Upon meeting Coast Guard veteran Craig Kalucki, 31 with tattooed arms and bright blue eyes, one wouldn’t automatically think, “cleaning guy.”
It depends on when you see him, perhaps. Ever since his two employees – John Idarraga and Idarraga’s 52-year-old mother Amparro – left his self-start company “Clean Freakz” two weeks ago, he has spent 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. meticulously scrubbing down a home or an office space or lugging his supplies from job to job.
“I never met two more hard-working people in my life, except maybe my parents,” Kalucki said, visibly exhausted from balancing his now one-man company and his night time philosophy degree classes at New Jersey City University. “They had to leave because Amparro has to return to Colombia for hand surgery, and her son will have to foot the bill for his apartment on his own. As well as we’re doing, it just wasn’t enough.”
Three years ago, Kalucki left the Coast Guard position he’d held for 10 years to join his new wife Necole at her home in Weehawken. To have stayed employed with the Coast Guard would have been, he said, a recipe for a divorce. But the skills he picked up during his service didn’t cut it in the civilian world, particularly with a diminished economy looming.
In fact, many veterans find themselves in similar situations once they break from national service. Kalucki is what is known as a “Gulf War era-II” veteran, and according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for these types of veterans was around 12.1 percent in 2011 while nonveteran unemployment for the same year came in at 9.1.
“The percentage of unemployment for veterans is high as we aren’t given many employable skills.” – Craig Kalucki
Kalucki did take advantage of the GI Bill, which is a program available to fund veterans’ educational pursuits, but it didn’t help him find a job.
So he created one of his own.
Shortly after Kalucki moved in with Necole, he sat down at a bar after being turned down by job after job and thought, “What am I going to do? What am I good at?”
He lived with his parents while attending college just before he joined the Coast Guard. His mother worked for $12,000 a year as a full-time special needs teacher’s aide and his father, now 65 and still working, is employed as a heating and air conditioning technician.
Because they couldn’t afford a cleaning service, and because Kalucki always admired their tireless hard work to put food on the table, he would clean their house for them. And he was extraordinarily good at it. His parents marveled each time they home to a sparkling home.
Kalucki continued the trend of cleaning it forward during his time with the Coast Guard. He would clean the houses of his colleagues who had wives and children, with little time to tidy up.
And, of course, when he first stayed at his future wife’s home, he cleaned it from top to bottom. So when he decided to start a cleaning company and took his idea to Necole, at first she was surprised, but then she remembered just how good he was.
“She actually pushed me to start the company once she realized I would be great at it,” Kalucki explained. “Without her, I wouldn’t have been able to start the company, and at first she even helped me out after doing her own job as well. It was stressful, yes, but we both had fun doing it, and she was the real ignition for the company.”
Kalucki eventually found the Idarragas, and Clean Freakz was born.
No (dust) mountain too high
When his coworkers left, not only did his workload increase (he cleans around four to five venues a day, so as to give them the proper attention, he said), but he found the solo work, well, quite solo.
“I get lonely working alone, without my friends, and by the time I’m done at night I’m broken down,” Kalucki explained. “I can barely move, and some nights I have to get to school, and then I wake up in the morning and do it all over again.”
But this is just another one of life’s inevitable obstacles which he must power through. He is far from ready to give up on a business he’s worked to create for three years, and he is not the sort to give up on anything at all.
Despite his current struggles (which he vows to overcome), Kalucki wishes to stress to fellow veterans that it is not impossible to start a business when employment is scarce to be had. All it takes is an idea, he suggested rather philosophically, and you’re in charge of your own fate.
“My parents taught me that hard work always pays off, and to never give up,” Kalucki said. “It’s one of my tattoos, actually, so when I’m cleaning I can look at it remember when times get tough.”
For more information on Kalucki’s services, visit www.cleanfreakz.com.
Gennarose Pope may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org