One of the Sears projects was lead by veteran Mike Santopolo, with the help of Project Leader and RTS employee, Jason Cummings. The homeowner, Robert, is a 67 year-old Vietnam veteran. Robert lives in Kirkland with his wife, Fredda. Robert is a quadriplegic due to a recent accident and dependent on his ventilator to live at his home. Fredda provides 24-hour support for Robert, as their family is unable to afford full-time care. Robert's son Kevin, an employee of Sears, contacted Rebuilding Together Seattle after hearing about the Heroes at Home program. Their lives were turned upside down after Robert's accident and resulting disabilities, but Robert and Fredda remained strong and positive.
Initially, the project was to build a deck off the back of the house, make a cement slab for the generator, and construct the kitchen to make it more accessible for Robert. As it turned out, there were enough volunteers to do accomplish additional projects, including cleaning up the front and back yard. Fredda told several volunteers that the garden was one of her husband’s favorite past times.
Volunteers working in the backyard
Volunteers building a deck
Most of the volunteers that joined the project were from the Veteran Conservation Corps, with some help from long-term RTS supporter, CITC Apprentice. Other local community members joined the group, including First Gentleman, Mike Gregoire (husband to Washington State Governor, Chris Gregoire) and the program manager of the Veteran Conservation Corps, Mark Fisher. Almost all volunteers in attendance for the project were veterans, including Mr. Gregoire.
Mr. Gregoire, or "First Mike" as he liked to be called, started his volunteer experience by grabbing a rake and shovel and getting to work on the landscaping of the backyard. Later, he decided to go to the hospital to visit Robert, who was being hospitalized for pneumonia.
First Mike, visiting Robert and Fredda in the hospital
Mr. Gregoire commented on his experience at the project site and at the hospital:
“I was honored to have the opportunity to participate in Spring Rebuilding Day to assist a Veteran in need. The volunteers that came out to help last Saturday were truly 'volunteer heroes' for the Great State of Washington, and the Governor and I want to extend our sincerest thanks for their work," he said. "It was a pleasure to visit Bob in the hospital and see the sparkle in his eye when we spoke about the work being done on his house, yard and deck. Rebuilding Together Seattle has found a phenomenal way to pay tribute to our veterans; by serving them back."
After returning from the hospital, Fredda was welcomed back to her house by the hustle and bustle of busy volunteers working in her yard and the new deck out back. She was also greeted by Mike Flood, Vice President of Community Relations for the Seattle Seahawks and Sounders FC. Mike presented her and Robert with a commemorative Seahawks coin representing the Seahawks commitment to servicemen and women. Quite an honor!
Fredda, receiving a commemorative coin from Mike Flood
As volunteers wrapped up for the day and headed home, they all left with a sense of accomplishment and pride knowing that they helped Robert gain independence and safety in his home!
RTS also thanks S.D. Deacon, J2 Building Consultants, Honeywell, Booz Allen Hamilton, the Assumption Parish Community, and the Shoreline Fire Department for helping veterans and their families on April 24th!
Group photo of the volunteers
Before and After of Robert's home in Kirkland: