the vets," she said, "to give them gift bags, a hot meal and toiletries, gift cards for food."
Frank Strom, director of the veterans affairs division of the Hillsborough County Department of Family and Aging Services, said he quickly noticed Griffin's passion for helping veterans. He still remembers one day when she was asked to say a few words at the annual luncheon for homeless veterans.
"Before she could finish her first sentence, she became tearful as she presented words of cheer to our veterans," Strom said. "I personally believe she hosts this function because it is in her heart. She and her staff not only insist on serving the veterans, but you will find them sitting and eating with them and listening to their stories," he said.
Four years ago, Griffin contacted Strom looking for ways to become more involved in the community of veterans and help them with the problems they face today, Strom said.
"Over the past four years, Vykin has provided lunch, gifts and other needed items to over 200 homeless veterans in the community," Strom said. This year, some 30 homeless vets were the honored guests at the holiday lunch.
Griffin was there, packing gift bags, serving up hot meals, getting to know the faces.
Between her volunteerism and her company's business, the New Mexico native struggled to talk about what she does in her off hours.
"Time off? There's not a lot," she said. "I do like to travel and I travel a lot for work. I like to volunteer. I read. ... "
Then, the conversation drifted back to helping vets who have fallen on hard times and the luncheon just before Christmas.
"We enjoy doing this and the whole company goes," she said. "It's nice to get out there, to talk to some of our veterans and hear what they've been through.
"We understand," she said. "That's why we try to help them."