I Have a Present. For You.

I’ve never endorsed products for money or engaged in other marketing opportunities of that ilk on Witty Little Secret for one simple reason: this blog isn’t about the money. It’s about sharing stories, telling it like it is, and finding some peace. And I’m not going to change that now, just because The Home Depot hired me to report about some of their Celebration of Service Projects, a campaign I would not have even considered if I didn’t sincerely believe in their mission to dedicate $50 million to Veterans projects across the country.

But they gave me something. Something kinda cool. And I’m giving it to you. Wait, no, this isn’t Oprah’s Favorite Things. You’re not all getting something cool. Just ONE of you.

What it is:

The Home Depot is all about energy efficiency and weatherization this time of year, when power grids blaze with cold-weather consumption. The package they gave me is a weatherization pack, amped up by some really cool new technology:

Estimated retail value of all this stuff is $195.00.

What you do:

You don’t have to like me. You don’t have to tweet me. You don’t have to share me or become a fan of this page. You just need to identify yourself in some meaningful way that lets me contact you if you win. That’s it. No strings attached. I don’t keep, sell, or make fun of your email names (That’s totally a lie; I consistently make fun of some of your email names and it provides such valuable dinner-time conversation that I don’t intend to stop).

Just leave a comment of any kind and I’ll have your info.

How and when we’ll chose you:

We’re going to pull your name out of a hat. Really. An actual hat. We’re going to hand-write your ridiculous email names on pieces of paper, mix them up, and draw a name. And we’re going to do it on Tuesday, November 6th, and we’re going to video tape it. And then we’re going to announce it. And then we’re going to mail it to you. And because this is a military spouse blog, no international restrictions apply. If you’re in Germany, Italy, Japan, or even the Middle East, I’m still mailing it to you. I’m not sure you want caulk shipped to the Middle East, but still, theoretically, I’m sending it where you want me to send it, and it doesn’t matter to me where you are.

Ready …… go comment!  [comments are now closed]

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Disclosure: This is a personal blog written and edited by me. Home Depot paid me to report on events related to their annual “Celebration of Service” campaign. However, I did not accept any form of cash advertising, sponsorship, or paid topic insertions, and Home Depot has not instructed me what to write or required me to endorse any products or services. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own. I only endorse products or services that I believe worthy. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider.

Hero Chronicles: The Home of Clyde Kment

VeteransThis post is a part of the Hero Chronicles Series, highlighting U.S. military Veterans and their families served by the Home Depot Foundation’s “Celebration of Service.” Over 200 Veterans homes and facilities are being repaired and upgraded in the two-month campaign, which will conclude on Veterans Day.

A spry 71 year-old Clyde Kment looked as if he was ready to jump up and go for a jog. He sat on the edge of the bed in his Vancouver, Washington home wearing a sweat suit, and leaning casually on one arm. He was laughing as his wife Fuji, in broken Japanese-English, explained that he would weave quite a tale if only I stuck around long enough. With 20 years in the U.S. Army, six out of six brothers who joined the military, a father who served in both the Army Air Corps and the Infantry through World War II, and his own sweet tale of the beautiful Japanese girl he met during an overseas tour in the early 60’s, he had plenty of story to tell. “She was the only one who could beat me in ping-pong” he explained, as they both chuckled like fifty years together had passed in an instant. It was wonderful after traveling the country to interview Veterans for Home Depot to meet such a robust servicemember right here in my own hometown.

But Clyde’s tone changed when he got to 1968. After sending his wife and two daughters to live in Japan, he arrived in the Central Highlands of Vietnam just two days into the Tet Offensive. As a young man with very little military service behind him and no combat experience, he told me he saw more dead bodies in his first 48 hours than he saw the rest of his time in country. “I don’t talk much about my time there” he pointed out. “But I’ll tell you this much – I couldn’t stand violence after that. I couldn’t even go to a boxing match after I came home. It changed me.”

Clyde, who retired as a Master Sergeant, told me about how he spent most of his time after that as an Army recruiter based in the Pacific Northwest, and I could see how perfectly he was situated for the job. He explained that in those days the job was part public affairs, part compassion, and part story-telling. He clearly still had all those skills intact, despite his recent diagnosis.

A few short months ago Clyde was walking around his house, up and down the stairs, wondering why his back hurt. He was working out every day, running and even pumping iron for an hour at a time, but his muscles still felt as if they were weakening. He was an avid gardener with a manicured lawn and perfectly pruned trees heavy with buds, but he could no longer lift his arms high enough to tend them. After a barrage of tests, doctors finally identified the cause of his problems: ALS, also known as Lou Gherig’s Disease. In just four weeks time he had lost the ability to walk on his own. “I didn’t know it until I got the disease, but Veterans are actually twice as likely to get ALS,” he explained.

