From life as a homeless alcoholic to finding God and becoming an activist, artist, author, and public speaker, meet Gregory Andrus. Gregory is the founder and photographer of the Portraits of the Jersey Shore Facebook page and community. His difficult past as a child and young adult led him to lead a life of service giving a voice to the voiceless by taking photographs of people around the New Jersey beaches and sharing their stories. He brings awareness to issues plaguing his community through his work and strives to serve his neighbors. Gregory is also an author and a public speaker, and in this episode of the Second Act Success Podcast, he will share his success story and give advice on recovery and living a life of service.
CONNECT with Gregory Andrus:
Facebook – @portraitsofthejerseyshore
Instagram – @portraitsofthejerseyshore
Website – www.potjs.com
02:16 – Gregory’s childhood
03:16 – Becoming an alcoholic.
04:55 – Enrolling in the Army
05:20 – Being homeless
07:17 – Finding music and being in the band Sicker Than Others
10:25 – Being shot in the head and surviving
12:40 – Meeting his wife Mary
14:12 – Finding Jesus
15:00 – Attending Nyack Bible College
16:28 – Moving to the Jersey Shore and taking photographs
17:08 – Getting a camera and deciding to start a Facebook page, the Portraits of the Jersey Shore
19:03 – Being a dad
21:04 – Portraits of the Jersey Shore page is growing, interviewing different people.
24:56 – Public speaking at high schools
26:03 – It’s a Wonderful Life
26:39 – His mission
27:40 – Bring awareness to homeless in Ocean County, New Jersey
29:43 – The good behind his work
32:46 – Being an author and his books
34:09 – Interviewing lifeguards at the Jersey Shore for his book and two that passed away in Summer of 2021
36:50 – Advice
37:52 – 5 Fast Qs of the Week
39:46 – Connect with Gregory Andrus
Second Act Success Podcast
Season 1 -Episode #9 - From Homeless to Artist-Author-Activist
Guest: Gregory Andrus
Transcription (*created by Descript and may not be perfectly accurate)
[00:00:00] Shannon: Welcome back my friend. So I'm sure you've heard of the Jersey Shore, but today's guest knows the real story. He went from being homeless to now giving a voice to the voiceless with his Facebook page, The Portraits of the Jersey Shore. He has also written two books about his beloved community. Stay tuned for some true inspiration on today's episode of the Second Act Success Podcast.
Are you at a crossroads in your career or in life? Well, don't worry because life's next chapter is waiting. This is the Second Act Success Podcast. I am your host Shannon Russell. It is time to shine. So let's turn the page and get started. Welcome to Second Act Success.
[00:00:50] Shannon: Gregory Andrus is the founder of a Facebook page that helps people in his community at the Jersey Shore. He takes photos of neighbors and shares [00:01:00] their story on social media in a way that brings people together and brings awareness to important issues along the way. Gregory had an extremely tough childhood, nearly lost his life several times, but broke through to find his true calling in life. He now serves people and shares goodness through his photographs and stories. Let me introduce you to my friend, Gregory Andrus.
Hi, Gregory. Welcome to the podcast.
[00:01:30] Gregory: Thank you so much for having me on Shannon. It's an honor.
[00:01:33] Shannon: It's such an honor. to talk to you. We met several years ago when you and your family came into my business Snapology, and we started chatting and you told me about your Facebook page, and we just kind of connected throughout the years. And then you did a nice little article about me on your page, which was so wonderful. So I Thank you. for that.
[00:01:53] Gregory: Thank you. People loved getting to meet you that way, you know? So it was a lot of fun to do that.
[00:01:59] Shannon: It's great. [00:02:00] And I want to get into just how you're such a storyteller. I feel like the roles are reversed a little bit. You're used to interviewing people on a daily basis. This show is all about Second Act Success talking about, you know, moving on from one thing to the next in your life. Why don't you start with, your journey where everything started for you?
[00:02:16] Gregory: We are in act one, the first act. Okay. When I share the first half, people will understand why the second half is so special to me. Um, I came from an abusive home. My sisters and I, uh, did not feel safe in our home. The three of us were, , bullied and were, , abused in school from other students because we were very poor. We would come to school with holes in our shoes and, you know, things like that. And. I, um, discovered at the age of 13 uh, alcohol, , through some friends, some older friends, and I discovered that when I drank [00:03:00] all of those thoughts of sadness and grief and, and, and just, you know, really wanting to just like, get away from it all, , just went away. The alcohol numbs, all of that sadness. I feel like a different person.
I soon became even at 13 years old, really, um, an alcoholic, I really. Just kept trying to figure out how I can get the next four or five beers. So I could drink again and feel that buzz. By the time I was 16, I had a slit my wrists and tried to take my life. And I wound up in a, uh, Princeton House, it was called, which was a, uh, recovery, institution for people, and alcohol, situations. I was there for a month. And the problem was though Shannon is that even though it helped me to not want to drink anymore, nobody was getting to the cause. And When I [00:04:00] went back home was back into that same environment, that same toxic environment. Even though my father wasn't abusing us anymore. We were at a family full of broken people and, I never learned how to overcome my own character defects, my own incredibly poor self esteem. A year and a half later, the Christmas after I graduated, my father and I came to blows, I got kicked out. I literally came the next day to get my things and everything I owned, everything that's in my bedroom was destroyed all over the front lawn. He was done with me and I was just like, you know what, dad, you have no idea how hurt. I am by the 18 years of what I suffered from you. I was done. I didn't see my father again for 10 years after that.
I tried the Army . I wound up being shipped to Germany where there was just [00:05:00] nonstop drinking. I actually wound up leaving after a year, because I was an alcoholic, and I was just not a viable option for the Army.
When I got out the Army, I got a job and I immediately became homeless, even though I was working, , I drank all of that money and I remember I was 20 years old. I lived in this vast woods across Route One from the Menlo Park Mall where I worked. I remember after working, I got paid, I went to a bar. I was just drinking all night. It was raining out. I went back into the woods to my tent and my duffel bag from the Army, which had anything remained of my life that I owned and possessed and the tent was torn apart and my duffel bag was stolen. I remember just standing there and the [00:06:00] rain just sobbing and I had nothing left. This is what my life has become. And yet it made total sense to me at the same time, because that was how my life has been since I was born, very, you know, dysfunctional, even tragic life.
I always wanted to make something of myself, but I didn't even know how to put one foot in front of the other much less, have a whole life where I was dedicated to making a difference.
[00:06:28] Shannon: You didn't have any family examples to look up
[00:06:31] Gregory: Didn't, I really didn't. The next eight years I was on again, off again, alcoholic on again, off again, homeless. I lived in New Brunswick because that was the only place I could afford any kind of housing. I was, , 28 years old when the turning point happened in my life. But I'll stop there.
[00:06:54] Shannon: First off. I'm so sorry. Cause I did not realize the depths of your, of your past. I'm [00:07:00] sorry that you had to endure, all of that. You should be really proud of all that you have accomplished to get yourself to where you are today. Gregory. At that point in your story, how are you managing the on again, off again times?
[00:07:17] Gregory: So, um, I was in a punk band, called Sicker Than Others, which was ironically three other guys, that I met in meeting rooms of Alcoholics Annonymous. And there's a saying in the called the Big Book, which is the manual for how to be sober. In the book, there's a phrase that some are sicker than others. And we stole that. And we said, we are sicker than others. And, uh, we were a straight up punk band. I was influenced by The Clash and Jimmy Hendrix. And, that helped me to get money. We played in New Jersey, New York City. , we played a CBGBs before it closed down. So it was really, really cool. My other passion was reading and [00:08:00] writing, so I worked at a bookstore, and various other just menial jobs in between. , I did what I had to do to not become chronically homeless, but , I was an alcoholic, so there would be times I just didn't work, you know, and yeah, I would, I would become homeless again.
[00:08:15] Shannon: Was music and influence on your life when you were younger? Was it kind of an escape? What made you want to play in a band?
[00:08:23] Gregory: That's a question. No one's ever asked me. That's a great question. So I remember when I was about nine or 10 years old, I was watching a movie on TV called the Monterray Pop Festival. And I saw Jimmy Hendrix play for the first time. And he made, these sounds come out of his guitar that were otherworldly. And then when he was done, he put it on the ground. This thing that was so precious, that was conveying how he felt, that obviously expressed who he was and he put it on the stage and you poured lighter fluid on any set in a fire and they smashed it. And I was like, [00:09:00] this guy is my guy. At the same time I was visiting my uncle and this was 1980. And he put on this album and the opening chords were so incredible. I asked who this band was, and he said, this is The Clash, and the album was London Calling and I discovered punk. And what I discovered about punk was was that they were the voice of people like me, who had no one else speaking for us to people who were the destitute, the, the, the lesser than. The people who had nobody in the majority voice speaking out for. So that became my music. So I really, I would say my salvation was my guitar. I played the guitar all the time.
[00:09:45] Shannon: Now that wasn't something that you probably were able to take with you when you were homeless, obviously. Um, so when you met these guys in AA and you had this idea to start this band, how did you get the money for a guitar?
[00:09:58] Gregory: I was really [00:10:00] very blessed with people who are always looking out for me. , handing me a guitar and be like, here, you need to be doing this things like that. You know, friends, who'd be like, Hey, you know, why don't you just live with us? You know, the band would often live together, you know, things like that. So I had people looking out for me, through like 25, 26 years old while I was in that band, you know, people really wanted to encourage this gift that I had.
