With decades of military service in the U.S. Air Force, there is no doubt about Eric and Teresa Grieff’s loyalty and dedication to their country.
What makes this couple unique is that they’ve answered another call of duty—reaching out to aging veterans. Together with their 13-year-old daughter, Lili, the Grieffs are making life better for the residents of a Northern California veterans’ home.
Putting smiles on veterans’ faces
“When I look at all the work they’ve done at the veterans’ home, it amazes me,” said Jenny Brown, who has known the Grieff family more than a decade. “I have personally watched the faces of veterans light up whenever they are given the selfless gifts of kindness, compassion, a hug or a listening ear.
“That’s what the Grieff family brings to the table.”
For their longtime commitment to their country and their meaningful volunteer work with U.S. veterans, the Grieffs, who are Amway Independent Business Owners (IBOs), are being honored with the Amway Family Hero Award for Patriotism.
It’s one of four Amway Hero Awards given to honor IBOs who build stronger communities and make positive impacts on the lives of others.
Lifting veterans’ spirits
The veterans home where the Grieffs volunteer has about 900 residents and is the largest of its kind in the U.S., housing men and women who served in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm.
Eric, an Air Force flight engineer, and Teresa, an Air Force chaplain’s assistant, are stationed nearby at Travis Air Force Base. When Teresa learned many of the veterans didn’t have visits from family or friends during holidays, it dismayed her.
“It really hit me,” she said. “I thought, ‘We’ve got to do something!’”
Giving good for givers, too
Teresa started organizing efforts to brighten the lives of the veterans with greeting cards, holiday ornaments, origami creations, gift baskets, gift cards, blankets and pillows. The endeavor grew when she gained the support of her friend and mentor, Jenny.
Jenny, her husband, Terry, and members of the Brown’s IBO organization pitched in to support the vets during the holiday season, Veterans Day, Valentine’s Day and other times during the year. Spending time with the veterans lifted everyone’s spirits.
“It’s important to just hold their hands, hear their stories and look them in the eye,” Teresa said. “To me, they’re the real heroes. We go to serve them and honor them, but yet we get so much out of it.”
“What we do is small compared to what so many of them have given,” Eric added. Their daughter enjoys getting to know the veterans, too.
“I’m kind of young, so they don’t tell me all their stories about war,” Lili said. “But they do tell me about their past, which is really cool. A lot of them are really funny and they love telling jokes.
“It makes me happy to give them some joy.”
Helping families heal
Both Eric and Teresa have served in the Air Force Honor Guard, which provides funeral honors for Air Force personnel. Teresa also served as a memorial airman at Dover Airforce Base in Delaware. Her duties included processing the remains of military and civilian victims who were at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.
Seventeen years later, she fights back tears recalling those duties. “Although it was a hard job, I know it was honorable to do everything possible to get the remains back to the families so they can grieve,” she said. “As tough as it was mentally and emotionally, I would do it again.
‘We were paying honors all the way to the end.”
It takes an exceptional person to fulfill those duties, but that’s Teresa, say those who know her. “I just think her heart is so huge and so selfless,” her friend Jenny said. “She has that special heart that wants to serve other people.”
Appreciation for America
Eric and Teresa have traveled extensively with their military careers. Eric said that’s given him a deep appreciation for the United States. Teresa feels the same way. Born in Mexico, her family moved to the U.S. when she was 5. She grew up in California, became a citizen and followed her sister into the military.
“I joined to get a better life, and what better way to do it than serving your country and serving people?” she said. “I have always loved to serve, and I knew this was home.”
Their daughter, Lili, is always with them when they volunteer with the veterans. It’s especially important to them that Lili understands the meaning of patriotism.
“We want her to know where her freedoms come from and why they’re precious,” Eric said. “And the fact that we can be different and vocalize our opinions.”
Lili gets the message.
“Patriotism means being proud to be an American and being proud to be in a country where you have freedom of speech and religion,” she said. “There are a lot of places that don’t have that.”