He couldn’t walk around his property to see the improvements being made by the Home Depot volunteers that day without the aid of the walker and leg brace sitting at the end of the bed. But that didn’t stop him. He ventured out to say thank you, to instruct volunteers about the quirks of starting his mower, and to explain how to transplant an enormous bamboo plant into the perfect pot. You got the feeling he’d rather be out there, working alongside them. Still, he didn’t want the spotlight to be on him. Kment maintained, as do most of the servicemembers I talk to, that there was nothing about him that made him a hero. “The real heroes are these guys here – the ones doing this work. This story is really about them.”

Flanked by his wife, Fuji, and the ALS of Oregon Director, Clyde Kment looks on in amazement at the progress made by volunteers at his Vancouver, Washington home.

On Wednesday over 150 Home Depot area employees were at the homes of four area Veterans, volunteering on their day off, as a part of their Foundation’s “Celebration of Service” campaign. At Kment’s home they would make his gardens immaculate, widen doorways so that he could get through them with a walker or wheelchair, add pavers to the gravel driveway, make his bathroom accessible, and construct a wheelchair ramp that would give him access to the main floor of his house. “It’s more than I could ever have imagined,” Kment said with overwhelming gratitude.

Area ALS Executive Director Lance Christian explained how quickly the disease strikes and how timely the Home Depot Foundation’s offer to make the home more accessible really was. “we’re so glad that Home Depot contacted the ALS Association for Oregon and Southwest Washington. We have so many Veterans that are in need, and  they’re often unable to get the services as quickly as they’re required.” According to the ALS website, the average patient lives only 2-5 years after diagnosis though some can live with the disease for much longer. For Clyde and Fuji, that makes every moment precious.

The couple lingered very near each other in the sunlight that afternoon, watching the sea of orange shirts transform their yard into its previous glory. “This is 99% about them, and only 1% about him,” Fuji said as she put a hand on her husband’s shoulder. He kept his gaze on the garden, not turning around in that moment, but quietly nodding in agreement.

I said my goodbyes and thanked the employees I met who would keep working long into the afternoon. I turned to look at the progress that had been made since my arrival, and like a flash from 1962 I saw a young infantryman and his beautiful Japanese bride, the house where they raised two girls, and a lifetime of service.

Through it all, Clyde and Fuji remain optimistic and thankful. “What they’re doing here today is phenomenal,” said Kment, “Words cannot describe what I’m seeing!”

*

For more information about the Home Depot’s Celebration of Service, click here.

For more information about the ALS Association, click here.

To leave your comments of support for Clyde and Fuji, comment here.

Home Depot helps Stiggy’s Dogs Serve Veterans

Stiggys Dogs

Home Depot volunteers gather in the early morning as the new Stiggy’s Dogs sign is hung at the entrance

I arrived in Howell, Michigan to a flurry of smiling workers in day-glow orange, rushing like bees swarming around a hive. Golden leaves barely clung to branches, flitting as the orange shirts rushed underneath them. Cool morning light filtered down, making a strobe-like effect that mimicked the frenetic pace below. It reminded me of relatives setting up for a family reunion.

I was at the house where Stiggy’s Dogs, a Detroit-area nonprofit running out of the kindness of hearts and the generosity of strangers, was getting a facelift. As a part of the Home Depot Foundation’s “Celebration of Service” campaign, I was invited to see the improvements being made by volunteers, and talk about what can be done for the military community.

Home Depot

Home Depot CEO Frank Blake at Celebration of Service

First I had the privilege of sharing a meal with Home Depot CEO Frank Blake. I was initially intimidated by his resume: Harvard undergrad and then Columbia Law, clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stevens, deputy counsel to then Vice President George H.W. Bush, general counsel for the EPA, and general counsel at General Electric. It seemed like the work of five men, not one. But that all dissipated as he approached. Blake was unassuming and downright regular; he wore a ball cap and the same bright orange shirt the workers had on, with a dark windbreaker and a small styrofoam cup full of black coffee. He was engaging and inquisitive, genuinely interested in the concept of blogging and how we tell our stories. His eyes laughed before he did, and I found him to be humble and easy.