[00:10:24] Shannon: So where did it go from there?
[00:10:25] Gregory: When I was 28 years olds, the band had broken up by then and I was an absolute mess. The woman that I was dating, we broke up and I was just ready to just die. , I was going back and forth between like just taking my life or moving to Texas where my sister lived, trying to start my life over again as a writer. And it was graduation season at Rutgers and some friends of mine that I met through the bookstore were graduating [00:11:00] and I went to their graduation party. Oddly enough, I wasn't drinking this night, but I was smoking. I was having a cigarette out in the, , driveway of this house where the party was at one o'clock in the morning. Talking to some friends and, , around the corner , there was a high-speed police, chase and the car crashed around the corner from us. Police stopped chasing them in the cars and the vehicles, but the person went on foot and he turned the corner and he ran past me. The police officer he, remove this weapon and then he discharged his weapon. The next thing I knew, I was laying in the street, uh, with a bullet in my head. And people around me screaming and crying and blood pouring out of my head is in incredible pain. And people kept telling me don't fall asleep, no matter what you do, don't fall asleep. My life was spared and I didn't die, even though I was struck in the back of the head with a bullet.
[00:11:56] Shannon: Wow.
[00:11:57] Gregory: Um, [00:12:00] and that is the end of act one.
[00:12:03] Shannon: Someone was looking out for you, just like you said, your friends were looking out for you a little bit. Like that was a blessing. That's a miracle.
[00:12:10] Gregory: Yeah. It really was.
[00:12:12] Shannon: And you can remember that, that instant?
[00:12:14] Gregory: I don't remember actually getting shot. I blacked out, but I do remember laying there and my head was in this young woman's lap and she kept telling me to squeeze her hand, squeeze her hands and the pain. Um, I can't describe it. And I thought that one of my friends had gotten shot too. I was in the hospital thinking they got shot, but I was the only one who was.
[00:12:36] Shannon: Wow. So you wake up in the hospital and then what was next?
[00:12:40] Gregory: I became a bit of a minor celebrity in New Brunswick because I was all over the news. There was just like this parade of people coming to visit me. I don't really remember it, but there was one person who came to visit me who, one of the friends that I was at the party had been trying to set me up with on a blind date. We [00:13:00] never met until the moment that she came into that hospital room. I was on morphine when I was in the hospital. When I got out, I knew that there was a God who saved my life. I wanted to know who this God was. And while I was on his quest to find out who this God was, because I far as I was concerned, I could still die at any moment. I was still having this really awful headaches and things, about, I was a Halloween party and when I was there, I saw this woman that was there. That was the most beautiful creature I've ever seen in my life. And it was just like everything else in the room went dark and it was like the spotlight on her. And I went right to her. We went on talking for five hours and we dated a few times and then like, I'm getting emotional. But when we were at her house, she said, you know, I just want you to know that I visited you when you were in the hospital. And I said to her, that's one of the most meaningful things you can tell me, because as far as I was concerned, she was the one. [00:14:00] And I knew that to have someone who was there at the most pivotal moment of my life. I want to spend the rest of my life with this person, we wound up getting married about two and a half years later.
She was a beautiful Christian. She just loved deeply man. And so did her parents, like she brought in like this bedraggled ally cat to meet them. And they welcomed me with open arms. I had nothing to offer their daughter nothing, but they had everything to offer me and they did. It was the first time I ever was around a beautiful functioning family. And I met Jesus to them. What I loved about Jesus was he came to this earth for the hurting and the broken and the needy and all these people that he came to when he was here as a, he came from me, , like, so we can have this relationship with God. I think that's the most beautiful thing. And I've been a follower of Jesus ever since. Just like love people, deeply, offer what you have to others who do not have, and that [00:15:00] ultimately led me to wanting to become a pastor. I went to Nyack Bible College. I got a bachelor's degree, a BS, and a BA , Pastoral Ministry and in Bible. Mary was so supportive the whole time, you know, she and her parents were so encouraging and so supportive, so really brought a lot of healing to my life.
Her parents went to a Lutheran church and they would find out who were the people who had nowhere to go for the holidays. And they would just invite all these people over. They would have 12 extra guests, you know, for Easter and Christmas and all these other holidays. And the house would be just overflowing. For Christmas, her and her sister would open their Christmas presents at Christmas Eve because they didn't want an open presents in front of these people that were visiting. The only presents that would be open would be the presents they would have for the people that were visiting. So I could see why they really welcomed me. These are their people, that's just what Jesus had done in their hearts. , That showed me what a beautiful family it looks like.
