Volunteers toil to renovate Orland Park veteran’s home
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY email@example.com September 24, 2012 11:26AM
Alan Snelson, a volunteer from Prime Source Building Products, screws new drywall in on the garage walls part of the Home Depot Foundation repairs to Army veteran Phillip Bell's home in Orland Park, Illinois, Monday, September 24, 2012. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun Times Media
Updated: October 26, 2012 6:11AM
A normally quiet Orland Park neighborhood was abuzz Monday morning with the sounds of power saws, nail guns and hammers.
The driveway of a home in the 14500 block of Ridge Avenue was filled with drywall, insulation and windows, while “Team Depot” — a volunteer group — swarmed the house.
Inside, Army veteran Phillip Bell was just “amazed” at the amount of work being done on the home he’s owned for five years.
Bell, 36, is one of 300 veterans whose homes are being renovated and repaired across the country as part of The Home Depot Foundation’s second annual Celebration of Service campaign. The 15-year Army veteran is 90 percent disabled, the result of his vehicle being hit by an IED in Iraq on March 28, 2006 — two weeks before he was scheduled to return home.
Between now and Veterans Day, The Home Depot and its team of volunteers are “making sure veterans are comfortable in their homes,” said Shannon Laylo, of The Home Depot. “This will have a big impact on (Bell’s) life.”
More than 50 volunteers will be at his home throughout the week, installing energy-efficient doors and windows, insulating and drywalling the attached garage, installing new flooring in the living room and kitchen and renovating a small bathroom.
They are doing all the work Bell planned to do but can’t.
He also planned a career in the Army, but the IED changed all that.
As Bell recalled that March day, he said he could have taken the day off but knew the troops were shorthanded. He agreed to drive the vehicle, even though he usually sat in the back.
“I’ve been through many IEDs but this one really nailed our vehicle,” he said.
The person who sat in Bell’s usual spot was killed.
Discharged as a Sergeant 1st Class, he now has days when walking is a chore, and cold weather makes his back too stiff to move.
Unable to do physical labor, he is pursuing a degree at DePaul University and hopes to land a desk job as an information technology manager.
The Home Depot learned of Bell through the Disabled Patriot Fund, one of its many nonprofit partners. The Disabled Patriots helped him when he came home, and provided exercise equipment so he could continue his physical therapy at home. Bell since has done volunteer work for the organization.
Bell bought the older home on Ridge Avenue because he wanted to be near family and stay in the Orland area where he grew up.
“I’ve been doing things little by little, but it’s hard on a limited income,” Bell said.
When The Home Depot asked what he needed done, he suggested replacing the leaky doors and windows to save on his heating bills.
Team Depot members visited his home to see what they could do. They also noticed that the garage was not insulated, floors were buckled, and there were water stains in the kitchen, bathroom and living room.
They also helped him make decisions about what materials would work best in his home. Bell let his girlfriend, Amy Peterson, select the colors.
“I was amazed at the amount of work they were willing to do,” Bell said, as volunteers laid a new kitchen floor, began to take out his front window, and installed drywall in his garage.
“This is like an HGTV show,” he said, referring to a home improvement show he likes to watch.
“This will save me a lot of money on energy bills. It would have taken me seven years to do all this work. It gives me the opportunity to move on with my master’s degree,” he said.
The mood was jovial among the hardworking volunteers.
“I’m doing it in memory of my father (a veteran). I’m honoring what he did,” said Jaime Kalinowski, of Downers Grove, who was working in the garage with her colleagues from Prime Source Building Products, one of The Home Depot’s vendors.
Chris Tejeda, of Tinley Park, has worked at The Home Depot’s Frankfort store for eight years and volunteered on a few other projects with the company.
“It’s fun. I like being able to give back in some way. (The Home Depot) makes it easy for us,” he said.
The goal of The Home Depot’s Celebration of Service is not just to repair homes of veterans and facilities where they live and receive services, but also to show appreciation for their service and sacrifice, Laylo said.
Bell also understands the importance of paying it forward.
“We appreciate everything these organizations have been doing for us,” Bell said. “The veterans who served in the past made it easy for us today. When it’s our turn to help, I hope this continues. We are family when we are in the military, and we have to be family when we get out, and help future generations of soldiers.”