- As John and Denise Gilliland built their business and nonprofit ventures, CGA Law Firm helped every step of the way.
John and Denise Gilliland’s story began with John riding a white horse, wearing a Renaissance prince costume, and carrying a diamond engagement ring in his pocket.
Their fairy tale beginning quickly met reality when Denise gave birth to twins while John commuted 2.5 hours away for 18 months. They moved their family to York in 1993, which became the foundation of the family’s success — and challenges — for the next 30 years.
In 1998, John saw an opportunity in the self-storage industry and built his first property in a cornfield near his family’s dairy farm. He then started his brokerage firm, Investment Real Estate, LLC, which has since completed more than $1 billion in sales. He now owns 60 self-storage facilities in seven states.
Looking back, their journey was anything but easy. “Nothing is handed on a silver platter,” Denise says. “It takes a lot of work and gut-wrenching decisions and risk.”
Denise was John’s biggest cheerleader every step of the way, all while having a career in teaching and raising four kids. But she wanted to do more to make a difference. In 2017, she founded Pink Power, a 501(c)(3) that raises money for local breast cancer patients in need right here in our community. In just five years, Pink Power has raised $500,000.
A valuable relationship
Shortly after moving to York County, John and Denise met Frank Countess, an attorney who specialized in real estate and commercial transactions with CGA Law Firm.
Over the years, Frank and CGA not only processed over 100 business and real estate transactions for John’s company — they formed a relationship that helped the couple get through some of the toughest moments of their lives.
When the 2008 recession hit, John was in the thick of building six self-storage projects.
He thought he’d have to file for bankruptcy, but the thought of having to check the bankruptcy box on every future financial statement gave him pause.
With help from CGA Law Firm, John and his team worked tirelessly to pay back every bank.
“One of our core values as a family is to have courage in the face of adversity,” Denise says. “When you get to the other side, the greater the struggle, the greater the victory.”
From pain to passion
Their courage was put to the test when Denise was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009.
She had come from a long line of breast cancer warriors, including her father, who had breast cancer twice. Genetic testing revealed she was a carrier of the BRCA2 gene mutation.
At 43, she had a double mastectomy.
That experience made her an advocate for genetic testing and early cancer screening and inspired her to create Pink Power. “I knew that I wanted to use my life as an opportunity to give back and help those less fortunate,” she says.
As a third-generation member of the DelGrosso family — the oldest family-owned producer of pasta sauces in America celebrating 75 years — Denise wanted to combine her love of cooking with her passion for fighting cancer.
She launched Cook for a Cause and teaches cooking classes to raise additional funds for Pink Power. “My mission in life,” Denise says, “is to bring people together for causes that are near and dear to my heart.”
‘A great place to live’
Frank with CGA Law Firm personally relates to the cause: His mother, sister, and aunt are all breast cancer survivors.
He and his firm helped the couple launch Pink Power and the Gilliland Family Foundation, which funds a variety of charitable causes. Denise is grateful to have the support of CGA as a sponsor of her Pink Power event each year.
With the future bright for John and Denise’s business and nonprofit ventures, they’re looking forward to investing more into the local community.
As part of that process, John purchased a building in downtown York to relocate his businesses and be part of the revitalization.
“We’ve got to take on the task of making sure York continues to be a great place to live,” John says, “with a vibrant downtown and a wonderful community to raise future generations.”