And When I graduated [00:16:00] 2005, we actually felt called to come down to the shore to pursue a ministry, but that door kept getting closed in my face. It was never being open for me. . But you know, it's really interesting is that sometimes what we think we want for ourselves isn't nearly as good as the plans that God has for us. And I didn't realize that he was closing the door because he has something far better for me. I was working full-time, I helping people with developmental disabilities and so forth, , but, I didn't really feel called to that. And I was getting depressed and I hadn't gotten depressed in a while and I battled depression a lot in my younger life. And I was like, you know what? If there's a God, I live the shore, this beauty all around me. So I'm gonna start taking pictures on my first time ever owner of a iPhone. So I just went to different places around the shore and just took these beautiful photos of like the sunset and ocean and things like that. I started sharing them on I'm a Facebook page with my friends and they're like, you were such a good photographer. Nah, I'm a musician, man. I'm not a photographer. You know, but they kept telling me and [00:17:00] encouraging me for a few months. And then finally I was like, Hey, does anybody have an old used camera they want to sell it for like 20 bucks? A week later, UPS truck came to my home and there was this brown box about, you know, 12 inches long and about nine inches wide. I opened it up and inside of it, what I saw brought tears to my eyes. And it was a brand new in the box, Nikon DSLR with interchangeable lenses. I knew that that's what I was supposed to do with the rest of my life. Even though I had no idea what that was going to be. As sure as I saw Jimmy Hendrix on TV with that guitar, this camera in my hands, I knew that this was supposed to be what I'm supposed to do. I went out and I literally was a student of the camera. I got manuals on that camera. I went to school on it for a full year. And then my friends were like, you should do what the guy, Humans of New York does, , interview people on the [00:18:00] streets of the Jersey Shore. And I was like, you know what? I love people, and I would love to talk to people so so they I'm going to do it. I just came up with the name Portraits of the Jersey Shore because I love taking portraits of people. And, it'll be seven years, this August.
[00:18:16] Shannon: So that is a sign do you know who delivered that camera to you?
[00:18:21] Gregory: It took me a year to figure it out. It was actually a couple that my wife and I, Mary had met before we had kids at a bed and breakfast in Cape Cod. And we were friends on Facebook. We only met them once, just on that weekend, in that bed and breakfast. And they felt like God was saying, send him this camera. So God used them to send me the camera was changed my entire life.
[00:18:43] Shannon: That's amazing. I'm sure you just called them with tears in your eyes,
[00:18:47] Gregory: Once I finally figured it out, they didn't tell
[00:18:49] Shannon: right.
[00:18:51] Gregory: anonymous.
[00:18:53] Shannon: But that's such a gift for them to be able to do that. It's a good deed and look, look what it's turned into.
[00:18:59] Gregory: [00:19:00] Yeah.
[00:19:00] Shannon: Just another blessing in your life there.
[00:19:03] Gregory: Yeah. Thank you. Before I started Portraits of the Jersey Shore, we had our two boys and, you know, what's interesting is that I was afraid to have children because the only example that I had was my father and I was so afraid I was gonna mess up the lives of any children I had. Jacob has special needs and he has a lot of anger issues and can be extremely defiant. The only way I would know how to respond would be like, you know, you shut this down. Now you do it swiftly and you do it violently. Make sure he doesn't talk to you this way, things like that, but that's not the way I want it to be. I was beautifully taught by Mary and her family. , you just say to them, you can't talk to me this way, and then you just love him through this. He knows he's safe. , but you just have to teach him with words. And, um, it's a process still, you know, but I can [00:20:00] say honestly to this day that I've never betrayed him with any anger that I had for the way he was talking to me.
[00:20:06] Shannon: Maybe this is another test of God, it's another test of your strength and trying to figure out the best way to handle it. It could be so easy for you to go back to what you were modeled when you were younger and, you know, you're, you're handling it in such a positive way.
[00:20:24] Gregory: And there's three reasons why I can do this one. I don't drink. I'm determined to die a hundred years old and my sons and their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, they will never see, you know, grandpa Gregory with the alcohol in his hands ever. Two, because man, like I was deeply loved by Jesus and that just changed so much of me and three by the unconditional love of Mary and her family.
[00:20:50] Shannon: You have the guidance of what you're truly meant to be, and the example that you're setting for your kids that's admirable.
[00:20:57] Gregory: Thank you.
[00:20:58] Shannon: So what's next. How did you [00:21:00] take the Portraits of the Jersey Shore page and bring it to life and make it grow?
