On one of the coldest March mornings in recent memory, more than 30 Team Depot volunteers from District 278 (Fairfax, Va.) were gathered inside and outside of a home, swinging hammers and painting walls.
They were transforming the home of Navy veteran Marty Bodrog, the first victim of the September 13 Washington Navy Yard shooting.
Marty left behind his wife, Melanie, and three daughters. When a leak in the family’s home caused significant water damage and mold, volunteers from the Immanuel Bible Church and The Home Depot nearby stepped in to help.
Volunteers remodeled three bathrooms, replaced interior and exterior doors, and painted the interior of the home. They also installed security and safety features including smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms, and completed landscaping projects.
Our Team Depot volunteers helped to complete the projects Marty was unable to and make the home more safe and comfortable as his family moves forward. Team Depot hopes to return to complete additional projects later this spring.
The Home Depot has mobilized emergency support to aid relief and recovery efforts in more than 20 affected communities.
Team Depot, the company’s associate-led volunteer force, has jumped into action in communities across Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Florida in need of immediate assistance. In several communities, The Home Depot is partnering with nonprofit organizations like Team Rubicon and ToolBank USA to set up supply command centers in store parking lots.
The Home Depot’s merchandising and supply chain teams also have been moving recovery supplies including tarps, generators, water, wet vacs and pumps into the impacted areas to assist residents with clean-up efforts.
To support the ongoing recovery in the many communities impacted by the spring storms, The Home Depot Foundation has donated more than $80,000 through its nonprofit partnerships. Additionally, The Homer Fund has begun helping associates and their families affected by the storms.
The Home Depot is also a member of the American Red Cross Annual Disaster Giving Program (ADGP). The Company’s annual $500,000 contribution to the ADGP enables the Red Cross to respond immediately to the needs of individuals and families affected by disaster anywhere in the United States.
When a parent enlists in the military, it’s as if the whole family is signing up to serve our country. A parent’s deployment has particular impact on his or her children – from moving across the country to dealing with the stress of having a parent in constant danger. While these children face unique challenges, it often builds a level of strength and service that is extremely valuable for them and our communities.
To honor these children and their service to our country, each April is designated the “Month of the Military Child.”
One of our nonprofit partners, Operation Homefront, celebrates the Month of the Military Child in a major way, through the Military Child of the Year award program. This program recognizes military children who have proven to be exceptional citizens while facing the challenges of military family life.
Earlier this month, in a special gala in Washington D.C., Operation Homefront honored five extraordinary young patriots as 2014 Military Child of the Year award recipients. Their presence, strength and leadership are nothing short of inspiring.
Here’s a quick snapshot of the five award recipients:
- Combined, they have had at least one parent deployed for 131 months
- As a group, they have moved more than 30 times, often cross-country
- They represent 2,325 hours (and counting) of volunteer service
- Two have founded their own nonprofits
- One has advocated for new legislation and addressed Congress
- They are award-winning team captains, ROTC commanders, National Honor Society officers, class presidents and an Eagle Scout
For more information on Operation Homefront and this year’s Military Child of the Year Award recipients, visit: http://www.operationhomefront.net/
This spring, we’re celebrating a major milestone in our commitment to veterans: to-date, we’ve impacted more than 10,000 homes for veterans. We’re thrilled to hit this mark, but we’re not finished yet – there’s still so much work to be done!
We’ve announced an additional $3.8 million in grants to organizations across the country that address veteran’s housing needs.
That brings our financial contributions to this issue up to $65.7 million since we first launched our mission in 2011 to ensure every veteran has a safe place to call home.
Since 2011, we’re proud to share that we’ve…
- Completed 1,500+ Team Depot projects benefitting veterans
- Helped improve housing for veterans in more than 1,000 cities across the country
- Engaged more than 50,000 Home Depot associates in our mission to ensure every veteran has a safe place to call home
We’re excited to enter this new stage of our $80 million commitment to veterans.
The Team Depot Leaders blogs tell the Team Depot story through the eyes of some of our best captains, including why they participate in the program and what it really means to them.
In January 2013 I was approached about representing the South Atlantic Region as their Community Captain. At first, I saw this as an opportunity to influence leaders throughout the region, but I quickly realized this role was much bigger than that. Early on, I started to see the value of understanding the different ways associates of all levels can leverage The Home Depot Foundation to enhance their local stores, their communities and themselves. I saw the power of community involvement and how passionate Home Depot associates were about giving back. By the end of the first half of 2013, the Southern Division was aligned and we started planning for Celebration of Service.
