Volunteers assist Vietnam War veteran with home repairs

By MOLLY HENNESSY-FISKE | The Joplin Globe, Mo. | Published: February 23, 2019

(Tribune News Service) — A group of veterans and veteran service organizations spent Friday working in drizzling, 40-degree weather to help repair the home of Larry Day, 71, a disabled Vietnam War veteran.

"They are really wonderful, and I thank God for putting them here for us," said Mary Day, Larry's wife.

The Joplin Area Fuller Center for Housing, Compass Quest Veterans Advocacy Group and Home Depot joined forces to assist the local veteran this week. The groups often collaborate to provide free services such as home repair, labor and materials for veterans in the community.

"It's a way of honoring their service by coming out and doing a little bit of volunteer work," said Ted Donaldson, Compass Quest director and Air Force veteran. "Why not do something if we have the ability?"

Mary, and their son, Dennis, look after Larry at their dwelling on Empire Avenue in Joplin, which was damaged in the 2011 tornado. The home is in desperate need of wheelchair-accessible ramps, bathroom renovations and new flooring. The family has lived in the house for about 40 years.

Larry served as an indirect fire infantryman in the Army during the Vietnam era from 1966 to 1970. He enlisted when he was 19 and received a National Defense Service Medal.

Dennis said there's no way they would've been able to complete the renovations themselves and reached out for help. He discovered the Home Depot Foundation's Veteran Housing Grants Program, which awards grants to nonprofit organizations for construction or rehabilitation housing projects for veterans.

"It's getting so overwhelming trying to make the best of what we could with everything going on," Dennis said. "We've been trying to get better access for him, as well as for us, so we can take care of him and make his daily living much easier. I started looking at Home Depot and reading online about what they do with veterans. I went back and forth with it and decided to do it. It's been a blessing."

Jerry James, store manager at Home Depot in Joplin, assisted with the project, along with two other store employees. James, who served in the Navy, said one of the reasons he joined Home Depot was because of its work with veterans.

"Besides just hiring them, the people who have come back and served for us, we try to make their lives better as much as we can," James said. "Home Depot's dedicated to veterans and most of our projects are geared toward veteran services to give back to them for what they've done for us."

Through the grant program, Home Depot provided labor and materials for the renovation. The volunteers removed broken concrete, cut pallets of wood to be used for joists underneath the house and began building wheelchair ramps in both the front and the back entryway.

"It's about the camaraderie of all of us getting together and working together as a team to accomplish a task to serve somebody else," said Donaldson. "It's all of these things that pull us together. What we gained in our military service was a concept of teamwork, a concept of camaraderie, purpose and accomplishing things together."

Dan King, president of Joplin Area Fuller Center for Housing, said their organization builds and repairs houses for low income individuals who can't afford to do it on their own. Through the Fuller Center's renew program, clients agree to sweat equity to work on the house while the organization carries the mortgage at no interest for however long the project takes.

"We love helping veterans, but we do it for not only veterans, but for everyone," King said. "We ask the clients to pay for the materials, and they can pay this over time with no interest because we take that same money and buy materials for someone else to pay it forward."

Volunteer Mike Johnson, Army veteran and owner of Simple Simon's Pizza in Joplin, lent his carpentry skills in helping cut wood for the wheelchair ramp.

"I don't think enough people try (to give back) or are out there doing what they can be doing," Johnson said. "When it comes to fellow veterans and seniors alike, we need to show a lot more support as a community."

Johnson mentioned how he was greeted by Vietnam veterans when he returned home from after serving overseas.

"The biggest thing for me was they didn't get treated like that when they came home," he said. "We need to make sure to stay diligent to make the difference on that for the future soldiers."


(c)2019 The Joplin Globe (Joplin, Mo.)
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