[00:21:04] Gregory: I started just going up to people on the streets and I was shocked by how many people would agree to do this. The first time I realized what the potential for the page was, was what I had, like maybe 500 followers. I was battling depression and I told Mary, , I just can't go out. I can't get these interviews anymore. I don't want to do this anymore. Mary said to me, she was like, no, this is what you're called to do. And you need to go out there, you need to get these interviews. And I did, I went down to downtown Toms River by the library, and I met all these people who are struggling. I met, , an older woman and her son who were homeless. And then I met this young man who was addicted to heroin. And then I met this young woman and she shared with me how someone put something in her drink and how she was raped and just the explosion, these incredible stories. And. You know, I'm just , trying to hold back emotions now, [00:22:00] and I realized because of my own past, I was homeless, I used to be an alcoholic, you know, , I have sisters, you know, like I, all these different things, and like, I can connect with these people. They're my people, these are my people. And I've never, again, questioned if I were supposed to be doing Portraits of the Jersey Shore. When I shared these people's stories, just the outpouring of people who follow my page, who were like, give them these resources, this is going to help them with their homelessness.
This young man who both his parents had died by the time he's 18. And he got addicted to heroin. He was only 22 at the time that I met him and was living in a car. One of my followers, like tell him I will personally come and pick him up and I will bring him to a rehab to get him help. And then it just went from there.
and like, you know, I was at Wawa and I'm just getting a cup of coffee everyone's in line behind me. I asked this woman to Nakia. How are you? And she just blurts out how she is in a homeless shelter for women and children with domestic violence. I'm sure other people asked her how she is and she's not [00:23:00] telling them this, but for some reason she chose to tell me, hold on, I'm going to go back to the line so I don't have to hold up these people. So I went back to the line and heard more and went back to the line again, and the manager came out and she goes, she could take a break so she can tell you her story. We sat down and she told me her whole story and her the greatest concern was that her daughter was about to turn 16 and she didn't have even two pennies to put together for a present. So I shared it on my page and within a week, We have put together a wishlist for her daughter for presents, an Elk's Lodge was donated for her to have a party, , a three-tiered beautiful cake was donated a dresser, donate to her, her daughter. People came out to the birthday party. It was presents for the daughter and his presence for the son. Her brother, uh, dark heart is donated to the mom, you know, , all because I asked her how she was doing.
So that's why my page has become, I realized now that God has said no, all along to being a pastor, because this [00:24:00] was what I supposed to do. I was supposed to go to the streets and not sit there behind a pulpit preaching at people I needed to be on the streets, loving people, you know, and that's what I do.
[00:24:08] Shannon: You have a broader reach doing this. You're reaching more people in different ways because people in need, aren't going to come to the church and sit there. You know, like they're in the places that you're going, they're at Wawa, they're downtown by the library. You're reaching them. . And the fact that people will look at you and you have the face and the compassion that people want to tell you, their story, you really do.
[00:24:29] Gregory: That's what people tell me. They tell me that I have a look that people would feel safe that could tell me things that, again, that's a gift from God. I don't know what that is, but people just want to tell me things and they do, and they trust me. And for me, that's a sacred trust.
[00:24:43] Shannon: The stories that you share, are just so inspiring and you just want to help. It really is a place that people who do need help or want to know that they're not alone, are getting that feedback by the comments.
[00:24:56] Gregory: Yeah. Thank you. So, um, speak at high schools and [00:25:00] churches, and one of the most precious places for me to speak at is at schools, because teenagers are hurting, man. They are so, overwhelmed by the world today and, and the highest rate of suicide attempts and mental health issues I share stories with these high school kids of what, other people's stories are these kids open up in the classroom in front of their classmates. I'll say, this is what I ask people when I'm out, ask this of each other right now and share it with each other, you know, and the outcome has been really special.
[00:25:33] Shannon: It really just opens up the conversation. I think that's wonderful. You should go into more schools and do that because you're right. These, these high schoolers, even middle schoolers are just in a very tough spot right now. The part of your story that I think really is important to remember is that you went through a time where you thought about taking your own life. You didn't, and now you get shot in the head and your life is saved. That is God speaking to you in so [00:26:00] many ways to say you are meant to be here for the greater good.
[00:26:03] Gregory: Did you ever see the movie It's a Wonderful Life? So he wants to jump off the bridge. And instead of angel jumps in, so he could save him. I wanted to die, instead God sends a bullet so I can realize, no, I really don't want to die. I just want to be able to figure this out. Like George Bailey, he got, he got to live again. I got to live again. His wife is Mary, my wife is Mary. You know, like, you know what I'm saying? Like, it's this. And that was always my favorite movie that was moving when I was growing up. That made me feel like I want this, I want this for myself. I want to be able to like, make a difference in people's lives in many ways. I'm able to do that now.
[00:26:36] Shannon: You wanted a wonderful life and you have it.