Even though we had incredible Team Depot projects during the first nine months of the year, nothing could have prepared us for what we accomplished in the two months of Celebration of Service. Most stores, all districts and all regions made a significant impact on individual veterans and their families and also saw the power of making a difference for veterans throughout the year by helping larger nonprofits.
One project that comes to mind took place in Wilmington, NC at the Sgt. Eugene Ashley Center, which houses 22 veterans and supports them before they graduate, employed with health insurance and a long-term partner to keep them mentally and physically healthy. Another that comes to mind is the Myrtle Beach, SC Welcome Home Center that supports disabled veterans. They are currently in the process of replicating the Sgt. Eugene Ashley Center process of housing to support even more veterans.
Getting involved is a very rewarding experience and provides a much needed service for our veterans. Team Depot taught me the value of giving back and I challenge everyone to make a difference in your community and see how much it really means to help as many veterans as possible.
District Manager, Coastal Carolinas
Regional Community Captain, South Atlantic Region
To say Torrey Shannon is busy would be an understatement. Torrey is a veterans’ advocate, an accomplished writer, a speaker and an Elizabeth Dole Foundation Fellow, but first and foremost, she is a wife, mother and caregiver. She met her husband, SSG John Daniel “Dan” Shannon, 22 years ago and they have three sons.
“Dan and I met on a blind date,” recalls Torrey. “We originally met on October 3, 1992 and were married on November 23, 1993. He was in the army before we met and was deployed multiple times during our marriage. He was only able to spend a limited time with our family, but he was an amazing father and was actively involved with our kids whether he was home or away. When he was home, he dedicated his time to us.”
Unfortunately, the strain of military life became an issue and they divorced in 2003. Dan left to serve in Korea the day after their divorce was final, served for another year, and volunteered to serve in Iraq in 2004. After surviving a gunshot wound to the head during a gunfight on November 13, 2004, Dan was moved to Walter Reed Army Medical Center where he would spend three years in recovery. Dan and Torrey reconnected during his recovery and remarried in 2005.
“Initially, I tried to work outside of the home but I made the decision in 2008 to stay home to care for him. The changes became a complete overhaul from the life we used to live. We also made the decision to live in a remote area because Dan doesn’t do well in urban areas or large cities because of his PTSD. Right now, what works best is living in a remote area.”
Dan was medically retired in 2009 and moved to Colorado with Torrey and their kids. He continues to deal with the effects of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and now suffers from severe Post-traumatic stress disorder . Dan receives in-home healthcare services through the VA at their home located 20 miles outside of Westcliffe, CO (Population: 400). Torrey leads Dan’s caregiving team, but has support from doctors who meet with him via an in-home telemedicine unit, nurses who provide house calls and an in-home aid who helps him for eight hours each day.
So how does Torrey stay motivated through it all?
“I am proud of the strength that I found inside myself to get through it all. I was tested over and over and over again and I learned more about myself: my capacity to love and my capacity to give. It came from so deep within I didn’t even know it was there. I knew I was a strong and a capable person as a military wife, but I wasn’t truly tested until Dan was injured. I had to change in order to be a better wife, caregiver and mother.”
Torrey continued, “As difficult as these years have been, he inspires me and makes me a better person as I watch him go through his own struggles. I’ve learned a lot as a result. A lot of growth comes in the course of hardship and we have both done a good job. We have well-adjusted children and a strong marriage, stronger than I ever imagined. No matter what life throws at us, we know we can get through it together. We have also kept a sense of humor, which is a game changer. I know I can’t do it all and I’m not going to be able to do it all, but I do my best. I want to help others through this journey and the best way I know to do that is to tell our story.”
One of the ways Torrey works to tell others their story is through her position as a Fellow in The Elizabeth Dole Foundation’s Dole Fellows Program. She finds it a very big honor, especially to be part of the inaugural program because she has the opportunity to spearhead and guide where it goes.
“The Dole Foundation gives caregivers a voice and allows us to speak up, for ourselves and for others like us. In the military culture, spouses are often dismissed and systems often don’t recognize our input. This gives us that voice. It feels so good to know that not only my voice is being heard but that caregivers as a whole will be heard.”
While Torrey helps so many others with her own voice to find theirs, The Home Depot Foundation was lucky enough to help her and her family in partnership with The Elizabeth Dole Foundation and Operation Homefront by providing adjustments including new appliances, a paved parking pad and upcoming weatherization to make their house safe and comfortable.