We talked about what the conversation sounded like in the board room when Home Depot decided to focus on Veterans. He said it was a natural “no-brainer” because of the product Home Depot supplied and the fact that over 35,000 employees were Veterans. He said, “I know that when these folks return from duty the last thing they want to do is sit behind a desk.” But it made even more sense to me when he started to tell the story of the year his son, a U.S. Army soldier, was in Middle East. He talked about how he watched the news and waited for some communication, focusing his attention on what was happening over there. He said he soon noticed it was a state of mind the general population didn’t experience, and he wanted to support an ongoing effort to recognize servicemembers after they came home.

He sure has done a phenomenal job accomplishing just that. The Home Depot Foundation has dedicated $80 million to Veterans’ projects.

We walked toward the project site, where over 200 Home Depot volunteers had already gathered and were hard at work on their day off. Guess who jumped in to help, and got down on his hands and knees right next to them?

Home Depot Celebration of Service

Frank Blake, that’s who.

They were winterizing the house by updating insulation, replacing seals, installing new air filters, adding weatherproof doors, filling cracks with expanding foam sealant, and installing programmable thermostats. They told me it’s a focus for most of the facilities they overhaul, because it reduces a nonprofit’s monthly bills; heating and cooling costs account for nearly half of the average total energy bill, as much as $400 a year.

They were replacing older appliances like the refrigerator, washer, and dryer, with energy star models, and replacing lighting throughout the house with Energy-efficient light bulbs (CFL). They were building decks and widening doorways and leveling off surfaces throughout the house, so that the entire main floor was wheelchair accessible for the wounded Veterans served by the facility. There were plenty of aesthetic improvements too, from weeding and mulching in the serenity garden to planting winter-over annuals in the beds near the entrance. There was even a beautiful cedar fence and a brand new sign for the front drive, bearing the nonprofit’s new logo.

It was then that I finally had a chance to talk to the organization’s founder, Jennifer Petre, who was constantly racing around in jeans and a sweatshirt right alongside the workers on site. When her nephew, a corpsman known as “Doc Stiggy,” died in an IED explosion while serving his country in Helmund Province, Afghanistan in September 2009, she wanted to do something in his memory. Ben was dedicated to the health of those in his care.  Through her professional experience with animal control facilities, Jennifer knew there were unwanted rescue dogs that could be great companion and service animals for returning wounded warriors.

Like CEO Frank Blake, she realized the pairing of the dogs and Vets was a “no-brainer.” She has since thrown everything in her life into the project, and through Stiggy’s she’s been able to train, house, and provide these dogs completely free of charge to Veterans. As we talked, I could sense a lump forming in her throat (and mine) when she described how completely overwhelmed she was by the hard work of the  volunteers and what it would have meant to her nephew. I learned the facility was her husband’s long time family home. When I looked at him, he beamed with pride over his wife’s accomplishments and dedication, and I sensed he was truly honored to have the chance to participate in her dream.

The day continued that way, and I interviewed volunteers and corporate executives and nonprofiteers seamlessly. There didn’t seem to be rank or privilege amongst anyone there, and it was the kind of day where you couldn’t help but smile and strike up a conversation.

That’s exactly what I did when I saw a young man standing by himself, stoking a fire of crackling branches collected by some volunteers. He poked at them and leaned against his rake. It turned out that this was Jamie, one of the Veterans that Stiggy’s Dogs had helped after he discovered difficulties that stemmed from a previously undiagnosed case of PTSD. I met other Vets and their families, too: Eric and Mike and Mollie. Their stories deserve more room than I can possibly fit into this post, but all of them took time to share some of their very personal struggles with me, and I intend to honor their efforts with a separate story worthy of their message.

I left Howell, Michigan with a better understanding of the sacrifices our servicemembers make when they return home with invisible injuries, some of which take considerable time to manifest.  I got back on the plane to head home and thought about the hundreds of other events Home Depot will sponsor, and the hundreds of volunteers that will appear at each one. Despite my heavy heart I felt encouraged that through events like these thousands of Veterans will be personally helped. I thought about how the gap between the military understanding and civilian experience might just be filled in by a private corporation whose leaders and employees have chosen to make it their priority.

celebration of service

Photos by Home Depot employee volunteer and U.S. Military Veteran Gene Fleszar: teamdepotmichigan.org

The folks at Home Depot are sending me a box of energy-saving goodies to give away, and they’re working on an event here in my hometown of Vancouver, Washington where I can pitch in to help a local Veteran. I also got a response directly from the company spokesperson on what’s happening with the 10% military discount, and you’re going to like it! I’ll update you on that information next week.In the meantime, take a look at the Milspouse Announcements Page where you can meet the entire list of Do-It-Yourself, Home Decor, and Design bloggers that are covering this year’s Celebration of Service. I had a chance to meet these writers in person, and I can guarantee you they share my love for this cause – and they want to meet you, too.

