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Cianbro Workers Rally Around Pipe Fitter Trainee as She Battles Cancer

Fri January 30, 2009 - Northeast Edition
Jay Adams

By Jay Adams


Cianbro will tell you that despite $450 million in annual sales, huge construction projects from Texas to Maine, and more than 2,500 employees, the company is “all about people.”

Well, this year, under unusual circumstances, the company proved it.

Cianbro, an employee-owned company and a leading health and safety innovator providing construction and service solutions to clients throughout North America, with headquarters in Pittsfield, Maine, and facilities in Brewer, Maine, Baltimore, Md., Connecticut and elsewhere, can self-perform all aspects of heavy industrial and civil construction projects, provide steel fabrication, modularized construction and construction management services, and more.

It also can repair broken lives and build them back up again.

In July 2008, Sharon Anderson was a Cianbro trainee, well on her way to becoming a pipe fitter for the company’s Motiva Module Project.

Motiva — an oil refinery in Port Arthur, Texas — is currently rebuilding and increasing its capacity and output with a completion date set for 2011.

Cianbro, in a joint venture, is one of four companies picked to build the modules for the expansion, which will make Motiva the seventh largest refinery in the United States when finished. The work is being done at its Brewer plant.

Sharon Anderson was excited about her new opportunity, a new career in a well-regarded, well-run company with a history of putting employees first.

An exceptional student, she excelled at her new job skills. Anderson was making great progress when she was faced with a life-threatening crisis.

“I basically was feeling great, working hard, had no symptoms of anything being wrong and then, Whammo, one day the symptoms showed up and a couple of hospital visits and doctors’ visits later I discovered that I had cancer,” said Anderson, who wears a kerchief under her hard hat to protect her head and scalp, now shorn of hair. “This cancer required a lot of surgery and chemotherapy and it was going to be an awful lot of time out of work. I was pretty nervous about everything: The physical aspect, the financial aspect of it. You know, what do you do?”

Worst Possible Time

The dangerous illness was a double whammy.

According to Cianbro officials, Anderson had been with the company for such a short time, she didn’t qualify for medical health benefit coverage. That’s when word of her difficulty spread among workers at the Brewer facility and, one by one, Cianbro team members stepped up to help.

“The job site, I’m really proud, the whole job site rallied around her to help her cause, and knowing that she was in a rough way, we had a variety of fundraisers,” said Andy Kelley, Cianbro materials manager at Brewer facility. “We passed the hat and we did many collections all over the place, but one of the things that stands out in my mind, is we have a loader operator, that approached me one day that asked, ’I’ve got plenty of vacation time and I’d like to donate, and is there any way we can set up a bank, so that this young lady can have no worries while she’s going through her surgery and recovery, knowing that she is going to have a paycheck?’ ”

The Cianbro team member who came up with the idea is Larry McAlpine, a 16-year Cianbro veteran, inspired to help one of the company’s newest members.

“And, we took that idea, and we ran it up the ladder and it came back, yes, we could do that,” added Kelley. “Larry was humbled by this. He came up with an idea that took off like a wildfire, but he wants the credit to go to everybody who helped her cause.”

“I had some extra hours and just figuring, a person who was sick, laid out … you’re going to be laying in a hospital bed or wherever, and you got the last week’s check and that’s it,” said McAlpine. “And I just figured, if a guy had a check that was coming the next week, it might not be the 40 hours, but it’s something, and I think it might take the strain off a person going through surgery or, you know, the disease that she’s got, and I think it would just lighten the load and that’s what I was looking to do.”

’Pretty Amazing’

Of course a load operator would want to lighten the load, but this effort went beyond any job. The grand gesture worked greater than anyone could have imagined.

“Yup, you donate your vacation time and they turned it into her time,” added McAlpine. “They transferred it from my check to her and then, she drew it out, or they give it to her, or whichever way she wanted it, 40 hours a week, and that way it just kept her check coming, and we ended up with 400 or 500 hours, a lot more than I thought it would be. I figured if they got 40 hours, they’d be doing good.”

“It was pretty amazing. I’ve been told that I was working with a family of 2,500 people and that really struck home,” said a grateful Anderson, her voice cracking. “When I heard what he had done, I was just amazed. I can’t even express how much it meant to me. My family cries when they talk about Cianbro now.”

“I’ve always known Cianbro was a big family and this just really brings it to the front,” added Kelley. “People that didn’t even know the people involved, but knew they were in a hard way and they needed help and that says a lot about the big family that Cianbro is.”

Brewer project manager Joe Cote added to the praise of his co-workers.

“It’s so easy to lead people when people lead themselves in that regard,” said Cote. “And it makes me feel really good knowing that there are opportunities out there that present themselves and people just open (them) and step through them. It’s really remarkable. It really is.”

’Paying It Forward’

Sharon Anderson has her final dose of chemotherapy in January. She is expected to be back to work full time in February.

Since the initial treatments of chemo, she has been able to work part-time, continuing to help with the Motiva modules project and doing administrative work.

Meanwhile, she is looking ahead, thinking of ways to magnify the kindness shown to her by her “teammates.”

“In addition to everything that Cianbro did for me, I was the recipient of a small donation from an anonymous benefactor who also sent the movie, ’Pay It Forward,’ (which says) basically, you never pay anyone back, you pay it forward,” said Anderson. “I got a local company to donate enough material to make a hundred hats for the people at the cancer centers.

“That’s what I’m in the middle of doing, when I’m not working or doing other things, when I’m feeling well enough to do that,” she said. “I think the whole ’Pay It Forward’ thing is important.”

“Sharon is a joy. She has been a rock through all of this,” added Kelley. “We are really looking to getting her back on her feet full time and we’ve got plenty to do.”

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