“I am honored to be able to provide care for Dan. He has provided for us, served our country and now it is my time to serve. I do so with complete faith in him and his abilities. I want him to have the best quality of life. He is a walking miracle. He tries so hard every day, and the least I can do is support him and be beside him.”
In any spare time she finds, Torrey is writing a book and is in the media both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. Regardless of how busy she is, Torrey always puts her husband first.
Caregiver Sandra Touchet was born and raised in Germany where she worked as a medic in the German Army. She met her husband, Kerry, 17 years ago while he was stationed there serving in the U.S. Army. They have one son who Sandra says is “13 going on 21.” After Kerry was diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 2008 and a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in 2009, Sandra had to stop working to serve as his fulltime caregiver.
“Kerry was discharged in 2008,” recalls Sandra. “When he first got out of military, we moved close to family to be near help. He got progressively worse and you could see it step by step. I was an assistant manager [at a local clinic] but it did not work. He couldn’t take care of himself.”
Sandra’s inability to work added to the financial strain on the family but she knew that taking care of her husband was what she needed to be doing. The care he needs depends on the day. Kerry has balance issues, walks with a cane and sometimes uses a wheelchair. He needs help at all points in the day from getting ready to getting around. In addition, she prepares all food, does all of their shopping and is the sole transportation provider for the family.
“I do it all. Whatever you can think of,” she says. “But there is a lot of inspiration that keeps me going. I am really active and work with other caregivers. Talking to others and sharing information that may be helpful is where I get my strength. And because I love my husband no matter what.”
Sandra says some really good friendships have come from her participation in the Dole Fellows Program. She also appreciates what Senator Dole is doing to make a change and hopes to help raise awareness of what caregivers do for their loved ones. She believes that if caregivers get more help, eventually they can change lives – not just for veterans but for their whole families.
“I see younger military families who don’t yet have any idea about military life. Many soldiers come back so wounded and those who care for them don’t know what to do or where to turn. If there was something in place to help newly injured veterans and their spouses, it would make a big difference. Stepping stones laid out for them, they would know exactly what to do for the next step. It would make their life as a caregiver so much easier.”
While Sandra takes steps to help other caregivers, The Home Depot Foundation helped her and her husband through a partnership with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation and Operation Homefront, by supplying two air conditioning units, replacing multiple windows and completing general electrical work. Replacing the air conditioner and windows in the home is helping to moderate the temperature, benefiting Kerry greatly because he suffers from seizures if he gets too hot.
And while The Home Depot Foundation helps the Touchet family, Sandra continues in her efforts to help other caregivers. She says the lifestyle they have impacts the whole family. Caregivers and their children can show signs of health problems, mentally and physically. She feels the RAND study the Dole Foundation is working on to study caregiver issues will lead to changes in the future.
“I think what Senator Dole came up with [to help caregivers of disabled veterans] is really needed. It can make a huge difference, showing that there needs to be change and that we need more help. People are becoming educated about what our lives are like and eyes have been opened.”
Brannan and Caleb Vines have been together for “forever,” according to Brannan. They met at a youth volunteer group when she was 16 years old and he was 19 years old, and married three years later. Last December, they celebrated their 14th wedding anniversary. Together, they have a 7-year-old daughter named Laney.
“We had our very first date on December 18, 1996 and decided that night we would get married,” recalls Brannan. “Three years later to the day, we got married. We have been together, dating or married, for more than half of my life.”
After they got married, Brannan worked as an executive assistant for an Alabama State Supreme Court Justice while her husband, who comes from a military family, finished college with plans to enter the service as an officer. On September 11, 2001, however, everything changed for them.
“Caleb and I were both home sick that day so we watched everything happen together. He looked at me and said ‘Honey, I’ve got to enlist.’ He enlisted in the Army and we were very soon a military family, living overseas in Germany.”
While Caleb was deployed twice to Iraq, Brannan spent the majority of her time in Germany. Laney was born during his second deployment, where he unfortunately sustained injuries that resulted in a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), among other physical injuries.
“We have a completely different life now,” says Brannan. “We have had to renegotiate and find again how to live our entire life. We had to get to know each other again, develop our marriage differently, relearn how to parent and just move through the world with very different needs and constraints than most people we know.”
When asked where she draws her inspiration, though, there is no hesitation:
“I love him. When it all comes down to it, it is as simple and as complex as that. There are times when you’re waking up every day and making the choice to act out of love even when you’re tired and stressed or have 100 million other things going on. He put his entire self on the line, not just for the greater good of the country but for our family. This is about being proud of him and loving him and serving him as much as he has served everyone else.”