View post comments and make your voice heard. I know you wanna! CLICK HERE

I Sure Hope I Look Good in Orange

Two years ago my husband left for fifteen months. He went to military training, and then he went straight to the Middle East for a year. I understood when he left that it would be a journey we’d both have to take alone, but it wasn’t until he came home that I realized combat and deployment were experiences I would never really comprehend. There were many nights after he came home that we sat motionless in our own silence, even though we knew there was much to be said.

That’s the way it is for friends of mine whose spouses have civilian jobs. They can’t imagine the lives of military families: being away from loved ones for long periods of time, moving to strange places over and over, celebrating anniversaries alone, supporting their spouse’s decision to volunteer for dangerous jobs that take them in harm’s way, and doing it all over and over and over again. My friends say they don’t know how I do it. They say it’s something they’ll never fully grasp.

My husband survived his recent tour unscathed, with the exception of some separation wounds and a few missed holidays. But I look at the wounded warrior families I know and I wonder how they make sense out of the longevity of their condition, the unending doctors visits, the health challenges seen and unseen, the loneliness of their eventual separation from the military, and the loss of employment and self-worth that many face. I realize it’s something that can’t be understood unless it’s experienced. But because I am a storyteller, I wonder how I can help tell their stories, help others catch a glimpse of the sacrifice they’ve made.

In her speech to the Democratic National Convention this week, Michelle Obama remarked on the amazing American Spirit she has witnessed during her time in the White House. She said:

I’ve seen it in our men and women in uniform and our proud military families … in wounded warriors who tell me they’re not just going to walk again, they’re going to run, and they’re going to run marathons … in the young man blinded by a bomb in Afghanistan who said, simply, “I’d give my eyes 100 times again to have the chance to do what I have done and what I can still do.”

When I heard the First Lady speak those words, it was so meaningful. Not only did I personally know the proud military families of whom she spoke, I realized that the blind swimmer she referred to was Brad Snyder, the warrior I recently wrote about. The quote was even the quote I used in my article. And though I can’t be sure whether it was my article she read, it still underscored for me how universally touching these stories are, how they resonate even at the highest levels, and how they impact people simply because they tell a story about someone who rose to meet what seemed like an insurmountable challenge.

It occurred to me, in that moment, that rising to meet a challenge is something we can all fundamentally understand.

I’ve been given an amazing opportunity to do just that, and this is the first article in a series that I’ll be writing to help raise awareness about the challenges veterans face and their continued importance to the community. Home Depot is sponsoring a “Celebration of Service” campaign once again this year, and I’ve been chosen to write about some of the families assisted by the program. I can’t possibly write about them all – in 2011 The Home Depot Foundation made a pledge to commit $30 million to veterans’ nonprofits, and they announced this morning that they plan to increase that pledge by another $50 million over the next three years.

“Celebration of Service” is a two month program running from now through Veterans Day that recruits Home Depot store associates to volunteer to build, repair, and remodel the homes of veterans and the facilities that serve them throughout the United States. They will make mobility modifications and help reduce utility costs by installing energy-efficient upgrades. I’ll be participating in a local service project for a family in the Northwest, and bringing you the stories of the Veterans and volunteers I meet along the way.

It’s true. Home Depot gets their name mentioned a few times in this blog and several others, and they will undoubtedly get national recognition and accolades for their generosity and dubious corporate responsibility. But really, I hope people realize that they don’t have to do any of this. It isn’t something that makes any sense at all to the bottom line on their balance sheet. It is the idea of giving to Veterans without the expectation of a quantified return that makes me want to participate.

So – I sure hope I look good in orange, because between now and Veterans Day I’m honored to bring you the stories of some of our Nation’s warriors on behalf of Home Depot, and the people who are taking steps to do what they can, it their own way, to say thank you for these sacrifices. You can follow my “Hero Chronicles” here at Witty Little Secret, and many others on the Home Depot Foundation’s Facebook page. I can’t wait to narrate a part of that amazing American Spirit Ms. Obama spoke about. I can’t wait to remember what it feels like to rise up and meet a challenge.

Disclosure: While I am being paid to write these stories, I’d honestly do it for free. (Don’t tell the Home Depot, though.) I’m not being told what to write, not being told to wear orange, not being asked to endorse any products or services, and will as always share my own opinions in my own words. All posts align with WOMMA Ethics Code, FTC guidelines and social media engagement recommendations. I have my own Home Depot stories to tell, but if you have a personal Home Depot experience, I’d much rather hear about that. Feel free to email me at wittylittlesecret at gmail dot com.

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