[00:26:39] Gregory: I believe everyone is made in the image of God and everyone's sacred. My whole mission is to show that sacredness in the stories that I share. When I take photos of people, I don't just take snapshots. I will move them in certain positions, be like, I need you over here. The lighting's going over there. You know, I, I can't help it, but I want them to look beautiful. [00:27:00] Even if there are homeless, doesn't matter. You're beautiful. And you're homeless. You're beautiful. And you're a drug addict. You're all beautiful to me. And I want you to look good in this picture, you know? But I really try to be very intentional with how I portrayed the way they actually physically appear because I want it to match how I see them.
[00:27:16] Shannon: You're showing a snapshot of their lives. You're giving them the message from God, the message from you in the moment that you're meeting them. And then, like you said, you're hoping that they'll take that with them on their way.
[00:27:28] Gregory: Yeah.
[00:27:29] Shannon: That's beautiful. It's a snapshot of this person. Who's just working at Wawa or walking down the boardwalk and you're sharing it in the hopes that someone else reads that story and resonates with it.
[00:27:40] Gregory: So, um, Ocean County is, the only county in New Jersey that does not have a year round homeless shelter. And the administration of Ocean County has outright refused to do this, Councilman Terrance Turnbach who doesn't have my background, you know, he's been fortunate, but he doesn't take that for granted. And he uses that [00:28:00] as a mechanism to be able to point out how other people are not. He slept in subfreezing temperatures on the lawn of the administration office overnight on a Saturday night, , to raise awareness of the homeless plight. And it got some traction and things started moving the right direction and then it lost traction again. And we just had a march. I guess, thousand people came out. We had speakers. I was one of the speakers. I was able to share my story and, their ears are perked again. And in fact, a Seaside Heights just said that they are going to put in place a year round, transitional housing for the homeless so that's the first one in Ocean County. So progress is being made. But, , yeah, my page is big enough now where it's not even like me going out and getting some snapshot of a person I just met, but I got actually platform people who are doing really good things and get the word out. I was able to do that also for Paul Kanitra. the mayor of Point Pleasant Beach, who went overseas to Ukraine, to the border of Ukraine and help all these refugees and help these orphans who were coming from Ukraine and [00:29:00] Poland. And I platformed him and it got picked up by news and all that stuff, which was like incredible, you know, so I'm very proud. My page to me is a sacred trust. It is something that I hold and really really am very careful with what I do with it. I only have 30,000, but if the thing is the amount of good, that can happen from just 30,000. It's incredible now.
[00:29:24] Shannon: 30,000 is huge. Such an amazing accomplishment. So don't downplay that. That's a really amazing.
[00:29:30] Gregory: Thank you.
[00:29:31] Shannon: What is one story? If there is one that sticks out to you the most, is there a story that just really made you just turned your day around for good or for bad?
[00:29:43] Gregory: You know, what's really interesting is the ones that have stuck out to me, the most of the ones that were the hardest. The best one that stuck out to me the most, it was Nikia where we really helped her and her family, and there was a, um, a time where I was, doing a spot on a church [00:30:00] that was doing an outreach to families for Thanksgiving, and they were giving box meals, dinners, and I met a homeless family and I shared them on my page and they were put up, in a house through, uh, the new year and he got a job, you know, so they're really, really good things.
Some of the most beautiful things are the beautiful friendships that have come out of this. I went and ate at a restaurant that's local called The Arc. And it's a really great, like born and bred Jersey Shore, you know? My friend and buddy Jim and I went there and the waitress knew me from the page and she messaged me a couple of days later and told me about her friend who has, an advanced stage of leukemia. so I met her and I interviewed her and she's just a precious, precious mom of these three little girls and I've become friends with her. And I pray for her every day and I will reach out to her. And few times we've met like in a park and stuff like that, just so I can pray for her just to talk to her, just to like, just to be for your friends, you know, [00:31:00] and she's going to be getting a bone marrow transplant and after that transplant, she's gonna have to be isolated for two years. Because her immune system is going to be shot. She used to stay away from germs and it's critical because if she gets sick, it could be bad. But if she could stay healthy for those two years, she's gonna have her life back. I told her, I said, my goal is that in two years your family and my family, we're gonna meet at the beach, we're going, gonna have a big party, man. And we're going to celebrate that. You're able to be out here again, and you're going to do this, you know? So that to me is like some of the beautiful aspects of my page. Someone will stick out to me. It's just, the spirit moves me. I'm like, this is the person that I'm going to invest in.
[00:31:41] Shannon: I've heard you say, and I've read this about you, that you created the Portraits of the Jersey Shore to bring a voice to the voiceless. Would you say that's your theme for the, the Portraits of the Jersey Shore?