In addition to the inspiration she has drawn from her husband, Brannan also has found inspiration by helping others. After feeling like she came into this new world with many doubts and something missing, Brannan hoped to connect others with resources to learn how to navigate the daily demands of caregiving beyond medical information. To do that, she started FamilyOfaVet.com in 2007.
“When we started there was nothing to help. At times, I felt like my family was falling apart and I couldn’t find the things we needed. I thought I was starting a small website and it has turned into a large nonprofit. We have almost 600 volunteers in 48 states and five countries. We serve between 40,000 and 70,000 veterans and their families a month. Our volunteers take what they know from the lives they are living and help someone else down that path.”
Sometime later, Brannan had the opportunity to meet with Senator Elizabeth Dole before her Foundation was officially formed. After sitting down together, Brannan became involved with the Foundation, became a Fellow and sits on The Elizabeth Dole Foundation’s Advisory Board. She’s quick to say she feels fortunate to have been there from the beginning.
“I think it takes a lot for people to get this world. Senator Dole is working hard to shed light on our families and things we’re dealing with, but being a caregiver herself puts a whole different spin on it.”
While Brannan continues to help others through her work with The Elizabeth Dole Foundation and FamilyOfaVet.com, The Home Depot Foundation was lucky enough to have the opportunity to help her and her family in return.
“We received help from The Home Depot Foundation right around Christmas, two years ago. Like so many heroes, my husband has balance issues and was tripping and falling on warped flooring. The Home Depot Foundation came in and installed tile floors that are virtually indestructible. They fixed a leaking vent on our roof, added double hand rails down our stairs, and replaced our hot water heater. These were things we would not have been able to do for years, if ever, and they really make a huge difference.”
Andrea Sawyer is a wife, a mother and a caregiver who graduated from the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, which she entered when she was 16 years old. She has a degree in history and holds her National Board of Professional Teaching Standards certification. Her husband, Sergeant Loyd Sawyer, served in the U.S. Army for four years and they have two sons, ages 14 and 12.
“Loyd and I began dating when we were 16. We lived in the same town, and my mother was his freshman English teacher. We took a break while I was away at school for my last two years of high school and then college but we reunited after that and married all in a short period of time, eight years later, in 1998.”
By occupation, Loyd was a funeral director and embalmer. He began his military service in 2004 at Dover Air Force Base, home of the Department of Defense’s largest military mortuary and where all deceased service members enter the United States. He would later serve in overseas mortuaries in Tallil and Balad, Iraq.
“Our family was used to the irregular hours of his job. Even when he was home, his hours were always changing. It was just one of those things where you have to do what you have to do to get by, so that’s what we did. I tried to do everything as normal and kept the kids on a routine. If Loyd was home, it was always his responsibility to put the kids to bed. I had time with them in the morning so I felt it was important for him to have the time with them.”
Because mortuaries always have a phone, the Sawyer family was lucky to get phone calls that other military families do not always get. They were also able to email with Loyd and talked to him regularly. Unfortunately, however, he sustained several injuries during his service in Iraq. Because the mortuary he was stationed at sat near a flight line, he was hit repeatedly with blast waves and was stunned several times. He suffered from post-traumatic stress and, by later discovery, a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that resulted in chronic migraines and balance issues, among other side effects. Prior to her husband’s injuries, Andrea taught high school and middle school history for thirteen years.
“In the beginning, I left work because he needed supervision. More than anything else he needed safety supervision. He also needed someone to constantly go to the doctor with him. He can’t keep his medicine straight and even now, six or seven years out, he has three to four appointments a week. In the beginning it was all-day safety supervision and monitoring but now it is not to that extent. It requires me to go to the doctor with him but he is in a much better place.”
Mentally and emotionally, it was an extremely draining couple of years for Andrea. It was a struggle to get the right care for Loyd, a “24-hour-a-day fight,” and required them to wait months and months at times.
“In the beginning it was just… It is keeping the person that you love alive. You do whatever you have to do to do that. I said ‘for better or for worse’ and I meant it. This wasn’t what we had in mind but it was the road we ended up on. You can let an injury derail your life or you can let it be a detour. You just have to keep going. You can’t let everything spin your world out of control. You have to do the best you can to keep things in order so that’s that we did.”
Loyd’s recovery has made a big difference in Andrea’s ability to work in addition to her caregiving. She works from home part time as a Family Support Coordinator with the Quality of Life Foundation, supporting caregivers of the severely injured with quality of life issues. Andrea also became an advocate for warriors and caregivers while helping her husband seek treatment, and her husband has followed in those footsteps as well.
“Some of the severity of my husband’s post-traumatic stress was because it was untreated and unacknowledged. We were begging for help for him and it just wasn’t available. Eventually we did a series with the Military Times. We wanted to let other people know they weren’t the only ones and there were ways to get help. What we tried to do was to take a situation that was very bad for us and to try and make it better for those who come behind us. That became out new mission.”
Andrea testified before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee about changes that need to be made in mental health care in the VA because that cause became very important to her throughout the course her journey. Her husband decided he needed a new purpose. He took on the project of rebuilding a boat, got back outdoors and started trying to do things he used to love. He now takes other wounded warriors out fishing on the boat, named “Therapy.” He also took on a project of combining two pontoon boats into one to accommodate a wheelchair and named it “Pier Mentor.” At times, doctors said it would take years of intensive psychotherapy to regain this level of function. But together, they have worked hard.
To make his life at home a little easier, The Home Depot Foundation, in partnership with Operation Homefront, assisted the Sawyers with foundation issues on their home, which caused their bottom level to crack in two places from top to bottom. After repairing that, other issues were addressed including water diversion, wall lining and step repair. New railings also were installed to accommodate his knee and balance issues.
“It has been absolutely wonderful,” says Andrea. “These are significant repairs we never would have been able to do on own. Our house wasn’t going to stay standing around us. It was just a blessing. It was just wonderful.”
And at The Home Depot Foundation, we feel the same about Andrea and her family.
When my husband, Bob, was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for nearly a year in 2010, I could not wait for when he was well enough to return home. We were lucky to live close to Walter Reed, so I was able to be with him often. But after ten months in the hospital, we were both grateful to be back at home together.
Most people appreciate the comfort of home. Home is a place that we know, where we feel safe and where we can be with the ones we love. Yet, sadly, I learned from many of the other caregivers at Walter Reed, and the hundreds more I have spoken with across the nation since, that the return home for military and veteran caregivers is not always an easy transition.
Caregivers of the more than 60,000 service members who have returned from today’s wars with physical injuries serve as the first line of support to these heroes, assisting them with a range of medical needs and physical therapy. These caregivers often take on all the household chores. Those caring for our most severely injured veterans have to find ways to adapt their homes and routines, as stairs, high countertops, uneven flooring and narrow doorways become obstacles and barriers within the home.
The spouses, mothers, fathers and siblings caring for the 725,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans struggling with the invisible wounds of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury (TBI) often absorb the responsibility and stress of managing household finances, legal matters and complex healthcare and benefits systems. The enormous responsibilities these caregivers shoulder can leave little time for attending school or working a full-time job. In too many cases, these caregivers do not have the time or money to address essential day-to-day household issues, including much needed home repairs.
The Elizabeth Dole Foundation was created to study the challenges facing our caregivers and build a coalition of public, private and non-profit organizations to help fill the gaps in the support our nation is currently providing to these hidden heroes. Later this spring, we will announce the findings of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation RAND study, which will help us understand the scope of the issue and what Americans can do to ensure military and veteran caregivers do not serve their role alone.
I am proud and grateful that The Home Depot Foundation was one of the very first organizations to offer support as a member of our national coalition. Their team immediately recognized the urgency in standing by our military and veteran caregivers, and quickly determined how they could offer their help. They have already begun providing home remodeling and repair services to our Dole Fellows, who are caregivers volunteering their time to advise our Foundation and promote the issue of military and veteran caregivers. The Home Depot Foundation has been a model for future coalition members and all Americans, and I look forward to continuing our work together as we strengthen our support to our nation’s camouflaged caregivers.
Beginning next month, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation will have a Dole Fellow in every state helping us raise awareness in local communities across the country. Readers of this blog will have the opportunity to read some of these caregivers’ personal stories leading up to Valentine’s Day, which is truly fitting as I have seen few greater expressions of love than a family member or friend devoting themselves to caring for an injured loved one. Serving as a military or veteran caregiver is complicated, consuming and at times, emotionally overwhelming. Yet, these individuals are tireless and humble in how they demonstrate their love through the care they provide. Please check back to read their stories, and I encourage you to share them with your family and friends.
Senator Elizabeth Dole