Swoyersville man heading to Ukraine to help rebuild damaged homes

·4 min read

Jul. 24—SWOYERSVILLE — The job has no pay and is half a world away where war rages in Ukraine, yet Dan Griffin took it.

The retired police officer expects to leave his house on Hughes Street Wednesday for Allentown, where he'll board a jet to Chicago and on to Munich and Krakow.

"Then it's a three-hour train ride from there to where I'm going and that's kind of right on the border with Poland and Ukraine," Griffin said Friday of the route he's memorized.

For the past few weeks Griffin, 57, has been getting ready for the trip after receiving notice from the non-profit humanitarian aid organization Volunteers for Ukraine he was accepted to join in their assistance efforts. He's been notified he'll be working with the Polish group, Folkowisko, that's on the ground in its neighbor's territory bombed and devastated by Russia.

Officially, the job-description is "handyman," but Griffin pointed out he's not going to be working on fixer-uppers. He'll be part of the three-person team focusing on aid stations and individual housing units.

"These people are just like in basements and they have tarps over things. So, like, we're going to try and, you know, do what we can. We'll make one building out of two or something and try to restore some amount, if there's water or electricity, anything," Griffin said.

Griffin's background is law enforcement, having spent 22 years in the Swoyersville and Kingston police departments before retiring in 2008. He's always been mechanically inclined and picked up construction experience after teaming up with a partner.

"I want to contribute. With the skill set I have I can do a lot of good," he said.

In preparation Griffin has gathered up tools and supplies he'll use during his one-month commitment and collected bottles of over-the-counter medicines, multi-vitamins, single-serve coffee packets and other items that are either unavailable or in short supply where he's going. He's also set up a gofundme account to help cover food and lodging overseas and mortgage and utility payments while he's away. Travel costs have been taken care with the help of donor miles for airfare.

Not one to rush into things, the war has moved Griffin to the point of action and the risk of his own life.

"My arrangements and all are tentative if something happens, as far as getting my body back here, you don't know," Griffin said. Divorced, Griffin has a son and daughter-in-law at home.

The team he'll be part of has no escorts, Griffin said, adding, "There's no backup. I'm bringing body armor and a Kevlar helmet."

Griffin admitted he's nervous and considered it a natural reaction. He's been vetted by Volunteers for Ukraine as a qualified candidate and confident he chose the right the organization to work with, citing the military backgrounds of its leadership and their scrutiny of candidates.

"I think they had 1,400 applications and I think they only deployed 110 and that's just sending them to other groups that will use them," Griffin said.

Leading up to his departure Griffin said he has been in touch through the Signal app with his contact in Poland and briefed others who've been there on what to expect.

"They're exhausted, because they nap and sleep when they can," Griffin said. "It's very hectic and fast paced."

In good health physically and mentally, Griffin said he's ready.

"I think I'm as prepared as anyone can be going into that situation,' Griffin said. "If someone tells you're they're not afraid they're lying."

With packing to do and last-minute details to attend to, Griffin reflected on what's motivating him.

"It's just a burning feeling I have," he said. "I don't know if there's something I'm going to accomplish while I'm there that's why the Lord's sending me. I just have a feeling inside like, 'Listen, you need to go do this for no uncertain reason but to help out.'"

Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.