[00:31:52] Gregory: The actual act of going out there and meeting people will never, be a business to me. That will always be a ministry to me. It is a ministry [00:32:00] and that will always be my ministry. I have been really blessed and privileged to be able to have a business aspect, to it, to be able to help my family. It is a full-time, takes everything I have left after my boys and my two dogs and my wife, and to, to run this now. I have two books out now. I do a speaking engagements where I get paid and, you know, I have businesses will hold a pay me, , so voice to the voiceless? Absolutely. Even if I don't make a penny, even if everything else stopped I will continue doing this because the voiceless need to have a platform too. And I'll always be that platform for them.
[00:32:40] Shannon: Tell us about your books. Your current book and then your new book that's getting released in June.
[00:32:46] Gregory: My first book came out in 2018, which is about two and a half years after I started the page. And it was a collection of 100 of the most compelling stories. It's actually sold out and I have to get more money so I can print more because, , I print these books myself. I was very [00:33:00] proud of it. With the second book I decided I wanted to come out as an artist. I got a 1960 medium format camera that only shoots 12 frames per roll. I wanted to highlight our lifeguards on the ocean side because it's really the backbone of our Jersey store summer is our lifeguards. The reason why we can swim safely is because of our lifeguards and I wanted to honor them. I already have a copy here called Sand, Sea and Rescue, which you can get on my website, www.portraitsofthejerseyshore.com and we are going to honor these lifeguards and this is what this book does. These are like really, really beautiful printed books. These are coffee table books, nine inches by nine inches. They're small enough that you can bring them to the beach with you and read their stories. What's a really excellent feature about this book, which I've never seen another book ha ve is that after the interviews have QR codes, which when you scan them, , the person's picture will come up on your phone and their story will come up and use push play, and then you can hear their story in their own voice, on the beach, [00:34:00] telling about their rescues and there about what it's like to be a lifeguard. So it's really, really cool. And
[00:34:05] Shannon: I've never heard of that in another book either. Like it's really interactive that way.
[00:34:09] Gregory: Yeah. When I started this book at the beginning of July, I had no idea that by the end of August, we were going to lose two lifeguards, and for me again, that was a sacred thing. So there was a, uh, really what comes out to like a four page memorial to those lifeguards, who lost their lives. Norman Inferrera III who, um, his. rowboat, out there in the ocean, on the rough seas capsized and hit him on the head and he died.
And then, , Keith Pinto who got struck by lightning, on duty, and died instantly. Both of them within 10 days of each other, both of them teenagers, both of them at the end of the year.
So it's a one man show I'm doing this whole thing myself and I was really proud of this book. And I'm already thinking on my third book and I'm thinking I'm going to have a book called Local, The Real Jersey Shore. What I want to do is, uh, highlight the people who actually live at the shore. I want to do is get [00:35:00] mechanics and nurses and chiropractors and first responders. And I want to have them in their uniforms or whatever they're working in. I want to have them standing at the beach in their uniform and I'll take pictures of them and be like, these are the first responders of the Jersey Shore.
I have all these ideas. I'm going to keep, keep going, man. You know, until, you know, God takes me, finally, takes me home, you know. I can't believe, , it's been 22 years since I got shoot and I'm still here. It's just like amazing, I often just stop and think like, I can't believe I had this life now, I'm just blown away. And I to meet people like you and becoming friends with you and like, like one of the privilege, you know, like this wouldn't happen about what is like having a beer in my hand. I probably wouldn't be alive right now, but you know? So I'm
[00:35:40] Shannon: You're thriving.
[00:35:41] Gregory: Thriving and I'm so incredibly grateful, so,
[00:35:45] Shannon: and you sound so, happy. You're getting to use your artistic talents. You're doing your ministry work. With the page your creative work through your books and your photographs. I mean, that's just the best of both worlds.
[00:35:57] Gregory: And it's really nice because the boys get to see their [00:36:00] daddy instead of being drunk, or angry, you know, you got to see him like so happy all the time and doing what he loves, you know?
[00:36:06] Shannon: Are they so proud of you?
[00:36:08] Gregory: They are. They'll even say that they'll even actually use those words, which is like really rare for a 12 year old or nine year old. But they'll actually say that to me, you know? So yeah.
[00:36:16] Shannon: They probably aren't on social media. I'm hoping, but for them to, just,
[00:36:21] Gregory: No,
[00:36:22] Shannon: There's a lot of negative connotations around social media, but you're using it for good. So for you to tell them that you can use a platform like that for the good , to give a voice to the voiceless.
[00:36:33] Gregory: Yes, exactly. Yeah.
[00:36:35] Shannon: So your first act, we learned about and you're just growing your second act. I feel like it's just going to keep getting bigger, keep getting broader, more impactful. What do you think the common thread might be between all of your careers, acts so far?
