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Cleaning up and hoping to help other veterans to the same

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 19, 2011 - Tim Smith, 33, came back from Iraq and had a hard time readjusting to life outside of war. He felt disconnect from his family and could not find employment for six months. He also had disabilities from the war, including post traumatic stress disorder and tinnitus. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, Smith decided he could tap into the skills gained in the military, hire other veterans and start a business. Patriot Commercial Cleaning is the result.

Patriot Commercial Cleaning was established, Smith said, to provide professional cleaning services with a commitment to serve both clients and employees. The attention to detail is what Smith boasts about, saying his crews leave offices, bathrooms, carpets, wood floors and kitchens of commercial properties sparkling. He also said that veterans "know the true meaning of service, and the cleaning industry is a service type of industry that we excel at."

Starting a business, however, had never been part of Smith's plans. He has a master's degree from the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University. "It didn't even cross my mind, except in my social economic development class. You read the statistics, and all I wanted to do was make a change. I knew how hard it was for me to not be working for six months."

In 2008, a year after being Honorably Discharged from the military, one of Smith's professors at Washington University mentioned The Mission Continues. Smith did a fellowship with that group, a nonprofit whose mission is to make veterans into civic leaders. "They provided me with the social support and a network of valuable resources that want to help veterans succeed," said Smith.

The business officially started in October 2010. "I had saved $5,900 that I put into the business," said Smith. "The Mission Continues put me in contact with Work Vessels for Veterans that provided me the other $3,900 for the license, insurance and bonding."

From there Smith hit the ground running. "My first account I signed was with a Vietnam veteran that owns an insurance company. I approached him and asked if we could have the opportunity to clean his office." Today, Smith has contracts in St. Louis, Chesterfield, West County and has been working closely with the South County Chamber of Commerce.

According to the PCC website, "There are over 2 million veterans that have served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. The unemployment rate is nearly 30 percent higher for those returning from service." PCC plans to change that. "I have 20 veterans' resumes sitting in my inbox, and as soon as we get more contracts I can hire more veterans," said Mr. Smith.

Currently, PCC consists of founder Tim Smith; Tim's father, James Smith, who is the vice president of the company and chief training officer; and Willie Mathis who is an Army veteran. Tim's wife, Terri Smith, also helps out. "Three out of the four of us come from military families," said Smith.

There is more work to be done. "I would like to see Missouri and the private sectors give us a chance," said Smith, who hopes to expand in the next few years with contracts all over the Midwest.

Smith was born and raised in St. Louis, a graduated of Affton High School. "The only time I left St. Louis, was when I was in the military." Today, Smith is a father of two, Timothy Smith Jr., 5 and Tyler Smith, 3.

Rosa Dudman Mayer is a freelance writer. 

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