[00:36:50] Gregory: Fantastic question. Thank you. That is a fantastic question. Nothing that has happened in your life, as hard as it may have been as difficult as [00:37:00] life may be even now. It will not be wasted. If you could just believe that there's a God who loves you and will see you through this. And then you can use that to help other people to see that their hardship. Are going to be okay that they'll get through because there's people like you who have their back. Look at the people who are around you right now, who are going to help you through and then be that for others. And that's what has happened in my own life. Mary's family. And the people in that church, I first started going to it. They were there, they had my back. And now when I go out, man, . I really believe I'm carrying, like the spirit of God himself in my heart and bringing that presence to them. There are people out there that love you, find them, stick with them, get rid of the people that are bad for you. There's a verse in the Bible says that all things work together for good, for those who love God. And I'm absolute testimony to that.
[00:37:49] Shannon: You are.
[00:37:52] Shannon: Alright. It's time for our Five Fast Qs of the Week. Here we go!
Name. One thing that. these [00:38:00] different chapters in your life have taught you?
[00:38:03] Gregory: Hope that there is help is real and it is there. And if you don't have it for yourself, borrow from other people who have it.
[00:38:10] Shannon: Would you recommend taking a leap into a big life change to your best friend?
[00:38:15] Gregory: I think it has to do with context. If it's to stop drinking hundred and 10000%, if you're not doing well and you want to take up a new enterprise, but you just need to just relax and get some hugs in your life and let people just listen to you for awhile. No. So I think about it that tends dependent on where you are emotionally and mentally and physically.
[00:38:38] Shannon: What is one piece of advice that you would give someone who's trying to start over?
[00:38:41] Gregory: If you enjoy it and you have talent in it, don't stop doing it because it's going to get hard sometimes. But you know what? There was times in the beginning where I didn't want to do Portraits of the Jersey Shore. And I had people who said to me, no, keep going. This is what you're good at. This is something [00:39:00] you really love so glad I did look where, where I am now do it! It's an incredible gift to be able to have those two beautiful things come together, something you're good at. And it's something you love because that's where the magic happens. Don't stop.
[00:39:14] Shannon: What does the next chapter look like for you?
[00:39:16] Gregory: I want to get into more schools. I wanna speak more to teenagers. I just have such a passion for them. I still have like that remnants of that old Gregory, like, can I do this? Am I setting myself up for failure? You know? So it's still there, but I'm very grateful that people who believe in me, like, no, no, no, no, that's keep going. That's the direction, you know, like, obviously you're good at this and you like doing it. You need to knock on those doors and make it happen. And to continue doing film photography for books, just for fun, you know, just to like do that too.
[00:39:44] Shannon: Where can our audience connect with you?
[00:39:46] Gregory: Facebook is where the magic happens. I am on an Instagram, but Facebook is where all the comments, the encouragement, the love happens. So @portraitsofthejerseyshore on Facebook and on my website [00:40:00] www.portraitsofthejerseyshore.com or www.potjs.com. Instagram @portraitsofthejerseyshore.
[00:40:05] Shannon: Gregory, I can't thank you enough. As a friend and someone in the community, you are so impactful and I've loved watching your career, watching your page, expand over the years. And I'm so, so honored that you came and shared your story, your personal story, your success story with us today.
[00:40:22] Gregory: I am just blown away that I'm here with you right now. I'm so grateful. You're just amazing person. And to ask me to be a part of this, and I'm just so grateful and, and thank you for letting me be a part of your story today.
[00:40:35] Shannon: Right back at you. Thank you so much Gregory.
[00:40:38] Gregory: Hugs. When I see you.
[00:40:39] Shannon: Hugs. Definitely.
Wow. That was an emotional and eyeopening conversation. I hope you felt it too. Gregory is a true testament to someone who struggled, stayed the course and succeeded. He has a servant's heart and it shows in his work, be sure to follow Gregory's Portraits of the Jersey Shore page on [00:41:00] Facebook and pick up a copy of his brand new book, Sand, Sea, and Rescue: Lifeguards Of The Jersey Shore that is out now. I'll add a link in the show notes for the episode. So you don't miss it. Take care and talk soon, my friend.
Thank you for joining us. I hope you found some gems of inspiration and some takeaways to help you on your path to Second Act Success. To view show notes from this episode, recommend to guests with a great story, and learn more about us. Visit secondactsuccess.co. Before you go, don't forget to subscribe to the podcast. So you don't miss a single episode. And if you are enjoying our time together, please leave a review in Apple Podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Reviews only take a few moments and they really do mean so much. Thank you again for listening. I am Shannon Russell, and this is Second Act Success.
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